Is Aikido Becoming a “Koryu”?

Are we about to become a thing of the past? Will the Art soon be just a pastime for specialists? In this essay, taken from ‘The Uchideshi – Interview with Jacques Payet’, Jacques Payet explains his personal recipe for keeping his Aikido alive, interesting and thriving


“Until the 1990s, Aikido enjoyed a phase of considerable worldwide diffusion and ever-increasing success. However, young people today do not seem to be as enthralled by that kind of model that appealed so much to us back then. What is the recipe for making Aikido more palatable to the 21st century audience? Does it exist or should we continue to follow our own path and become, before long, a Koryu in the true sense of the word?” (Simone Chierchini)

Jacques Payet – “There are probably many reasons why the Aikido population is decreasing.
“It is particularly the case in the US and Western Europe, where the dojos are left with a few older practitioners. Aikido has so many choices of activities to compete with, and young people tend to prefer competition and practical arts like BJJ or MMA, which show tangible results straight away and are more in phase with modern expectations. Aikido is a long-term activity requiring a lot of time and patience with uncertain results.

“However, its success in Russia and Eastern Europe is interesting. During my many trips there for seminars, I heard that parents encouraged their youth to join Aikido classes after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the country lost its markers. The communist values were replaced by the Budo values of courage, discipline, and character building. It is still the case today, as Aikido is seen as an educational substitute for the parent. I think that was the case also in Europe and France, but as a substitute to the loss of popularity of religion. Instead of going to church and following religious dogmas, Aikido was seen as a spiritual and exotic substitute, encouraged by Japanese instructors adapting their teaching to accommodate this myth. There were also very few cross training; students tended to stay with one teacher and choices were limited.

“Today in this global world where people compare and move all the time, they can pick and choose dojos and teachers without commitment or expectations on both sides.

“I do not have a magic answer on how to resolve this situation.

“I think it would be easy for an instructor if Aikido became a Koryu because it would be very easy to teach only a few passionate who really want to learn and were looking for the essence. But I think Aikido has so much to give to people and it is a much bigger challenge to try to change someone’s mind and spark a seed in someone with no special interest in what you are doing. I have personally seen a few individuals with absolutely no interest in Aikido at first and whom I thought would quit after a few classes becoming top instructors and dedicating their entire life to Aikido.

“I can only talk about my experience. I have tried to adapt, as I believe there is not much sense in retreating from the world and training alone toward a personal and egoistic ideal. I think Aikido is about sharing and connecting to people. You have to be ready to invest yourself completely in your relationship as a teacher with your student. You should not wait for the student to respond first before committing yourself, but know that the more you give, the more you receive. Of course, sometimes it’s a gamble that doesn’t work, because the student isn’t ready, but what’s important is to always keep this state of mind, it makes the teacher grow.

“In order to adapt without compromising our principles, we need to train, train, and train more every day. Do the research, work on our weaknesses, and on what we should do to believe in ourselves and have the confidence to be at ease with any public and inspire them. We should be able to play and have fun with the young ones and with people who come to the dojo just for that purpose, but also give them a taste of what else they could find with a little more effort. We should be able to deal with strong individuals from other styles looking for techniques which really work and with those looking for self-defense. We should welcome the elderly, be women friendly and enjoy training with children.

“Personally, I found that creating different classes for different needs works well. I have a specialized 1-year course for young physically fit and extremely motivated people, weekend special classes for individuals working during the week but looking for a more challenging type of training. I have women only classes, and also regular classes where it is ok to have fun and enjoy training, but in an innovative manner and in the respect of the tradition.

“I find that it is very difficult to nurture strong instructors just through a few hours a week of regular training at the dojo and a few seminars a year. One option is a specialized instructor course of at least 2 or 3 years with a few months of teaching experience assisting in a dojo, if possible outside the location where they are used to train, and even better in an overseas dojo. I think instructors should think deeply about their mission and purpose and stand for what they believe and advertise accordingly.

“Be honest: Aikido includes so many aspects, so, I think, according to the instructor`s philosophy, it could be martial, or spiritual, or self-defense and practical only. What matters is that the instructors know exactly where they stand and advertise accordingly, so that the students know what to expect. 
Clarity is necessary also in teaching, if we want to imitate other arts we will be just a copy, it is important to trust our art and teach only Aikido principles.”

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The Uchideshi
Interview with
Jacques Payet
The Ran Network – The Aiki Dialogues #13
by Simone Chierchini, Jacques Payet

Jacques Payet has been a student of Aikido since 1980, when he first moved to Japan to learn under one the Aikido greatest, Gozo Shioda. It was during this time that he became the longest serving foreign uchideshi to serve at the Yoshinkan. In the Yoshinkan organisation he achieved the rank of Hachidan (8th dan) and the title of Shihan.
Today Payet sensei is the Head Instructor of the Mugenjuku, his own dojo based in Kyoto, Japan. He is also the creator of a well-known Senshusei course, the translator of several important Aikido works and an author himself.
In this book we retrace the rich martial path that led him from Shioda sensei to us: a human adventure, a daily challenge, physical and mental, a unique training that has shaped him forever.

Table of Contents: From Seminary to Martial Arts. “Gozo! Gozo!” Gozo Shioda: Man and Teacher. Uchideshi – Walking with the Master. A Shining Beacon in the Dark Night. The Race to the Popularisation of Aikido. A Scientific Approach to Teaching. Becoming an Aikido Teacher. Troubles Rock the Yoshinkan. The Senshusei Course. On Weapons Training.
The Importance of Retaining a Martial Edge. Spiritualism in Aikido and the Shugyo. Paying the Price. Is Aikido becoming a “Koryu”?