Interview with Micheline Tissier: Intensity and excellence
The 12th Congress of the International Aikido Federation was an opportunity for me to meet many teachers and practitioners. One of them was none other than Micheline Tissier. I suggested to her to make use of our time during the week in Takasaki to sit down and discuss about her practice, as a follow up to our first interview that took place more than eight years ago. The discussion was very interesting and it brings new elements to understand the personality of Micheline Tissier and her Aikido. Let’s meet with a lady whose level is matched only by her kindness.
Guillaume Erard: How did you start Aikido?
Micheline Tissier: I started Aikido when I was 15 and a half years old at the Tokyo Aikikai. I knew nothing about Aikido. I was from the French countryside. I had never even seen Judo. When I arrived in Japan, the first night, there was a small party at my brother’s place and all the French people who were at the Aikikai at the time were present. The next day my brother said to me: “You need a visa to stay in Japan. What you want to do? You can do Ikebana, Karate, Naginata, Aikido…” For me, all these words there were gibberish, I didn’t know what all that was. I told him: “The people who came to your party yesterday, what do they do?” He said: “They do Aikido.” I said: “Well, that’s it then.” He said: “OK you’ll see.” The next day I found myself on the tatami and Christian Tissier – whom I didn’t know, I had met him the day before – made me do my first class because it was he who had to take care of foreigners at the Aikikai. So for an hour, he took care of me, as a complete beginner. After that, I went to the beginners’ class on the first floor of the Aikikai. I did two months as a beginner. Then I went upstairs with everyone else in the second floor of the Aikikai. I continued.
So I had to practice every day to keep my visa. It was a bit difficult because of course, I couldn’t understand anything at first, and as I said, I had never seen anything like that before. I was very athletic, but I knew nothing at all about the martial arts. At the time, the class that suited me best was Masuda Sensei’s because it was quite simple, the techniques he presented were quite simple and I found him very friendly. I think that in my current Aikido, I was inspired by these people with whom I started, people who were smiling. Masuda Sensei was smiling all the very time, he greeted people with a smile, he was very warm. This is what I like about him, and that’s what I liked about Yamaguchi Sensei, who was also friendly and smiling all the time. It’s true that at the time, I avoided the Sensei who were too strict, whom I appreciated thereafter but at the time I needed something that made me want to go there, and those people have made me want to do Aikido.
Guillaume Erard: You could have changed your visa, why did you stick with Aikido?
Micheline Tissier: It’s true that I could have had another activity but I have a temperament such as when I start something, I must have a result in what I’m doing. I’m not able to start something and be mediocre in what I do. I need to know a little bit, to deepen practice, whatever it is, to reach a certain level in order to realize what it is. Since I was doing Aikido, and because of my temperament, I wanted to understand why French people, when they got out of practice, used to say, “Oh, it’s great”. I hadn’t that feeling, so I thought it was because I was a beginner, and that I had to progress in order to have the same ecstasy and experience that something was happening there. Indeed it happened because I eventually loved it and so I continued because I felt there was something to discover in this discipline.
Guillaume Erard: How was everyday life in Japan?
Micheline Tissier: My everyday life was very simple. I resumed my studies upon returning to France but in Japan, obviously, I was not going to school. I went to a Japanese school, and I was studying Japanese daily. Every morning I had 3 hours of Japanese. Afterwards, often, I went home. I lived in a Japanese family. The lady was very nice, and so, without telling me each time, she used to prepare me something to eat, and when I got home at any time of day, there was always something to eat on the stove… She was very motherly towards me. When I hanged my laundry, she it would it re-hang it, and I would find it ironed on my bed. She acted like a mother with me. We very often spent the afternoon with a dictionary in the middle, and she would tell me about her life, with her husband, and this, and that, the stories of a Japanese family’s life. It was very interesting because all the vocabulary that I didn’t learn in school, I learned with her because I wanted to know. It was pretty nice. I also had friends. Initially I had a friend from China, and we would go to the movies together, she didn’t understand the Japanese and me either, at first. We laughed together, we had made Japanese friends, we went to the cinema, we did not understand, but it was nice, we visited Tokyo. We were a bunch of girls and we had fun. It was pretty cool because I was young. There was also the whole French family there were all the French friends who were there. Whenever my brother was doing something, or when there were parties, inevitably, I was invited. It was pretty cool. Frankly, I enjoyed life in Japan.
Guillaume Erard: Did you experience any difficulty?
Micheline Tissier: I must admit that at first it was not easy every day. It was a big change compared to France and to be cut off suddenly from my family, it wasn’t easy every day. At the time, there were virtually no foreigners. There were no blondes with blue eyes and very long hair. They were only on magazines and on television. It was a little bit special, I arrived in a country I did not know, I was young, everywhere people wanted to touch my hair because for them it was something unusual. I was offered haircuts for free. I was offered to do photos. I could actually have fallen into bad things, because there were all kinds of proposals. I think I was someone quite serious, I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. It was quite surprising when I walked down the street, I arrived at a street corner and children shouted: “gaijin! gaijin! gaijin!” It was a bit special and I had a little trouble in getting used to it because at first, I wondered why they did that, I didn’t understand. What was surprising also is that every night, when I went home, for example when we went out and we came back later, even though my brother had told me, “Here you do not risk anything”, every night there was someone who was taking me home. In the train, there was always someone who wanted to speak with me in English, nicely, and that person would walk me home. At the beginning, I was a little worried, I thought: “What does he want” “Why is he following me?” Then I got used to it. They were very kind, they just wanted to talk. That was that. They walked me home. It was a bit strange.
Guillaume Erard: Did you ever consider settling in Japan for good?
Micheline Tissier: Of course, I would not have minded at all to live in Japan. At some point of our married life with Christian, Yamaguchi Sensei was getting old, so we thought of going back to live in Japan. Christian wanted to benefit from his teaching a bit more. He asked me about it, even though we already had two children, he asked me, and I accepted straight away. It’s a country that I have always loved. Something happens each time I come back to Japan, I feel like I come back in a place that I loved as a child. I feel like that I am coming back home each time. It’s quite bizarre, because I came here very young, so as soon as I arrive in Tokyo, I hear the noises, I feel like I’m coming home. It’s a country where I feel very good. It’s a sort of home away from home for me.
Guillaume Erard: You were young when you came to Japan, did the country influence the adult that you have become?
Micheline Tissier: I don’t think that it had a particular influence. Aikido had an influence. It is it as a whole, Japan and Aikido. I think that it’s Aikido practice that had an influence on my life. It shapes one’s character, even if one has that character to begin with, everyone has their own character. Before coming to Japan, I had done a lot of athletics, I was very fit, so already knew sports at a high level. I had attended the Font-Romeu sports high school, for those who would become professionals. So I had experienced intense training. Training was very hard at the Aikikai. When I started, it was very hard, but somehow I could bear it because I had already experienced that style of training. It was totally different but it was hard on the body. When one begins at the Aikikai, as I told you in a previous interview, they make you walk on your knees for an hour until you get it right. For Europeans, it’s very hard to walk on the knees like that. I see with my own students, when make them do shikko for 10 minutes, they hurt everywhere. My mind has to take over. I had to do it or to lose my visa. One must have the strength of character to take it and keep on learning. So of course it shapes one’s spirit, it’s obvious, but it’s not especially Japan, it’s a whole.
Guillaume Erard: Is there a price to pay when trying to go beyond the body’s limitations?
Micheline Tissier: I have been practicing for 40 years. I know few people who have 40 years of practice and who aren’t hurting everywhere. Sometimes it’s the shoulders, sometimes the knees. For me it’s the knees. It came insidiously but when it broke, it broke completely. So I feel handicapped. As you saw today, I can’t kneel down. I couldn’t bow on my knees. What is a bit of a shame is that it is now that I feel at my best, technically, because I feel good in my technique, I feel good in my Aikido, and that’s where I feel limited, because I am no longer able to do what I want to do. At same time however, it’s a challenge, because I have to make do with what I have, therefore, since I know the technique well, I try to do it relative to my handicap. It’s a new challenge, and at same time, it’s a new way to approach the technique. It opens new doors. Without doing it on purpose, I try to do things a little differently because of my knees, and eventually, I open new doors that I wasn’t aware of initially. It’s wonderful, Aikido is really wonderful. It’s never over, there are always new doors to open. The limitation opens a new way, a new way to make the technique… And that’s great! Three or four years ago, I had a shoulder problem – I still have it, but let’s say at the moment it’s muted, it does not hurt me – one of my tendons is partly severed; and although it has changed the way I do things. I had to find other ways because I could not raise my arm. I managed to make my technique differently but at the same time I realized that I did not know I could do it that way. It is infinite! And it’s really great!
Guillaume Erard: In hindsight, would you do anything differently?
Micheline Tissier: It is clear that if I had to do it all again, I would do as much Aikido, but I wouldn’t do all the things I did next to it. I would do less. Every morning at sunrise, I felt the need to do sport; I was going for a run… If I had to redo it, I would avoid jogging because it damaged my knees. I also did a lot of dancing… In dance there are a lot of pins, lots of jumps; maybe I would do it differently if I had to do it again: I would avoid some things, like jumps… After that, other things brought me tremendously in my Aikido. The practice of Karate, for example -.twelve years of Karate – it’s one of the things that I do not will erase, because I think what makes me stand out in Aikido, is my experience in Karate. Maybe my Aikido will be edgier than someone who has not done any, because I also see the openings for kicks and punches I learned in Karate. So, it’s very important. So that, I wouldn’t erase. But, actually apart from that, there are things that I would avoid.
Guillaume Erard: Are there things that you discourage your students from doing?
Micheline Tissier: Absolutely. Of course, I urge young people those who want to become professionals, or at least professor of Aikido to preserve themselves. I stop them a little, especially with regard the work on the knees: I make sure they save themselves up a little. And above all, I told them not to fall for nothing. When young, break falls are king of magical, and sometimes we do them for nothing: someone throws us and we do break falls automatically. So I tell them constantly: “Don’t break fall, don’t take high ukemi unless you have to! Do a normal fall, a small backwards roll. Because you will regret it; in ten years, twenty years, you will regret it, so calm down! If you don’t have to fall, don’t fall! However, if someone throw, go for it! Save it for when it gets harder! ” Yes, for sure I try to give them advice in the right direction. After that, do they follow them? I don’t know (laughter) … not always…
Guillaume Erard: Do you see yourself in different generations of students?
Micheline Tissier: Obviously! What we just talked about… For example, the fact of taking high falls, to go for it, to hold nothing back… Necessarily, I was like that at the same age! Necessarily there are similarities. And that is why we, being older, higher ranked, we see the mistakes we’ve made, so we see ourselves in our student’s work, it’s obvious. We all go through the same steps, it’s pretty funny actually. 1st Dan, we’re a little shy, 2nd Dan, we say: “Come on, I can go for it!” we feel we can break everything… 3rd Dan, even more… And like that at every stage … After, there is a time when we calm down, we become more serene, we’re a more detached relative to that. But of course we see ourselves in the students!
Guillaume Erard: How did you realize you wanted to become an Aikido teacher?
Micheline Tissier: In fact, Christian did not offer me immediately. I do not know why, perhaps because I was his wife and he just didn’t think about it – it is not because he didn’t want… On the other hand it came to me at one point – I think when I started I was.4th Dan – I think at some point, everything we were given, all we have learned, all we have stored, at one point we want to give back. And it is true that when I was practicing as a student, people frequently asked me: “correct me if it’s no good”. Now, on this particular point, I remained very much “Japanese system”, that is to say: when a sensei is there, one doesn’t correct others aside. So I answered: “No, no, no, Christian is the Sensei, he will correct you; it’s not my role”. And people didn’t understand. All this teaching that I did not want to do like that aside, because it shouldn’t happen, I realized that the day I was able to teach, it was like an open book inside me. All I had learned… I wondered where I was getting it from. I had explanations that came very naturally for everything; I could answer any question, for me it was clear, it was neat… Yet I had never taught. But in my head it was very clear. All I had stored up, I wanted to share it with students. For me it was normal. It was a natural progression. I think at some point we want to give to others what we have learned.
Guillaume Erard: Do you teach differently compared the way you learned in Japan?
Micheline Tissier: Yes, that’s obvious. Everyone knows that in Japan, they demonstrate the technique but don’t explain it at all. Without necessarily talking for forty minutes per class, we explain the technique – as I did today. When I see that people do not follow – and today I held back a little because it’s special – in a normal class, I explain something; if people can’t do it, I give them the keys to do so. And all these keys, that I was given, all those little things that make people succeed in the technique, I find normal to share them. Christian gave me a lot of keys but not all of them: there are some that I found myself. It is important that I convey what I found. I think it’s logical. Often at the end of a seminar, people say to me “It’s great: you explain for beginners, you explain for advanced people, everyone understands what you want to do”… But I think it is normal. They shouldn’t thank me for it. It’s my job to do that. It is normal that I share all that was given and I that explain the techniques as well as I can.
Guillaume Erard: Do you feel a sense of responsibility?
Micheline Tissier: Yes of course. I think it’s a big responsibility to teach. Talking about today’s class, four years ago, when I did my first class at the congress, Christian was present. It was the first time in my life I was teaching in front of him. I don’t know how many people were there, six hundred maybe… I was afraid of one thing: that he wouldn’t be happy with what I was doing. I didn’t see the six hundred people; they didn’t scare me… but the fact that my Sensei was there, that he was looking at me and he could have said after: “It’s good / not good”. There, I was a little scared… There was Christian Tissier on one side and Osawa Sensei at the other end of the room. They were both camped with arms crossed. I had a lot of pressure! But only because of the presence of two people in the room, not because there were six hundred around me. It’s incredible!
Guillaume Erard: After all these years, do you consider Christian Tissier as your teacher?
Micheline Tissier: Yes. I think it is important to have a Sensei to follow… even if he is my ex-husband. There is no problem, for me he is my Sensei. When he tells me something, I take it into account. Whenever he says “it won’t do” or “that’s good” I try to improve myself. Until now he has not say it was wrong, so I’m OK (laughs). It is true that it is a pressure for me: when he is here, I’m always afraid of making a mistake. I think I am not the only one to feel that way. I will not name anybody but you can ask others, I think they have the same pressure as me when Christian is around.
Guillaume Erard: Do you teach the same way when Christian Tissier is here to watch?
Micheline Tissier: Absolutely. Oh yes, today, for example, I did a class that I have already done in other seminars, because it’s my way. I have a little pressure before I step on the mat because he is there, but once I’m on the mat, I’m home made, in my element, it’s my life… My teaching takes precedence over the rest. I am so comfortable in what I do, that I forget everything that is happening around. Only what I have to do becomes important to me; I try to do the best I can.
Guillaume Erard: Is there a point when you thought: “Now I can do thing on my way”?
Micheline Tissier: It’s not so much “I allow myself to do something else” than a point one thinks… Actually, it comes naturally, we discover other ways to do things. I call that “applications”: suddenly, for a technique that you have been doing for thirty years, you tell yourself: “But it can also be done like this, it also works!” In fact, it all comes naturally. It’s not: “I can do it”. You are doing something and suddenly… actually… I’ll give an example: I teach seminars frequently, I go abroad, I sometimes find myself with people who are quite large and quite strong and the technique that I’ve been doing for 30 years does not work because they are too large, too beefy… And there, suddenly there is something else that comes out. Because I can’t do my technique as usual, I’ll take another route and suddenly an application appears… And that’s really interesting, because things are always different, at each seminar, there aren’t the same people… You have to face that every time, and this is where, in fact, we see if our technique works or not. If, when doing my technique, what I try to do doesn’t work at all, and I don’t have a “spare wheel” that means that my technique isn’t good, that I don’t really understand what I’m doing. However, if we know that a technique isn’t immutable, that there is always a way to move elsewhere, the technique will work, because we will deviate and an application will be born. And there, suddenly, we say: “I’ve been doing this technique for so many years but I never suspected that I could also do it like that”. That’s what’s magic about Aikido…
Guillaume Erard: Christian Tissier told me that some of his students got stuck in one phase of his evolution, did you?
Micheline Tissier: It’s very funny, because when I was a student, when Yamaguchi Sensei was still alive, we would see him two to three times per year. Often, Christian was happy because he realized that, even if he did not see him every day, he was following his path: in the forms of the techniques, etc. It’s a bit the same for me: even if I’m not working with Christian, I realize that I’m always in his form, I’m following his evolution… And often it has manifested itself in the past, for example, a few years back -fifteen years ago – we had a dojo in Nice. Sometimes I was teaching during lunch and Christian during the evening. We did not see each other between the classes. For lunch, I was doing a class and Christian was doing the same thing at night. And the students would tell me: “Did Christian ask you to do that class at noon? Because you did the same thing”. I answered: “No, not at all.” It was just that I started this class, and naturally, it unrolled like this… and, Christian being my Sensei, obviously, at one point, our ideas converge. It’s still like that today. I hardly train because I can’t roll, but often I watch Christian’s courses, and his logic is similar to mine, so that makes me very happy.
Guillaume Erard: Did other teachers influence you?
Micheline Tissier: Influenced, no. Because it’s true that I followed mainly Christian. Then, of course, I saw many other Sensei, I follow the classes of all Sensei who came to France, but I can’t say I was influenced by them because I only see them occasionally. Obviously there are plenty of Sensei I like, but it’s not them who influenced me. The one who influences me is Christian, obviously.
Guillaume Erard: You once told me that your main duty was to teach Christian Tissier’s Aikido, do you still feel the same way?
Micheline Tissier: Yes, I realize that more than ever. I have a duty… I have a background, I was given… I am Christian Tissier’s ex-wife, so I’m named after him. It’s true that sometimes it’s an advantage, but at the same time it’s a responsibility for me because everywhere I go I have no room for error, even less so than the others. If others make a mistake, people will say: “OK, they made a mistake”. But if I make a mistake, I’m called Tissier; so it’s a big load on my shoulders… I really have no room for error, I know that whatever I do, not only people will talk about it, but in addition, I’ll be accountable to my Sensei, he’ll tell me: “But what did you do?” Somehow, I am accountable because I have the same name, so yes, it’s a big burden for me. I realize it and it is true that it forces me to be careful about what I’m doing, to try to do the best I can, to be always correct in what I do… And it’s true that I try not to deviate too far from… I was going to say: “the basic technique”. I obviously do applications: I have applications that are mine, that Christian does not do, but I try to stay within the basic technique that Christian taught me. And I think that it goes further than that: I think that we, the students of Christian, are here precisely to teach the basics to the people, students, aikidoka… so that when Christian comes to do a course, people can understand the “advanced” material that he shows because they understood the basics with us. I think it’s important to do that. Often when the opposite happens… For example, Christian is teaching somewhere, and he shows things that are a bit difficult. When I go there afterwards people tell me: “Christian came, he did this, this and this, we didn’t understand. Could you explain it differently why he did it and where he was going?”. It’s my job too, to go ahead of him, and say: “I’ll do that, so that you understand what Christian wants to do when he comes”, or the opposite, when I go after him and they did not understand, to show the basic techniques for people to understand where he wanted to go. It happens quite often.
Guillaume Erard: Did you consider loosing the name “Tissier” to gain more freedom?
Micheline Tissier: I have never been tempted, but I think it would change nothing. For the people I am Micheline Tissier, Micheline Vaillant-Tissier or just Micheline Vaillant, but it changes nothing. I think in people’s heads, I am the ex-wife of Christian Tissier and I represent Tissier technique. So even if I wanted to, I think it would not change the problem: psychologically I would have the same load on my shoulders and I would say to myself the same things, that I have to do things well because I represent the school of Christian Tissier… It wouldn’t change anything.
Guillaume Erard: Do you encourage your students to cross-train in other martial arts?
Micheline Tissier: I don’t encourage them, not immediately. I think we need to have a certain level before going somewhere else, because the big problem is that if you start too soon to do another activity, you get mixed up in the forms, everything merges and nothing good comes out. So I think you must already have a good background in Aikido, a third or fourth Dan, to have well integrated all forms in Aikido, and then you can afford to go do something else. Like that, it is a plus for your own practice.
Entretien avec Micheline Tissier
Guillaume Erard: It can be tempting to find answers elsewhere when they are too hard to find within Aikido…
Micheline Tissier: Absolutely, this is exactly it. That’s why, I wouldn’t recommend it to my students. That said, some do it anyway, there are some who do Karate in parallel but I do not encourage it. One can’t be good at everything, so… If I advise someone to do something, it is as a complement, not to do two activities in parallel; it’s hard to do two activities in parallel, because if one wants to become “good”, a certain number of hours have to be spent each week and in this case, there is no time to do two activities. So I do not advise it until one has a sufficient background… Really, one life is not enough to do all the things we should to be proficient in one’s discipline. One should do some Judo, some Ju-Jutsu, some boxing, to find all openings and to excel in one’s own activity.
Guillaume Erard: The Aikido population shrinks and gets older, haw can we retain beginners in Aikido?
Micheline Tissier: Yesterday, during the forum, we spoke about women, but also about children… how to attract teenagers, and so on… I have many in my teenagers in my dojo. I always have a class with about 20 teenagers. Some of those teenagers started Aikido at age 8 and when they arrived at the age of 16 they are told to take a Shodan exam. It’s their first exam, and for them, it’s important… But some of my 16 years old girls were failed by the jury. I went to the jury and I said: “What happened, didn’t they do well?” They answered: “No, technically it was fine.” I said, “That’s what Shodan is about, right?” They said: “There were no technical errors, but they were not mature enough.” How can people progress like that? How can we hope to retain teenagers if we do that? If you already put a barrier like that at Shodan? These little girls, they quit Aikido. For me, it was obvious they were going to quit Aikido. They had been doing Aikido from the age of 8. We brought them to Shodan, and they were told: “No black belt for you. You won’t get it because you are not mature enough.” This is nonsense! When we have children who are in a club since the age of 8 to 10 years old we should be able to give them the Shodan so they will want to continue Aikido. That’s how we could have people stick with Aikido, basically. However, there… In some meetings with people who judge Shodan examinations, I said, “Wait, children – I mean youngsters who are around 16 years old – unless their performance is really catastrophic, you have to pass them.” They should be encouraged; we should give it to them. This is what will move things forward. This is what will make them want to continue: the black belt.
Guillaume Erard: What do you do in the the classes to appeal beginners?
Micheline Tissier: During my courses, people often tell me that there is something for everyone, including beginners. Beginners come to me and tell me: “It’s great! For once we did a seminar were we felt included; we understood what you wanted to do, you put different levels of comprehension in your way of teaching…” I think we have to do this in the course. Like many other teachers, in my club, I have two classes per week: for two hours, two times a week. I can’t afford to have a classes with separate levels… It is not possible! Everyone is together. So, inevitably, I offer several levels in my teaching: when I show the technique I try to reach beginners – a bit like what I did today at some point: “Beginners should understand that we pass by this step, then this step, to get there.” I’m doing all this on several levels and after I say: “Go ahead, each at his own level, do what you understand” So people are very happy, because everyone understands something, everyone takes something. I do the same thing in my classes; I have to These are classes for all ranks, so there are beginners who just started, who have two weeks Aikido, as well as people with twenty years of practice; everything is mixed. I do not have much choice.
Guillaume Erard: One idea proposed during yesterday’s Women forum was to separate men and women in different classes…
Micheline Tissier: Personally, if someone had told me in Aikido “This is a course exclusively for women”, I would not have continued Aikido. That, I’m sure of because… as I said at the forum, when I was young, I was a little feisty… Maybe karate would have better suited me… I wanted to do boxing, but we didn’t want me… I liked to fight so it’s true that if Aikido had offered to work only with women it would not have suited me, because someway, they are bit a fragile – not all of them of course: I had partners who were, very strong, which were real Budoka… – I mean that the majority of women who come to Aikido twice a week approach it a bit like a gym. I do not want to denigrate their interest in Aikido nor that they develop through Aikido, but in any case, initially, they are not coming to get hurt or to hurt themselves. And it is true that in Aikido as in all Budo, there is a point where, when we go full on, it hurts… I did not like practicing with women, it is true. When I practiced with them, I had to be very careful… I was restraining myself all the time. Because what I liked, actually, at the beginning, when I was Shodan, was to fight. So I had to fight and it’s true that it was often frowned upon by my female partners, so I didn’t do it (laughs).
Guillaume Erard: Is such intensity necessary to reach excellence?
Micheline Tissier: Yes quite. And others share this view: Yoko [Okamoto] agrees with me, Janet [Clift] also… High-ranking females agree with what I said. I think for those who have worked at a high level, we have been forced to fight to get where we are, we had to get through this anyway. No one helped us out; nobody gave us anything. We know where we come from, we know why we are here. I know why I’m here. And I think it is even harder for us… For example: when I started giving courses, I do know that some used to say: “It’s because it is the wife of Christian Tissier that she does seminars, but OK then…” And subsequently, I was being tested; at each course, people had to test me… Fortunately, in my practice, I liked fighting and I had that surly side because otherwise, I’d never have made it. And it’s true that little surly side meant that I got beaten up pretty bad at times. When I practiced, I rarely had the advantage at the time… I was young; I was a little crazy in what I was doing, but then once I got the technical level, that side really served me well because I didn’t take any abuse. And I understand that at the Aikikai, I have a bit of a reputation – I learned it from Yasuno Sensei – I think that at the Aikikai, I have the reputation of someone who does not give in. (laughs)
Guillaume Erard: All female instructors who were chosen as teachers this week seem to share your views.
Micheline Tissier: It’s where we see the difference between honorary and technical grades. I think that’s the big difference between Japan and other countries. Because people do not make the difference in our countries, between honorary and technical grades but in Japan there is a big difference. One who has a technical grade knows why, and one who has an honorary one also knows why, he never pretends to be a teacher. And that’s a big problem here in the West. We never say in France: “It’s an honorary grade” or “It’s a technical grade”. It doesn’t exist; they say: “This is a grade”, that’s all.” Already, from there, you can’t tell the difference because nobody talks about it.
Guillaume Erard: Aikido is supposed to make people better; does it?
Micheline Tissier: This is not how I would approach the problem… It’s true that after forty years, I have lots of experience with students. Not that it makes better but it helps people to progress in their life in a positive way I think of specific cases of people who came to Aikido, saying: “If ever I can get to the equivalent of a brown belt, I will be happy”. These people passed their first Dan, their second Dan, their third Dan… But what was very interesting for me is that in their live they have progressed in the same way. Those people managed to do some very interesting things in their lives, they rose in their job, while they progressed in Aikido. In the same manner that they did not feel able, initially, to become a black belt, for example, they did not feel able to pass beyond a certain stage at work. And that’s really interesting because we help people’s progress in their life. With children, it is even more obvious. I no longer teach children’s classes but when I used to, it was obvious. For example: there were some kids coming in, who had not much respect, nor education… Some were terrible so and I thought: “I’m going to tell parents that it won’t do.” But when the parents came in, I saw that they were worse than the kids. So I thought that everything was up to me. If the kid was to progress, in everything he did, it would have to be thanks to me. I had to take the responsibility. When after a year or two, this child became something other than what he was initially, it made me feel really proud because I could say to myself: “It’s thanks to me that he became what he is.” Likewise, I have had cases of kids who were off track in their lives, teens whose parents would call me and tell me: “If someone can do something, it is you, because he sees only through you.” So, thanks to my advice, with the direction I advised them to take… Usually when I received such a call, I tried to take care of these kids more than others, to take them with me more, etc. Suddenly, they were able to take completely different directions, through Aikido. And that, for a teacher of Aikido, it is super interesting. This aspect of Aikido interests me very much. Helping people advance in their lives, especially children and teenagers, it is super interesting, showing them good directions…
Many thanks to Odilon Regnard for the transcription of this interview from the original tape.