Interview with Jacques Payet sensei

Sensei Jacques Payet
Sensei Jacques Payet

Sensei, we are glad to see you again in St. Petersburg. A lot of people practice aikido in Russia, and it would be very interesting for them to hear a person studied at Hombu dojo under Gozo Shioda sensei for many years. So we would like to ask you for an interview.

We heard that in 1980 you had gone to Japan, to train under Gozo Shioda sensei. Who conducted the training in Hombu dojo at that time?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, I arrived in Japan in early 1980. In that time the head instructor of Hombu dojo was Takeno sensei. Of course, Shioda sensei would come every day and teach one or two general class a week, plus he would teach special class for black belts. But mainly the instructor was Takeno sensei. Although they were top instructors. Shioda Gozo sensei at the beginning of classes would stop the class and then say:"Today Takeno you teach, or today Chida you teach, or today Sakurai or Nakano". And Shioda sensei would watch the class and make comments sometimes.

And what about Inoue sensei and Kushida sensei? Did they teach general classes?

Jacques Payet sensei. No. Kushida sensei left the dojo a long time ago. Maybe in early 1970-th. And Inoue sensei was sent as full time instructor to the police. So he was teaching at police academy full time, so he would come to the Hombu dojo only for gradings. But he would not teach at the Hombu.

As uchi deshi have you attended training of Senshusei courses?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. Because when you are an uchi deshi you must do the training with the police. But in that time there was no foreign instructor course and young uchi deshi would do police training if one police was missing, or getting injured, or there was no member. So young uchi deshi participated in this course. We would do police trainings two or three time a week for three years. And 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for one year.

Am I right that in that time Senshusei courses were not for foreign instructors? Only for police?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. Only for police. It was riot police, known as Kidotai.

And what is the difference between training in these courses and training in general groups at Hombu dojo?

Jacques Payet sensei. They are very different, because the police trainings… They have no choice. They come because they have to… It is a job! They are paid to train aikido. So they stopped their job for one year instead of doing training in the police they have to train hard aikido, so they cannot say "No", they cannot disregard the teacher, they have to say "Osu" and train what teacher have said. So they train hard.

As far as I know in order to work in Kidotai one have to spend at least a year in intensive practice of specific martial art - karate, judo, kendo or aikido.

Jacques Payet sensei. It is chosen voluntarily. Generally to become a police one should be black belt in any martial art: judo, kendo, karate or aikido. But if they want to become a special police, they have to do a special course, to join instructor course to be able to become special policemen.

So it is not necessary to take aikido courses? It can be also karate, judo or kendo courses?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, but only in aikido there is an intensive one year special course. In karate they visit karate dojo after work.

How many candidates to Kidotai choose Senshusei courses?

Jacques Payet sensei. We can take only ten candidates to Kidotai every year. So it is selection inside a police academy between candidates. They evaluate academic performance, discipline, and attitude, and so on. Dojo, if it will be too big it cannot give good instructions. So it should be small.

What is the main purpose of these courses (to train instructors, to train the police, to get skills of hand-to-hand fight)?

Jacques Payet sensei. The main purpose, because we a talking about 40 years ago, so when they started it was important for Shioda sensei and for police. The most important for police is to have a very strong spirit. That is means: never give up, to become strong, morale, discipline, become solid. Certainly it is important to get skills in aikido, also be able to arrest without hurting, because in police you cannot punch or kick, so you have to be able to arrest criminals without hurting. So they learn some skills, but the most important is to get a very strong spirit. It is the main purpose of the course.

What about the courses "Kenshusei" in your dojo? How many people trains under this program at the present time?

Jacques Payet sensei. It's a very new program, so I tried to keep it small. So now there are maximum 8 students. But in my course I try to combine both: training of strong spirit with my personal understanding of aikido, with my personal experience. So after one year people have better understanding of balance, focus of power, energy. And after one year they can start working by themselves. So when they will back home they will be able to develop their techniques.

Are the trainings in this course very intensive like in Senshusei?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. But in old Senshusei course most important was very strong spirit and discipline. But I, of course, I kept part of that but also added personal development. So personal development based on very good understanding of balance, energy and principles of aikido.

And these people, who participate in Kenshusei courses in your dojo. Where are they from and what is their occupation?

Jacques Payet sensei. They are young. Generally they have one or two years in aikido but they are very motivated. Generally they have just graduated from college or they started to work, but not married yet, so they can leave everything and come to dojo. Most of them are from Europe, from Canada. From Japan also.

Are there Senshusei courses in Hombu today?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. They are present.

As far as I know in 1985, you had returned to France. Were you going to open your own dojo, or you thought to reach other purpose?

Jacques Payet sensei. I thought opening my own dojo in France but situation in France is very special for aikido, because there are a lot of politics and Aikikai is very strong. So in France you need special license from the government. Even if you are getting any certificate in Japan they are not be recognized. You have to be recognized by French government of education, sport education. And the judges are all in Aikikai, so if you are in Yoshinkan it is very difficult. So I did not want to fight, I taught a little in France but it was very difficult and then I was invited to teach in England, so I went as atechnical director for England. I had been teaching in England for two years.

What made you come back to Japan and to become an uchi deshi of Shioda sensei for the second time?

Jacques Payet sensei. While I taught in England I was not very happy with my aikido, because, especially when I was in France, there were no… almost no Yoshinkan and before aikido I did jiu jitsu and karate, so I visited my friends and I could not make aikido techniques work. I had to use strength and that is why I was not satisfied with my techniques. And in 1988 I went to Germany for a seminar with Gozo Shioda sensei, it was the last seminar of Shioda sensei overseas and during this time I spent a week with him, and I said to him, that I trained hard in Japan for five years, but techniques do not work, and I am not very happy, so I am little confused, and I would like to come back to Japan and become an uchi deshi again.

Were you able to acquire the skills of close combat, which you did not have during your stay in France?

Jacques Payet sensei. I would not say hand to hand combat. I got better understanding of aikido principles. I just been close to Shioda sensei, was able to do something more personal to my personal understanding of principles. That is why I became confident and I could develop my own aikido.

Have you ever participate in fights and sparring after second period of study?

Jacques Payet sensei. No.

In Russia a lot of people are engaged in different types of martial arts. Often you can hear that Aikido is completely ineffective in fight. That its techniques are too complicated and mainly depend on the good will of uke. What is your opinion?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, it's right. Personally I trained in jiu jutsu and karate and I have seen Shioda sensei, and I think if people want to learn how to fight, how to be effective in fight they should do something else. There are many mixed martial arts, competitive arts which are much more appropriate for these purposes. Aikido is not for fighting.

It is known that in the beginning aikido attracted mainly people from judo: techniques of Morihei Ueshiba and his followers were much more powerful than techniques of wrestling. But now we can see that guys using judo, sambo and brasilian jiu jutsu (all 3 are rather similar to old judo) often win MMA fights. And there is only one Rick Ellis that partly uses aikido in MMA. Youtube is full of videos that show ineffectiveness of aikido compared to box, judo, etc. What is the reason for it, keeping in mind that in the beginning situation was opposite?

Jacques Payet sensei. I think it happened because people have lost an understanding of aikido. Aikido was created to develop Chuchin ryoku, focus of power, balance and using center line, but little by little it was very difficult to understand these principles. So everybody used strength and they liked to add it to much of techniques, so naturally people became stronger and won. And that is happening in aikido but many students in aikido now seems have to relax.

So as far as I understand aikido is not for fight and should perceived as a way of self-development. Mental and physical. But is it correct then to say that it is a martial art? It may be better to say that aikido is kind of fitness or health improving exercises like yoga?

Jacques Payet sensei. No. It is not fitness. It differs. It is not for fight, not for competition and there are no winners or losers in aikido, but it is a martial arts. That's means you should always have very strong mind, so if you are ready to die it will give you strength. You should be ready to die to protect yourself. Because of your strong mind and focus. In this sense it is very martial. It is not a game. You should not going to win somebody you have no choice - if you lose you will die. So you should take it very seriously.

The most important is to remember that aikido is a Japanese traditional martial art. In the west the martial art means fighting. You fight and there are winner and loser. The goal is important. You train to become strong, you be able to be strong in techniques. But in Japan it is different. Purpose is important. Not the goal. If you are doing archery in the west you are focus on target, but in Japan it is very different. Focus on the goal is wrong; you should focus on purity, pure of mind, balance, good posture because it affects the technique. In aikido is the same. You are not training to defeat your partner , to show that you are stronger or to hurt him or achieve only physical result. You do your very best to control yourself and overcome your own limits and your partner helps you to achieve that so you should be thankful and care for him.. Then only with this mind set will your techniques naturally begin to work.

So, as far as I understand it is a psychological moment. Aikido is way of self-development, you should reach pure mind, ability to focus you power, good balance.

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. And also your ego. Killing your ego. But one of the most important moment is... How to say? Translation of martial art is different. Budo is not martial art. Aikido it is budo. Budo means stopping the fight. The way of stopping the fight. Not to fight. Its should be stopped. It is focus on internal training. So when somebody fight Budo is there to instead make them becoming friends. That is the purpose of budo. I think the first person who came to Japan translated budo as martial art. But it is wrong. And in the west everything: sports combat, budo or anything else are martial arts. One word. But in Japan is very different. That is why there are such questions and concern in the west, it is Because people mixed everything.

Yes. We mix green with wooden.

Jacques Payet sensei. Exactly! That is why.

So it is clear, that aikido is not for fight. But maybe it is not for self-defense too, but only for personal development.

Jacques Payet sensei. But it originates from samurai idea, it is taken very seriously. It is not something light or like sport. It is very serious because it is the most important thing in your live.

Well. For example, man who mastered in aikido Yoshinkan or Aikikai, not matter, who have already reached pure mind. If he will start practice, for example, box or karate his techniques will be more powerful. After aikido such person who is interested in self-defense will reach much better results because his mind will be prepared.

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, if mind is prepared. And also principles of aikido can be used easily. And these techniques... When I was in the USA, I knew many aikido teachers who changed aikido. They use aikido but for combat. My friend works in police and when he would do nikkajo he would kick or use punch or knees. And when he does any techniques he uses punches and it works. It is very easy to change. When doing kote gaeshi you punch and kick. But it becomes jiu jutsu, not aikido any more.

Ueshiba sensei studied old jiu jutsu with a lot of very painful and dangerous techniques and he removed most of these difficult and dangerous techniques and he made aikido very round and peaceful. And he marked it such way. It is very difficult because you need to be prepared to build up your body ,works for a long time on basic principle and movements which are not designed to work and be practical immediately.... And that is the purpose. If your techniques are very easy like while doing nikkajo with using kicks or something like that, everybody will be able do it very soon. For two or three times. But in aikido it takes many years. Because to do a technique is not a purpose, the purpose is to develop your own mental attitude to become pure, kill your ego. So many time many time you will can do, can to be patient and everybody is different with that a situation and if you will be very determine you will be fine. Because there is no BIG HIDEN secret. There is no some special secret which somebody tells you, just you have to train and find yourself, if you really do it with pure mind you will fine. Everything is here but nobody can see, only you. In this sens it is a treasure. If the goal is get to result very quick it is not aikido because everything is opposite, when you start you do very complicated techniques. If people just want to get result they leave.

That is why in old time you cannot just come to dojo and start. You have to be introduced two or three letters and you have to sit down in front of the dojo and wait. For two or three days. And after that may be for one year there are no techniques, just cleaning the dojo or helping the teacher. And after that teacher said: "Oh you are serious" and start teaching.

It was checking of spirit?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. Checking spirit first.

The lessons of Aikido Yoshinkan always begin with kihon dosa. Tell me, please, what in your opinion is the main task of practice of the kihon dosa?

Jacques Payet sensei. Kihon dosa is not something separate, it is just a part of a technique. So, it is a part of technique in order to help you to understand that two things are important in aikido. First you have to build up your body. You should build an aiki-body. Strong legs, strong hip. And after that you should learn how to move, to do all your movements from your center. So the basic movements help to learn exactly that. Because before you can do your technique, first you should build up your body, get good balance, get your legs and your hip strong, in order to do all the movements not from your legs but from your center. And basic movements can help you understand these much more easily.

For example hiriki no yousei ichi is learning to move forward. Hiriki ni turning from the hip. Not from your leg but only from your center. Center brings everything. Tai no henko ichi is changing the direction. It is easier to go straight and when you turn it is more difficult. So you should keep you center when changing the direction. Tai no henko ni is pivoting from your center, from your hip, not from the legs but turn strongly from your center and also it is a good exercise to build a strong axis. Shumatsu dosa add these movements together. When you get that you build up your body and only when your body is ready you can apply your technique.

What is more important, clearly observe a certain position of the body when performing kihon dosa, kihon waza or more important to develop the internal sensations, a sense of stability and using hips and center. But certain position of hands, for example, is not so important? For example hiriki no yosei ichi. Chida sensei performs this exercise in one way, certainly he moves straight but his hands are small higher. And another sensei put his hands small lower and students sometimes makes conflicts about such moments.

Jacques Payet sensei. (Laughing) Oh, really?!

Certainly! They discuss these moments in internet, on different forums. Dispute among yourselves which position of hands are more correct: ten centimeters higher or lower.

Jacques Payet sensei. (Laughing) I think that these details are not important. There are general ideas: in kamae hands are on chest level and hips are locked. And in some people this chest level can be some higher or some lower but his hands should be on the center line. And if everything on center, that is fine. For hiriki no yosei ichi generally Shioda sensei said that as long as you can see between your hands, everything is fine. And in tai no henko hands are before forehand and chest. Basically what Shioda sensei would say. But again if it is little down it does not matter. What is more important, the body should not be twisted. All body should be on center line.

Why such strange attacks like shomen uchi, yokomen uchi, grabs the wrist, or, for example, "ushiro waza" are practiced in aikido? These attacks are rarely found in real life, so what is the main purpose of such practice?

Jacques Payet sensei. These are very important because again aikido is way of learning some principle and aikido came mainly from the sword. So shomen yokomen it is not a strike it comes from the sword. When you study for example the sword school of YagyuShinkage ryu not kendo but very traditional school first you do the same - strong shomen, strong yokomen. It is everything you do. And Ueshiba sensei also studiedYagyuShsinkage ryu and he understood that principles of the sword are very important. So in aikido we use shomen, yokomen because we want to study principles of the sword.

Well. But is it possible to practice aikido principles with punches and kicks.

Jacques Payet sensei. I think... Again it is very easy because like I said my friend in the USA do it. So it is very easy to adapt for punch and kick. But we should remember that aikido came from Ueshiba sensei. Ueshiba sensei believed that aikido is from the god and the sword is also from the god, so the goal of aikido is to change the instrument of death into instrument of live.

Am I right, that we can learn some principles by practicing such attacks as punches and kicks, but using traditional attacks are much more useful in all cases?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, It is right. And also ushiro waza is for training... In aikido what is important it is not a technique it is intuitivity, feelings. So it is very important to practice ushiro because you have to learn about sensitivity and intuition so it is very important.

In Yoshinkan Aikido to perform the techniques we use "atemi". What is in your opinion the role of atemi in Aikido?

Jacques Payet sensei. I think atemi for me, because I have seen an evolution in old time, atemi... Most of the techniques were performed with atemi. For example, in sokumen irimi nage second hand performed atemi. But then Shioda sensei evolved and atemi became an aikido technique, that is means that when somebody hit you, there is no pain. So it is means not to punch with arm but punch with center. And Shioda sensei was relaxed and there was perfect timing and when he hit, you did not fell anything. He would touch you and you would be shocked. And he used shoulder or back but there was no punch. It hit you but you did not feel the pain or block short.

So atemi is a realization of perfect timing it is realization of very very high level technique. In most martial arts atemi is to kill, to badly hurt to break or to control but not in aikido. From what I feel from watching Shioda sensei, when he was young, yes, it was painful and it was very effective, but at the end of his life it was very wonderful technique. He would hit you and you fall but you were happy and stand up to atack again because it was amazing. His timing was beautiful. That is for me an atemi.

We often hear about "chushin ryoku" idea. What does it mean, how does it look like and how important is it for the correct execution of techniques in Aikido Yoshinkan.

Jacques Payet sensei. Chushin in Japanese could be directly translated as "central or from the center" and ryoku means "power or strength" so we generally translate as "Focus of power" Chushin ryoku is not something mysterious, it just thappens, if you work properly on your basic movements and basic techniques. You build up a proper posture. So it is a muscle and body alignment. When there is proper body alignment naturally you get chuchin ryoku. So just of practice with breathing and timing and tanden and do it more and more you will develop chushin ryoku. So it is not feeling, it is very physical plus your mind and focus everything together. This is chushin ryoku.

And what about "Shuchu ryoku"? What does it mean and how it differs from "chushin ryoku"?

Jacques Payet sensei. Shuchu ryoku is the expression of chushin ryuoku.Directly translated Shuchu means "concentration or concentrate" and ryoku means "power or strength"so Chuchin ryoku is a power originating from the center line of the body and proper alignment. So first you are to get chushin ryoku(the strength of your entire body conducted by the center line of your body)then when you have built up your body, acquired a good posture through the line of your body, strong legs and hip you can gather the power in your tanden and Cuchin ryoku is the explosion of that energy transferred when you throw or apply a technique.

Some time ago we read the interview by sensei Rusei Saegusa, he said that in Aikido from the physical point of view the most important is the spine, and in the spine - sacrum. Why do you think the sacrum and the spine are so important in Aikido, and how you think, what is most important in Aikido from the physical point of view?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. I think sacrum is just the link between upper body and lower body. Generally in our Western world the upper body is much more developed then the lower body. So energy moves up. So when you focus on your hip you focus your energy in your lower back and the hip and that relates to the legs and that links the lower body to the spine. Then the body becomes one and everything go down: your center go down.

Like when you do Zazen the sacrum goes down. Like in all martial arts, Japanese traditional martial arts. And also when your hip is in extension that stretches the chest and front muscles of the body and inside leg muscles as well as those around the sacrum linking all the body. .

In this position with such lordosis is it possible to hurt back or spine. Is the pain possible, or it must be very natural without pain, without any hurt?

Jacques Payet sensei. I think if you do something not natural very soon it causes very hurt, hurt very bad so you know you are wrong. Exercise should not hurt. If it is pain, if some tension of muscle it is fine. But if the pain is too strong, if you cannot work, then it is something wrong and you should stop.

By the way, the interview of Rusei Saegusa - it was the first time, when we heard about this master. Is he still a Hombu dojo instructor?

Jacques Payet sensei. No. He was an uchi-deshi when I first started. He was an uchi deshi may be for three years and he was interested in seitai. It is not aikido and mainly he is doing seitai. Now he is in Hokkaido. He does not teach technique. Just body movement. He comes to Tokyo to see me and Ando sensei. And he incorporated them with seitai.

Sensei, this seminar will be already the third in Saint Petersburg. In addition, you conducted training in Novosibirsk and Lviv several times. How do you think, what is the difference between Yoshinkan Aikido in Russia and Ukraine from Japan?

Jacques Payet sensei. I think, many visitors are coming now and people more accessed to internet and level in Russia is quite high. In Japan the level is not better in general classes. Of course there are specialists like senshusei but in general class's level is similar. Because people come to dojo once a week, somebody come more but most of the people come once or twice a week and they are busy on work and family, so they have no time, and they come just for doing some exercise. They are not very focused. I think in Russia people seem to do it very seriously and they very want to learn and I think some people are even more interested in studying aikido than some students in Japan.

And also the main difference from Japan is… Japan is very safe country and also people are very peaceful and also they understand difference between budo and sports combat and like that and people practice aikido they no interested in combat or fight.

Don't you think that people in Russia are a little more aggressive and persistent?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes, yes, but again I am French and it does not matter to me but I try to show that there is something more than fight in aikido.

May be that is why they tend to use their physical strength, instead of listening to the actions taken by its partner?

Jacques Payet sensei. Yes. But when they understand that you can do the technique not using strength they are very eager to learn.

Are there any differences in the attitude of people to the formal grounds, such as "dans" or "kyu", for example?

Jacques Payet sensei. In Japan it is tradition not just for martial art but for anything for Chaligraphy, for example, also. The same attitude means that if you get certificate so it is just shows your progress. And when you get a black belt it is not so important. Black belt is just the first stage, it is just beginning. Shodan is quite easy in Japan. It just shows that you made some effort and you are interested in. And from now you will start to be little more serious. That is meaning of shodan in Japan.

But in the west shodan, black belt is very important. People want to be recognized for their great accomplishment , black belt is an en by itself so they want to do difficult techniques, be very serious and so on. So it is very different from Japan.

What advice could you give to people who are engaged in Yoshinkan Aikido in Russia?

Jacques Payet sensei. Well. They have to find a good instructor and to focus on the basic, then they will certainly progress and find value of aikido.

Thank you, Sensei, for interesting answers. I am sure that over the next few days we will see and hear a lot of interesting things, interesting and instructive. Thank you once again.