On June 21, 2012, I departed from Las Vegas bound for Paris, France. I was invited by Christian Tissier Sensei and the FFAAA organization to give a lecture on aikido history. This trip proved to be a grand adventure and my chance to see for the first time one of the loveliest areas on earth. Allow me to share with you the highlights.
Arriving late in the afternoon on the 22nd at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, I was met by Maxime Delhomme, the president of the FFAAA, and an attorney by profession. We had a very lively conversation in English during the somewhat lengthy ride to our hotel. Shortly thereafter, I was met by Christian Tissier and his lovely wife Nathalia who were staying at the same hotel. We then went out for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, enjoyed a lot of pleasant conversation, pasta and wine!
I got to bed fairly late that night, and had trouble sleeping due to jet lag and the anticipation of giving a lengthy lecture in French the next day. Before I was scheduled to speak Saturday evening at the Institut du Judo, seminars were conducted by Christian, Lucien Forni (one of the top students of Masamichi Noro Sensei who created Kinomichi), and famous world-champion karateka, Dominique Valéra, a personal friend of Christian. The latter gentleman was fascinating to talk to and has maintained his incredible skills well into his 60s. On Sunday, classes were given on the aikido and the sword by Paul Muller and Tiki Shewan.
Lecturing on aikido history
I went into the conference room early to make sure that everything was set up properly for my presentation. This included three microphones, an overhead projector, and lighting. My technical crew consisted of videographers Christophe Champclaux and Marie-Claude Lui-Van-Sheng, and a couple of assistants. The lecture was to be videotaped in its entirety and made into a DVD along with the event seminars.
As the hour neared, Ludwig Neveu arrived. He is a native French speaker now living in Germany who translated the text of my presentation into his mother tongue. He made the trek all the way from Frankfurt to attend. Ludwig kindly agreed to assist me as my interpreter during the event, and I must confess that his presence set me at ease.
I was introduced at about 6:15 pm by Maxime to the audience of about 80 persons, and shortly thereafter began my presentation which was titled “How War and Religion Shaped Modern Aikido.” I had practiced reading the French text aloud for several weeks prior to coming, to be able to read the text smoothly. The French language has a number of complex sounds that require the mouth and throat muscles to work in a different manner compared to English. It takes practice to reproduce these sounds accurately and I wanted to get into shape, vocally speaking. My French is decent, but the content of the talk was somewhat academic and used literary language that is outside the scope of conversational French.
Early on, I decided to read aloud the text, and vary the flow of the presentation with impromptu comments about the many historical photos I had prepared. This seemed to work out well, and despite my fatigue, I managed to get through the lecture with only a few stumbles along the way.
My presentation was followed by the projection of the 1935 film of Morihei Ueshiba at the Asahi News Dojo in Osaka. I narrated the video, and this rare film–one of aikido’s true treasures–was well received. Next was a question and answer session that proved quite animated and ran over timewise. Since I really had no way of preparing, I had planned in advance to give most of my answers in English so I could speak uninhibitedly and leave the French to Ludwig. This, too, worked out fine, and I was able to give rather detailed responses to difficult questions that would have been tough going for me if I had used French. As it turned out, we ran out of time and had to close the discussion prematurely because it was getting late.
To be honest, I was very relieved and contented when it was all over. Several attendees came up to me afterward and were complimentary in their remarks. Chrisitan seemed pleased, too, and this was important to me because my coming to France was entirely due to his kind invitation.
That night, I was taken to a very nice French “brasserie” where I had a delicious fish dinner and indulged in a wonderful dessert, something I don’t normally do! The atmosphere of comraderie among the party of aikido veterans and animated conversation we enjoyed were a delightful way to end an unforgettable day.
Off to the Côte d’Azur
On Sunday afternoon, Christian, Nathalia and I caught a flight to Nice. I was visiting the south of France for the first time as a guest of the Tissiers. I was welcomed into their lovely home near Rochebrune, and did my best to relax and enjoy a vacation in the sun-drenched climate. We mostly ate at home in a family atmosphere during my stay which I definitely preferred. I enjoyed quality time with Dany Leclerre of Belgium, Micheline Vaillant-Tissier and Olivier, Paul Muller and his Russian aikido friend Oleg during the several meals we shared.
On the sight-seeing front, I managed to see a bit of Nice, Monaco, Èze (a spectacular medieval village overlooking the Mediterranean), Grimaud, Saint Tropez (made famous by its best-know resident, Brigitte Bardot!), and Fréjus. As I very much enjoy history, I had a ball seeing the sights and asking a lot of questions of Christian who served as my very knowledgeable and patient tour guide. The area is spectacular and anyone who has the opportunity to visit the south of France will be entranced by the experience!
Well-rested, I caught my flight from Nice airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle and back to Las Vegas on June 28. I have many people to thank for their support and hospitality, but especially the Tissiers, who made this trip a most memorable one!