Nous avons eu le plaisir de participer à Hanami au jardin d’acclimatation de Paris les 23 et 24 avril. Le Hanami est une coutume japonaise qui consiste à contempler les fleurs, en particulier celles des cerisiers, dans la période où elles entrent en pleine floraison. Cet événement Parisien où plus de dix mille personnes ont parcouru ce jardin, était organisé en collaboration avec la Japan Expo.
Par Régis Soavi.
Mon Maître Itsuo Tsuda, citant O Senseï Ueshiba, a écrit dans son deuxième livre : « L’Aïkido, c’est un art de (musunde hanatsu) s’unir et se séparer »*. C’était un aspect très présent dans son enseignement, mais par contre il n’utilisait jamais les termes Awase et Musubi. Il nous parlait en français, il nous parlait de quelque chose de plus grand que nous. Il nous invitait à réaliser en nous le vide mental pour pouvoir percevoir quelque chose. Il disait parfois : « Dieu (dans le sens de kami) parle sans arrêt, mais nous les humains nous n’arrivons pas à nous syntoniser, donc on n’entend rien. Ou alors on entend juste des sons comme une radio brouillée. Mais dieu parle clairement ». Donc pour lui c’était à nous de nous mettre dans un état qui nous permette de « recevoir ». L’Aïkido de l’École Itsuo Tsuda est basé sur ce que lui, par contre, appelait la fusion de sensibilité, donc sur la fusion avec le partenaire : face à une attaque, il y a une réponse, mais pour que notre réponse soit adéquate, nous devons fusionner avec le partenaire. Lors des séances je parle par exemple de fondre et de s’harmoniser avec le partenaire, de sentir son centre. Et à ce moment là on est lié par quelque chose, plus rien ne nous est étranger. Aujourd’hui je commence à aller un peu plus loin dans la pratique de l’Aïkido et je sens beaucoup plus ce que Tsuda senseï voulait dire au sujet du lien qui nous unit à l’Univers. On se sent vraiment comme un lien entre cet Univers et le partenaire, et on constate que cela circule, que tout retourne à l’Univers.
La Pratique respiratoire : une pratique de Musubi
La Pratique respiratoire* que nous faisons en début de séance nous met dans un « état d’esprit » qui nous permet de recevoir, de créer ce lien entre l’Univers et nous. On ne sait pas très bien ce que c’est que l’Univers. Ce ne sont pas les étoiles, ce n’est pas le trou noir, etc. C’est quelque chose d’autre. Pour la Pratique respiratoire nous restons le plus proche possible des enseignements de O Senseï Ueshiba, Tsuda senseï était précis là dessus. Par exemple on fait trois fois la vibration de l’âme, Tama-no-hireburi, chaque fois avec un rythme différent (lent, moyen, rapide) et uniquement à l’inspiration. La première fois on évoque Ame-no-minaka-nushi, Centre de l’Univers. Je dis parfois que c’est une « invocation-évocation ». O Senseï Ueshiba disait de l’évoquer trois fois pendant la vibration de l’âme : celui qui conduit la séance le dit à voix haute puis on l’évoque encore deux fois intérieurement. Ce sont des informations que j’ai entendu chez Tsuda senseï, mais nulle part ailleurs. Donc quand on évoque Ame-no-minaka-nushi, comme O Senseï Ueshiba le disait, on se place au Centre de l’Univers. Centre de l’Univers ce n’est pas « Centre du Monde », ni « moi et les autres », ni quelque chose de religieux. Quelque part c’est insaisissable, mais en même temps c’est extrêmement concret. En tout cas cela ne nous encombre pas, c’est Centre de l’Univers et on peut y être. Puis lors de la deuxième fois on évoque Kuni-toko-tachi, l’Éternelle Terre, pour moi c’est l’humain, c’est la matière. Le premier c’est immatériel, le deuxième cela devient concret c’est matière. Puis troisième Kami évoqué-invoqué c’est Amaterasu, la déesse soleil, la vie, ce qui nous anime. Je raconte parfois l’histoire de la grotte dans laquelle Amaterasu s’est réfugiée et de la porte de rocher*. O Senseï Ueshiba en parlait souvent et Tsuda senseï la citait aussi. C’est la vie qui s’était enfermée dans une grotte obscure et qui resurgit. C’est important d’ouvrir la porte du rocher en nous. On s’est cloisonné, on s’est rigidifié, on n’entend plus rien, et puis un jour quand même on l’entrouvre. Aïkido nous apporte un souffle d’air, quelque chose qui nous permet de respirer un peu mieux. Alors, à partir de ce souffle, on va pouvoir ouvrir plus grand et peut-être entendre mieux ce que les Kami ont à nous dire, ce que l’Univers a à nous dire. Je ne suis pas du tout religieux, mais chaque matin je récite le Norito, comme le faisait Tsuda senseï, comme le faisait O Senseï Ueshiba. Chaque matin, au début de chaque séance, à sept heures moins le quart, je récite le Norito, puis je fais la vibration de l’âme et cela depuis plus de quarante ans. Et petit à petit je découvre quelque chose, je vais un peu plus loin, je suis plus perméable.
Awase : pratiquer avec le même partenaire peut permettre l’harmonisation avec l’autre
Dès la première partie de la séance, qui est une pratique individuelle, il est important de se mettre dans une certaine condition. Le travail d’harmonisation se poursuit dans la seconde partie pendant laquelle on pratique avec un partenaire. Pour favoriser cela, dans notre École on travaille avec le même partenaire tout au long d’une séance. On pourrait bien sûr changer à chaque technique, mais si on veut s’harmoniser c’est difficile d’y arriver en quelques cinq ou dix minutes passées avec chaque personne. Pour ceux qui ont vingt ou trente ans de pratique ça va… Mais si vous débutez, disons les dix premières années, c’est aussi quelque part rassurant de rester avec le même partenaire, on a le temps de s’harmoniser de s’imprégner de l’autre. Ainsi on va le sentir, les premiers contacts sont un peu difficiles parfois. Mais sur une même technique, une deuxième, puis une troisième on peut aller un peu plus loin, se rapprocher de son centre, respirer mieux le « parfum » du partenaire. Tsuda senseï parlait de découvrir le paysage intérieur de quelqu’un, mais découvrir le paysage intérieur de sept ou huit personnes dans une même séance c’est plus difficile. Parfois, surtout en fin de séance, il m’arrive de faire changer de partenaire notamment lors du Mouvement libre. Mais bien sûr à chaque séance on change, ce n’est pas un partenaire à vie !
Uke a un rôle à jouer, sans être violent, il doit être sincère dans son attaque car sans cette énergie, Tori sera dans le « Faire » et pas dans le « Non-Faire ». Je vois souvent dans l’Aïkido des Uke très gentils et Tori qui massacre joyeusement son Uke. Ce n’est pas du tout mon principe. Si je parle d’attaque c’est qu’effectivement lorsque Uke fait un Shomen, un Yokomen, un Tsuki ou une saisie, il est important qu’une énergie s’en dégage, il « Fait ». Tori, par contre, la détourne, laisse passer cette énergie qui s’exprime dans le fait de serrer le poignet ou de frapper, il passe à coté et la transforme, alors c’est le « Non-Faire ». Il ne répond pas à l’attaque, il laisse s’écouler cette énergie, ce ki, il dépasse l’attaque. Bien sur, il n’attend pas bêtement de se faire frapper ! Le Non-Faire ce n’est pas rien faire. Je pars du principe aussi que si quelqu’un attaque une autre personne c’est qu’il n’est pas bien dans sa peau… Quand on est bien dans sa peau, quand on est vivant, on n’a aucune envie d’aller attaquer les autres. Cela ne nous viendrait même pas à l’esprit. C’est parce que nous sommes mal dans notre peau que cela se produit. On vit dans un monde violent, on a été éduqué à réagir en fonction de cette violence, il faut se défendre contre ceci, contre cela… On en est devenu malade. En faisant l’Aïkido, lorsqu’on est Tori, on est en train de « guérir » cette violence. Cette violence qui est dans l’autre, qui s’exprime par le rôle et la fermeté de Uke, on la conduit pour la transformer en quelque chose de positif et de libérateur.
Il y a presque 30 ans, j’ai décidé de parler de Ame-no-uki-ashi ken pour désigner le travail avec les armes que nous faisons lors des stages et parfois dans la pratique quotidienne. Le ken, le sabre est une représentation du pont flottant céleste : Ame-no-uki-ashi. On parle de Pont flottant céleste quand on voit le Katana avec le tranchant vers le haut et on parle aussi de Bateau flottant céleste lorsque le tranchant est dans l’autre sens, vers le bas. C’est assez curieux parce que c’est à la fois le pont et le bateau… C’est ce qui unit le ciel et la terre, le conscient et l’inconscient, l’Univers et nous. Lorsque nous travaillons les armes, elles sont une extension de nous-mêmes, au-delà de notre peau, quelque chose qui nous permet d’aller un peu plus loin, de découvrir aussi notre sphère. Ame-no-uki-hashi : être sur le Pont flottant céleste, c’était une image qu’utilisait O Senseï Ueshiba et que nous transmettait Tsuda senseï. Être sur la lame du katana c’est être dans un état d’attention qu’on pourrait même qualifier de « divin », où une perception différente peut se produire. Je n’ai pas envie d’entrer dans la discussion de savoir s’il faut ou non utiliser les armes en Aïkido, cela n’a pas d’importance. Je les fais travailler parce que cela nous oblige à être dans un état d’extrême concentration tout en maintenant la détente. Elles me servent aussi à rendre visible les lignes de ki, tant celles du partenaire que celles qui partent de moi même, de manière plus évidente. Par exemple lorsqu’en démonstration j’appuie deux bokken sur mon centre je montre ainsi que la force vient du hara et non exclusivement de la musculature.
Kokyu Ho : respirer
Traditionnellement chez Tsuda senseï la séance commençait toujours par la Pratique respiratoire, puis on faisait l’exercice qu’il appelait le Solfège, après on travaillait des techniques et à la fin il y avait toujours Kokyu Ho en suwari wasa. Pour Tsuda senseï, Kokyu Ho c’était l’occasion de ne faire qu’une chose : respirer. Il donnait, entre autre, la visualisation d’ouvrir les bras comme s’ouvre la fleur de lotus. Il n’y a plus de technique, il y a juste une personne qui nous saisit, et puis on respire au travers, on fait circuler le ki, à travers nos bras, à travers le partenaire. Quelque soit la résistance du partenaire, on s’ouvre à cela et on réalise la fusion de sensibilité. Pour moi chaque Kokyu Ho est différent, avec chaque personne. Il n’y a pas de technique particulière, par contre, il y a des lignes qui se déploient à partir du hara, il y a comme une espèce de soleil qui rayonne et on peut suivre chaque rayon de soleil pour retrouver ce hara, quelque chose s’embrase et la personne tombe à gauche, à droite et on fait l’immobilisation. C’est pour moi un instant privilégié de respiration profonde. Quand je parle de respiration profonde, je parle évidement du ki, c’est à dire que lorsqu’on respire profondément le ki se met à circuler de façon différente.
Awase au delà des tatamis : s’occuper du bébé, le summum des arts martiaux
« Savoir bien traiter le bébé, c’est pour moi, le summum des arts martiaux »*. Quand Tsuda senseï écrit cette phrase il met en relation l’Aïkido et la façon de s’occuper du bébé dans le Seitai de Noguchi Haruchika senseï. Il disait aussi que s’occuper du bébé c’est comme avoir un sabre au dessus de la tête, dès qu’on fait une erreur « tchac », le sabre tombe. Si on fait un parallèle avec l’Aïkido, le bébé est à la fois beaucoup plus exigeant que le maître et en même temps beaucoup plus gentil ; dans le Seitai, s’occuper du bébé c’est avoir une attention permanente, constante, c’est s’abandonner. Les plus grands maîtres parlent de l’importance de s’abandonner, c’est central dans les arts martiaux. Awase, cette fusion dont on parle, c’est aussi accepter de s’abandonner. Avec le bébé tout est une question de sensation, on est dans une fusion de sensibilité constante, comme par exemple quand la maman sait si son bébé pleure parce que il a besoin de faire pipi ou s’il a faim ou est fatigué. De la même façon, mais à l’inverse, pour le samouraï qui était en face de son adversaire, l’art consistait à découvrir chez l’autre le moment où la respiration serait irrégulière, le moment où il allait pouvoir frapper. C’est faire appel à toutes nos capacités. S’occuper du bébé c’est découvrir un monde de sensibilité, par exemple à travers l’art de donner le bain dans le Seitai. Savoir comment rentrer un bébé dans l’eau, au moment de son expiration et le sortir de l’eau à son inspiration, quand on est capable de s’occuper d’un bébé de cette façon on est aussi dans les arts martiaux. Toucher un bébé, changer un bébé dans le rythme de sa respiration, endormir un bébé et le poser endormi sans le réveiller… Bien sûr, c’est bien plus flamboyant de sortir son katana et de faire semblant de couper une tête ! Mais pour moi, c’est tellement plus difficile et important de coucher un bébé qui s’est endormi dans vos bras, être capable de retirer les mains de sous le bébé sans qu’il ne se réveille, ça c’est de l’art ! Avec un partenaire d’Aïkido on peut « tricher », un p’tit coup d’épaule, on force un peu… avec le bébé, on ne peut pas tricher. Il y a ou il n’y a pas fusion. J’ai beaucoup appris avec mes bébés, je pense que j’ai appris autant avec eux qu’avec Tsuda senseï, même si c’était de façon différente.
Musubi Awase : le commencement
On considère généralement qu’il faut commencer par apprendre les techniques et qu’après de nombreuses années de travail on peut appréhender Awase et Musubi. Dans notre École la Pratique respiratoire et la fusion de sensibilité sont au commencement et inséparables du reste. Toute notre recherche se fait à travers la respiration, le « ki ». Cette direction nous permet d’approfondir la recherche dans la simplicité, plutôt que dans l’acquisition et en ce sens nous rejoignons la définition de O Senseï Ueshiba : « Aïkido est Misogi ».
Article de Régis Soavi publié dans Dragon Magazine (Hors-Série Spécial Aïkido n°6) d’octobre 2014.
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*Itsuo Tsuda (1914-1984), La Voie du dépouillement, Paris, le Courrier du livre, 2006 (1975), p.174-175.
*Une série d’exercices faits individuellement qui précède la technique. Cf. « L’École Itsuo Tsuda », p. 6-12, Dragon Magazine Spécial H.S. AIKIDO n° 5: Le travail individuel, juillet-septembre 2014.
*Mythe décrit dans le Kojiki.
*Itsuo Tsuda, Face à la science, Paris, le Courrier du Livre, 1983, p. 24
Born in 1914, Itsuo Tsuda would now be one hundred years old.
This atypical character, fiercely independent, considered himself first and foremost a philosopher and he is a key figure of the Aikido in France. He is the one who introduced Katsugen * Undo in Europe in the early 70s.
Direct student of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba during the last ten years of his life, Itsuo Tsuda did not consider important the sporty or martial art aspects of Aikido, but rather the chance to make use of this art for inner search, for personal search. He qualified this dimension as « solitary practice » and devoted himself to pass it on in his books and in his teaching.
By beginning Aikido at forty-five years of age, the ki and Non Doing were the two aspects that mainly attracted him. These aspects were particularly tangible in a series of exercises preceding, during O-Sensei Ueshiba sessions, the technique, which Itsuo Tsuda named after the expression « Respiratory Practice. »
O-Sensei Ueshiba gave a lot of importance to these exercises that meant to him something completely different then warming up. Itsuo Tsuda in an interview with France Culture said:
« For me what is important is what I do at the beginning: I sit, breathe, I breathe with the heaven and the earth, that’s all. Many people love aikido as a technique, don’t they? For me, the technique is simply the test to find out if I have evolved through breathing. »
In the technique that happens during the second part of the session there is no struggle, but an opportunity to develop sensitivity, the ability to fuse.
The voice of Itsuo Tsuda, who died in 1984, still resonates today through the nine books published in French and through his students. One of them, Régis Soavi, he has dedicated more than thirty years to Aikido and katsugen undo teaching. He is the technical adviser for the Itsuo Tsuda School .
– Good morning, Mr. Soavi, when you met Itsuo Tsuda in the 70s you were already engaged in the practice of martial arts. What made you decide to consecrate to the Aikido of Itsuo Tsuda?
– I had just started Aikido when I met Itsuo Tsuda, my teacher was Roland Maroteaux. I met Tsuda during a workshop organized by this teacher. What struck me at first was his ability to dodge. During this workshop I saw my teacher, who was an actual budoka, attacking him with determination and at any time Tsuda was not there, he was dodging, he had created void in front of him. That was what shocked me. I had already experienced a lot of Judo, Jujitsu and weapons and then, more or less at the same time, during my training as a professional Aikido, I worked with other teachers like, Master Noro, Master Tamura, Master Noquet, as well as I took part of some workshops with Master K. Ueshiba, Yamaguchi Sensei, etc.. At the time we were all a bit like Ronin, we were going from a dojo to another trying to uncover the masters’ secrets. At first I was timidly interested of Master Tsuda, but the quality of this void, this emptiness that was moving around, it was very impressive and that was what made me decide: you have to go and see this master.
– What does represent for you the first part of the Aikido practice that Itsuo Tsuda called « Respiratory Practice »?
– Master Tsuda used to say that it was the essence of Aikido. At the beginning, when I was about twenty years old, I saw this part as a kind of respiratory warming up, not to mention muscle warming up. And then little by little I found out that it was something much more intimate! And after seven years, the Respiratory Practice had become the most important part of Aikido for me. The rest was, as Tsuda said very well, a way to verify to what extent I was getting with my breathing.
– You speak about Aikido proposing the translation « the way of the ki fusion ». How does this differ from the definition « the way of the harmony » that it is normally used?
– Now, « Aikido » is an ideogram, there are no words therefore in itself. What I try to pass on through « the way of the ki fusion » is the direction we take. In Aikido this fusion of feelings between people allows you to practice in another way. It completely differs from the idea of fighting. It is rather a complementary. I think Ueshiba had such a fusion capacity with the person who attacked, by anticipating his acts, his gestures. For me, harmony is insufficient as a translation, this may purely be aesthetic. The fusion turns into something deeper. When two metals come together into a fusion to become for example bronze, they become Bronze, it is not only harmonizing them, they become something different. And it is in this sense that I want to translate it with « the way of the ki fusion. » But this is purely ideograms interpretation.
– What role do you think the technique plays?
– It is essential. It is the base. For me, technique must be extremely precise. It is the technique that leads the breathing. The technique also means the body, the posture. If your posture is correct, if the positioning is right, then it is easy, breathing is better. when one is blocked, congested, closed or too open, too soft or too hard, nothing will really happen. The technique is there to allow through its precision to find the lines that help us breathing better, to get better into the fusion. It is also for this reason that I often ask to work slowly. It is no use doing something quickly and badly.
– Does the practice of Katsugen undo, you’ve discovered with Master Tsuda, affected your approach to Aikido?
– I think if I had not practiced Katsugen undo I would have not practice Aikido the way I do today. We should never forget that Katsugen undo is something that normalizes the ground, the body. And only now I see Aikido as a process of normalization of the body as well. The practice of katsugen undo allows you to practice Aikido in this way, it is for me a base, the basic. It develops in you the breathing, once we breathe better, we are more relaxed. Aspects like aggressiveness, competitiveness disappear, they fall by themselves. Instead of practicing by hurting the others, one goes towards the normalization of the body, for example I usually show how, by twisting the arm in a certain way, during the mobilization, you allow your ki to get up to the third lumbar in fact the person’s body twists slightly on that point.
Well, it is a process of normalization of the body through Aikido, which I discovered because of the Katsugen undo practice. This applies to many other techniques, the way to get in, to reach the center, the hara, and so on. I’m not saying that you cannot find out if you only practice Aikido, but Katsugen undo was an open door, it has allowed me to feel better, to understand better, to be more in the spirit … I think this was very important for Tsuda as well. He practiced with Ueshiba for ten years. But when he started Aikido he had already been practicing for more than ten years Seitai and Katsugen undo. His terrain was thus in a certain condition, for example with regard to the flexibility – which is often lost when at forty-five years of age. And then the kind of spirit condition: for Tsuda was clear that we were not there to destroy ourselves, but rather to find a certain tone, and at the same time a balance. Aikido should lead to a balance. And katsugen undo task is the balance.
– you practice early in the morning, this may be surprising.
– Sessions during the week start at 6:45am while at the weekend they are at 8.00. I know we live in a society where you go to bed very late and you get up very late too. In my case I really love the morning. One can be tired in the evening, people after working hours are stressed. Sessions of martial arts then very easily turned into a relief valve, and so on. Rather in the morning, competitiveness does not have too much importance … you get up, you are in the dojo, you can easily breathe, you start your day. Furthermore we are very lucky to be in a permanent dojo. One comes and it is like being at home, in an association but at home, the dojo are used only for this reason. There are gyms with more or less clean changing rooms where you can not even leave your watch otherwise they might stole it, and so on. So you come here in the morning, take a little coffee, tea, and then practice. And so the day begins and starts well, it is a real pleasure. Every morning I have a great pleasure to see people getting there and taking their time, we are in a world where we do not take our time anymore…
– Your sessions are designed for all without distinction of age and levels, you talk about a school without grades.
– Master Tsuda said: « There is no black belt for mental emptiness. » With Ueshiba there was no national program for black belts. When Master Noguchi was teaching he was used to say « Forget, forget, when you will need it, it will come back naturally » It’s a little bit like this, the technique is important, but we do not repeat ten thousand times how to get attacked or some other staff. It makes no sense. Hierarchy, degrees, kyu, dan, and so on. For me this is not really important … And then in terms of age, why should we make a difference? Modern society created that difference, it has created the teenage (which by the way teenage is now up to forty years), the third and then the fourth age, and so on. All these categories do not correspond to anything. For me, when we talk about life within us we are all equal. Then, of course, it makes a difference, if I work with a six year old child it is not like when I work with a sixty years old person or somebody on their twenties.
– Other then passing on the bases, what can you really teach through Aikido?
– Ah, not much, actually, on a given moment people are going to start their own search by themselves. So, since I’m older, and my own search is also a long-term one, I can give them some information, and then I can help them to better understanding through visualizations. It’s my way of teaching people today. I suggest visualizations, for example by saying this movement looks like when you place a baby in bed. At the same time people search, there are a number of people who I consider companions they are no longer students. As sensei, as a good craftsman with a greater seniority, I can say, « Look further, that is it « , by looking further, the body opens and the person says, « Oh, okay It is fine. » It is very subtle. It is a kind of communication that I establish with my students. And then people go and search in that direction. We do not work on making the technique perfect, that does not exist. Aikido is not going to become more effective, more aesthetic, and so on. But we will be closer to ourselves, I think that this is the most important thing.
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* Katsugen undo translated as Regenerating Movement, the technique developed by Haruchika Noguchi, creator of Seitai.
An interview with Regis Soavi.
Our rendez-vous is at 6:45 AM, in Milan’s Chinese quarter. The place : a former garage, transformed into a traditional, spartan-looking dojo where, once inside, you are told gently but firmly to remove your shoes. The participants arrive little by little, sleepy-faced ; they murmur their greetings as though reluctant to disturb the pale atmosphere of the Milanese dawn. I had been invited to an aikido session by Regis Soavi, during one of the periodic courses he conducts in Italy. Regis Soavi teaches and transmits the message of Itsuo Tsuda (1914-1984), a direct disciple of master Ueshiba. I had read a few of Tsuda’s books ; he was Japanese and lived in France. His books are strange. They can’t be classed with “martial arts” books, or as “essays”, or with “stories”. In Tsuda’s school, we find the convergence of two fundamental experiences : Aikido and Katsugen Undo (regenerating movement). I wanted to speak more in depth of that, with Regis Soavi.
Who was Itsuo Tsuda
You were a direct student of Master Tsuda. Tell me a bit about him.
He was very simple. We called him Mr. Tsuda. I myself only began to address him as “Master” in his last years. He wished to be considered above all as a philosopher and writer. His quest was of a personal nature. When you met him, you realized at once that he had a strong personality, but at the same time, he seemed to be an Oriental like any other. If you were to come across him in the street, you’d never realize he was an expert in Martial Arts, he just seemed to be an ordinary Japanese. In any case, on the tatami, he was a real discovery. Tsuda addressed himself to each person individually, he never generalized. In the morning, after aikido, we would have coffee together and he would tell stories, speaking to all who were there ; but we understood that, each time, he wished to reach certain people in particular. He was characterized above all by his simplicity.
I’m looking at Tsuda’s biography : “At 16, he rebelled against his father’s wish for him to inherit the family patrimony ; he left his family to wander, in search of freedom of thought. Later, reconciled with his father, he came to France in 1934, where he studied under Marcel Granet and Marcel Mauss until 1940, when he returned to Japan. After 1950, he became interested in Japanese culture, studying the recitation of “Noh” with Master Hosada, the “Seitai” with Master Haruchika Noguchi, and Aikido with Master Morihei Ueshiba. Itsuo Tsuda returned to Europe in 1970, to disseminate the practice of “Regenerating Movement” and his ideas about the “Ki”. What did Itsuo Tsuda do during the Second World War ?
In 1940 he was mobilized and had to return to Japan, on the last boat to go through the Suez Canal. The canal was then closed. He was enrolled in the army, where he worked in an administrative capacity. He never fought. Right after the war, he worked for Air France as an interpreter. That is how he met Master Ueshiba. A French Judoka, André Noquet, came to Japan to discover the practice of Aikido, and as he spoke no Japanese, he needed an interpreter. He found Tsuda, who until then knew nothing about Aikido, but he was deeply interested at once.
Did Tsuda know Ueshiba first, or Noguchi ?
Noguchi. He was about 30 when he first met Noguchi, and 45 when he encountered Ueshiba.
What was the meaning of his refusal to accept the family heritage ?
His father came from a family of Samourai, who became factory owners and business heads at the Meiji modernization. Tsuda didn’t want to work in the family business. He wanted to live his own life. At first it was very difficult ; he even worked for a time in a chemical factory. Then, when he had reconciled with his father, he decided to study in France. Tsuda was very fond of France.
For you, is Aikido a martial art ?
No, you already know the answer. Aikido is a non-martial art ; it is the practice of non-doing. Master Ueshiba, in another epoch, could have responded that Aikido is a martial art. Still, if I say it isn’t a martial art, then people respond, “Oh, it’s a dance then”. That is why I define Aikido as a ”non-martial art”. In any case it’s something quite different ; That’s why Ueshiba called it ai-ki-do. The term is often translated as “The Way of Harmony”, but a more appropriate definition is “The Way of Fusion of Ki”. Two people can undergo what we call fusion. They do more than simply harmonize. From two, they become One, then two again. Habitually in martial arts, two adversaries confront each other and only one remains. But in Aikido we have the fusion of sensitivity. In our school, he who attacks, attacks ; the other becomes one with him : he accepts and absorbs the attacker and from two creates one. He acts in such a way that the other begins to be a part of him. In this way he disarms the attack, which no longer works.
Does that mean that one learns to take responsibility for the other as well ? Or to put it differently, in a relation between two people, does the will of one of them suffice to modify the quality of that relation ?
One learns to take one’s own responsibility. In our school, the attacker will help the other who is not yet able to create the state of fusion ; he makes it possible. If he were to attack brutally, the beginner would be unable to create this fusion ; but if he acts as a guide, he helps the other rediscover his own capacity for movement. He already has that capacity. If, when crossing a street, a car suddenly arrives, we jump to the side. It’s the art of avoidance. These capacities manifest themselves spontaneously, in certain exceptional circumstances. Here, we reintroduce them, so that they become more natural, so that they are present in every moment of our lives.
You practice early every morning. Why ?
Master Ueshiba practiced early in the morning, Master Tsuda as well ; I continue to practice early in the morning. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that only those who are very determined, very well motivated, come in the morning, because to be here at this time, you must get up at around 5:30 AM. In the morning we are fresher than at the end of the day and it’s easier to practice “non-doing”, at least for beginners. We are also more “involuntary” – still a bit half asleep, we are not yet entirely into our “social being” that we use during the day, to encounter others and go about our work : smile when we should, or not; say “thank you”, etc. In the morning we arrive at the dojo still clean, not very structured yet, and there is something more authentic there.
How is your Aikido different from that of other schools ?
There is no difference, it is Aikido. I don’t know what is done these days in other organizations, at Aikikai for example ; I left them 20 years ago. I do believe that certain things have been forgotten ; for instance, the first part of the “Respiratory Practice” that Master Ueshiba did every morning, and that we have preserved. In other schools, some forms of this have been maintained, but a large part has been lost. I think that those schools have adapted themselves more to Occidentals and to our epoch ; as for myself, I prefer to remain more traditional.
In our Aikido sessions, there is a first part, where we practice alone for about 20 minutes, and a second where we practice in pairs : one partner attacks, and the other executes the technique. The techniques are the same as those practiced at Aikikai or with Master Kobayoshi, or any other master. The difference is in our approach, which gives much more importance to the role of the partner. We take the other person completely into account, and for that, I feel that our practice of Katsugen Undo has played a fundamental role.
The Regenerating Movement
What is Katsugen Undo ?
In our school there are two practices, united through a common spirit : Aikido, of which we have just spoken, and the Regenerating Movement, which Tsuda learned from Master Noguchi- a “movement that permits a return to the source”. This is what allows us to better understand the aspect of “non-doing” in Aikido.
Often, when people arrive from other dojos, I see that they “possess” a technique : they respond to the attacks in a certain way, but there is no spontaneity. Everything is calculated, inculcated, schooled, and ordered.
The regenerating movement is supposed to bring the individual back to a state of spontaneity ?
Yes, it is the art of spontaneity par excellence.
It is derived from the “Seitai” of Noguchi, if I have understood correctly ?
What does Seitai mean ?
It means a “natural condition” ; “Seitai Soho”, for example, is a technique used to “Seitai-ise” the individual, that is, to give him the possibility of a return to a natural condition. Katsugen Undo, on the other hand, is the movement of the extrapyramidal motor system, the involuntary movement that is activated spontaneously, and that, in itself, acts to take us to a condition of seitai. It is not a method of acquisition, on the contrary, it is a Way of detachment. We don’t acquire greater flexibility ; rather, we free ourselves from rigidity. We acquire nothing ; rather, we lose things, we free ourselves from what hampers us. This is important in Aikido as well. Aikido is not a Way of “acquiring” techniques, or of “obtaining” results, but rather a Way of coming back to simple things. On this subject Master Tsuda spoke of “becoming a child again, but without puerility.”
Did Ueshiba know of Seitai ? How did Seitai and Aikido come together ?
It was Tsuda who united them. I don’t believe that Ueshiba knew of Seitai. However, Master Noguchi once went to see a demonstration by Master Ueshiba, of which he said, “It’s good.” In Japan, that is sufficient.
Did Noguchi create the discipline of Seitai, or did a tradition already exist that he perpetuated ?
No, he created it. Initially, Noguchi was a healer, until his “discovery” of involuntary movement. One day, he realized that people fell ill, and came to see him ; he would allow the ki to circulate, they would recover and go off. Then they would fall ill again and come back to see him…. Any other therapist would have been happy to observe that, as they would be guaranteed a steady clientele. But Noguchi started from a different point of view : “What good is it to heal them since they just fall ill again ? Every time they fall ill, they depend on me.” To him it was absurd. He had discovered that, with Katsugen Undo, there was no more need for someone to heal us. The body doesn’t need anyone, it does everything all by itself.
Can we say then, that our ki heals us ?
No, ki doesn’t heal us. Ki activates the vital capacities of the individual, but we are already full of ki ! If our body works normally, we need nothing else. If I have some microbes in my body, the body creates a fever and produces home-made antibiotics, antibodies, etc. Noguchi did nothing but activate the life force, when the individual was too weak. What is even more interesting is that the individual can activate his life force on his own, with no need for another person, no need to ask someone else to do it for him.
Does this method work to cure people ?
We are not cured. If we break a bone, once the bone is back in place, what makes it knit back together ? It’s not medicine, it’s not doctors, and it’s not the ki either. Even if we do nothing the bones knit, simply because we are alive ! If we find this capacity again, the whole body will function in this way.
And with cancer, what happens ? Is it more difficult to find a normal function when the cells have gone crazy ?
In the case of cancer, it’s a matter of a certain corporal laziness : the body is so damaged that it is near death. But there are people who survive a cancer. How does that happen ? That is not my domain, as I am not a therapist ; I don’t attempt to cure people. But it is clear that there are people who haven’t allowed their bodies to do their work normally ; for every little problem, they take medicine. Today, that’s how it is as well, for giving birth and for pregnancy. From the beginning of life, we are medicalized, hospitalized, even though these are natural events, where life manifests its workings in us.
Can we say then that it is our ideas that have become ill ?
Not only our ideas. It all goes together. But what is new with Noguchi, is the possibility to awaken oneself if one wishes it . It’s not a question of awakening each person at any price, nor of proposing a great new method that will cure everyone. It can be useful only to those who wish to go in a certain direction. The others, the lazy ones, don’t belong here. In this society, thereis already an infinite number ofspecialists to take care of them : doctors,priests, psychoanalysts, gurus, etc.
As for me, I prefer to live my own life totally. I prefer that no one need to take care of me.
In our magazine, we have begun a discussion about the ki, about the way each Oriental discipline interprets and uses it. It would be interesting to hear your point of view.
Ki is an untranslatable word today. The ki has a thousand forms ; good ki, bad ki… it is indefinable. When we enter a certain place, with a certain atmosphere, one can say we feel a certain sort of ki. But what seems a pleasant sort of ki to some can be quite disagreeable to others. In Aikido, there is, effectively, the ki of the attack which is to come. Sometimes, walking along the street, we can feel something at the nape of the neck. We turn, see no-one, but then notice, up on a roof, a cat observing us. We have felt the ki of the cat’s look. How can we explain that ? We can observe it, but as for explaining it… “To be in harmony with the ki.” But which ki ? It’s not simple.
I remember one of your conferences where you said that when something hurts it is natural to put one’s hand on the painful spot. For example, if we have a headache we naturally put our hand to our head, and that is already a way of using the ki.
Yes, the “laying on of hands” is yuki. When you have a headache, you put on your hand, and the ki circulates. In this way, the ki is concentrated. The ki is already there, it circulates already, but we concentrate it. When we have something wrong somewhere, we lay our hands on the spot without thinking of it, it happens spontaneously. When, on the contrary, we do yuki with someone, it adds a certain concentration, a direction.
So in your school you do yuki with each other ?
When we practice the regenerating movement, we also practice the exercise of yuki. All the same, rather than “doing” yuki, it is a matter of a rediscovery. We come back to something everyone already knows, from when we were children.
The translation of yuki ?
The perception of the sacred dimension
Does Seitai contain a reference, close or remote, to a religious tradition, as does Aikido ?
Neither discipline adheres to a religious belief.
But Ueshiba was so deeply influenced by the sect Omoto-kyo (a Shintoist religious group), that in his thoughts, Aikido and his religious practice are not always easy to distinguish.
But Aikido in itself is not at all religious. It does fit into a sacred tradition, that yes. Ueshiba had without doubt a very strong relation to what is sacred. Master Tsuda also considered the dojo to be a sacred place. After all, what is the dojo ? It’s a place where we practice the Way. And the Way is represented in Japanese by the ideogram of Tao. One doesn’t practice the Way just anywhere. A place consecrated to that practice is necessary.
But what is the sacred dimension for you ?
I can’t give a precise definition. People do say, “The sacred dimension, yes, but religion, no !” One particularity of our school is that we don’t practice before a picture of Ueshiba or of Tsuda, but before a calligraphy. The calligraphy that hangs in this dojo, for example, is “Mu”, the Void.
Is it the same in each dojo ?
No. In Toulouse, there is a calligraphy that signifies “The dragon emerges from the pond, where he had been asleep.” At Avezzano the calligraphy signifies “Bodai”, that is, the state of illumination.
What is the meaning of this custom ?
To practice before a calligraphy creates a different atmosphere than would a picture. Personally, to stand before a calligraphy that signifies “The Void”, gives me a feeling of plenitude. To practice before a picture of someone, even if he is the founder of the school, seems to me to indicate a religious attachment or devotion. Ueshiba didn’t practice before a photograph. A calligraphy is by nature “void”. Also, I find it important that those who come to the dojo to practice, understand the sacred aspect, but at the same time, that there are no gods to venerate here.
We are not concerned with peoples’ religious or political beliefs. At the same time, this space is not only physical. It’s not a gymnasium, where one trains, sweats, and showers. It is a permanent dojo, where we practice only Aikido and the regenerating movement.
I think that people are also interested in the cultural, philosophical and religious origins of the discipline they practice. In the Chinese tradition, for instance, the classical martial arts were born, or in any case, greatly developped, in the Buddhist and Taoist monasteries.
Everything began in religion. Art in Europe began in religion. Today, it’s publicity which gives its’ impetus to art. Publicity is the new religion.
Ueshiba himself said that Aikido is not a religion, but that it sheds light on religion, allowing a better understanding of it. In fact, he himself recited the “Norito” before a little altar, either Buddhist or Shintoist, or even before an image of Jesus.
Why do you recite the “Norito”, a Shintoist invocation, before each session ?
It is not Shintoist. I don’t know what it is. I say that it is not Shintoist because it is something older, something which has since been adopted by Shintoism. Master Ueshiba spoke in this case, of “Kotodama”. What is “Kotodama” ? It’s a resonance.
Like a mantra ?
If you like. Shintoism has its source in ancient traditions, in the same way that Christianity has integrated earlier traditions like Easter (originally a Hebrew celebration) and Christmas (the Roman “Saturnalia”, the Celtic and Nordic “Yule”).
What is the “Norito” exactly ?
It’s a short text. It takes just a few minutes to recite.
Do you teach the meaning of the words to the participants ?
No. What is important is the vibration, the resonance.
And people accept participating in something they don’t understand ?
But do you yourself understand the meaning of the text ?
No. It’s my inner sensation that is important to me. We do so many things that we feel, but don’t understand.
Each person already knows what he needs
Of the person who begins to practice a martial art, a great deal of confidence in the master is always required. The disciple supposes that one day he will understand, and that he will obtain some results. He hopes to see some visible effects, the proof that what he is doing works, even if it’s perhaps not immediate.
We always behave according to reason. We do something, then we understand, then we change, etc. But with Master Tsuda we discovered something different. I practiced Aikido with other masters before him, I have known different forms, different schools, but with Tsuda, I discovered the “non-form” : in fact, the form exists, but it is very vague. With Tsuda, the orientation changed. In the practice as he taught it, one comes back to oneself. The sensation of coming back to myself is what led me to abandon the other things I did ; federation Aikido, Jujitsu, etc.
One no longer needs explanations. I think that those who come here feel that. They rediscover sensation, and don’t need one to explain that we do this for this reason and that for that reason… They feel, they see, they understand deep inside, they discover ; that’s what counts for them.
In any event, today, the consequences of knowledge are harmful. The more things we discover, the more problems are raised. I don’t want to say we should know nothing, or learn nothing, but we must have confidence in what is instinctive for humans : in women’s intuition when they care for their newborn babies, for example. When a woman takes a newborn into her arms, she doesn’t wonder, “Is he hungry, is he wet, is he sleepy ?” She already knows what the baby needs, intuitively. She has always known. When she was a child herself, she didn’t need to use that knowledge, but when she becomes a mother, she uses it, that’s’ all.
People do feel these things, but generally this sort of perception stops at the unconscious level, and doesn’t emerge into our consciousness. So, officially, we say, “I don’t know”, but deep down, we already do know it all.
How can you define what Master Tsuda’s school proposes ?
Simply, to provide, for the individual, a place where one can discover oneself to be autonomous and responsible. For example, here in Milan, the dojo is named Scuola de la Respirazione , and it is the members who manage it and share all the responsibility. Naturally, there are people who come to the courses looking for solutions to their problems, but that isn’t what we propose- just as we don’t propose an ideal model that one can copy to lead one’s life. That’s why our practice of Aikido is suited to individuals who are very different one from another ; it’s not at all a matter of “one style, one school”. We are all different individuals who practice together, to return to what we have at the deepest level inside us ; he who comes here, doesn’t come to be taken care of by others. He comes to discover something which must be of service to him in his daily life, and which, otherwise, would be of no value.
Some concrete examples, of the way your practice can come into play in daily life ?
The individuals find themselves less stressed ; they take more time for themselves and are more concentrated. Attention, it’s not a “miraculous” method, that makes everyone become handsome, intelligent, rich and generous. It can serve you at work, in your relations with others, in your relationship with your own children, but it’s not a panacea.
There are those who begin to practice martial arts to become stronger, but then discover something else, other values. One can, for example, learn to give way instead of responding aggressively to an attack, as in Tai Chi. To take the example of Tai Chi Chuan, one lets the adversary “enter” instead of opposing him in a block, and then one goes in the same direction, taking advantage of his movement. This attitude can also be applied to human relationships outside of the gymnasium.
Certainly, instead of having aggressive relationships with others, we can enter into a certain harmony with them, and so find something more authentic. Today, relations among people are too superficial. We don’t take care of our children anymore : we put them in child care centers, then in school, then they do their military service… To get back in touch is important- or to return to the pleasure of working, doing work because it interests us. That doesn’t mean we should all act in the same way. For each of us, different thingsare important. We must respect each person’s rhythm. Some take a hundred years to discover the simplest things ; others find them right away, but without putting them to use : they hastily discover piles of things, then disappear.
The important thing is that it has been useful to them.
The important thing is that there exist places like this, where those who are seeking something, can come to find it.
But perhaps what is even more important is that, once one has found that something, one begins to give. Once having found it, one can then serve someone else.
I agree, but there are so many people who live only to give : they give, and they give. In the end, the others can’t take anymore. It’s like feeding a baby : “here’s a spoonful for mama, a spoonful for papa, a spoonful for little sister”- the baby finally bursts out crying, he can’t take anymore. Parents do that “for our own good”. But dictators also do things “for the good of the nation”. What can we do for the good of others ? Piles of things.
It’s an expression of egocentrism.
Certainly. There are also people who give to others to avoid doing things themselves, or for themselves. I’m rather mistrustful of that. But it’s true that when one gives in the right way, a balanced way, we can feel that, and then it’s something authentic.
That is why in certain martial arts influenced by Zen Buddhism, one seeks to eliminate the ego…
But it isn’t possible to eliminate the ego. One can say that we shouldn’t be egoistic, or egocentric. However, the “little me” represents the unity of our personality. The important thing is that it not become the « boss ».
Once the session is finished, the participants at the Scuola de la Respirazione set up a large, low table, around which they breakfast together, seated on tatamis on the floor. Although it is now well past 8 o’clock and everyone is wide awake, their voices remain quiet, as if they wished to postpone for a little bit more, the entry into the daily rhythm and hullabuloo of the town, to keep in themselves for as long as possible, that other rhythm, interior and peaceful.
An interview with Regis Soavi, by Monica Rossi, “Arti d’Oriente”, February 1999