Fabrice Croizé is a French Aikidoka. He started practicing under Pierre Helley in the 90s when he was 18. In 1995, he passed his 1st Dan and became a member of the Cercle Tissier in Paris, where he met his mentor: Christian Tissier Shihan. He became his assistant, then an official teacher of the circle where he taught teenagers as well as adults. He also taught for several years at the ESIEE Dojo, graduate school of Engineering, before founding his own Dojo near Paris in 2012. For 4 years, he participated in the technical direction of the Île-de-France league for the National Technical College of the French Aikido Federation, next to another renown practitioner: Mare Seye. He’s now the Regional Technical Representative for that same organization in the Picardie region. 5th Dan, excellent teacher and much estimated in the community, Fabrice Croizé conducts seminars in France and abroad. This meeting took place during the 14th Kyoto International Aikido Seminar. Thank you Fabrice for accepting this interview. As I have mentioned before, and like I did during the interview with Christian, I prefer to focus my interviews on the human aspects and on the benefits that aikido can bring to people, thus I am going to direct the discussion towards those themes. First, for all the people who don’t know you, because not all our followers practice aikido, can you introduce yourself, tell us what you do and who are your teachers and references? My name is Fabrice Croizé I am a 5th dan aikidoka, a grade I passed both in France and at the Aikikai. My main and most important mentor is Christian Tissier. I am also interested in some Sensei from the Honbu Dojo, whom I meet several times a year. Yasu-sensei and Miyamoto-sensei as well, and Okamoto-sensei, who is not at the Honbu dojo but whom I like a lot. Where do you come from? What brought you to Aikido? You mean before doing Aikido? Yes… What did you want to do with your life? And how did you become a “professional”? If we can use such a word… It is indeed an interesting question, because I first studied science. I went to a good high school. I graduated in science and then went on to become an engineer in electronics. I succeeded finally. At first I wanted to do scientific research. I was really into astrophysics, etc. But… I finally found myself more industrious on the tatami than in front of my books. So I reconsidered my career. I was looking for something… Something different from the image that society demands of us. I did not want to work for a company. It just did not feel right. So I was looking for… a job, or something else in which I could improve all my life. And even continue after I retire. I was looking for something different than the usual life patterns imposed by society. I liked Aikido from the very beginning. I liked the implications it has on one’s life, how the techniques change according to our age, and how we grow through it. Also to see rather old people reaching a very high level… That touched me deeply. So, based on the way you approach Aikido and based on what Aikido taught you, how it influenced you during all those years; How would you define Aikido ? What is it ? Of course, I am not asking for an “academic” or “wikipedia-like” definition… Again, it is an interesting question, and not an easy one. Because our perception of Aikido changes a lot with time. Well… The idea I had of Aikido when I started, which was perhaps very romantic… Where Aikido people would be practicing deep into the mountains, under waterfalls… and would be able to lift and throw a bad guy with only one finger. Well… this vision has of course disappeared. Moreover, the idea one has about Aikido always evolves. Mine is not the same compared to 10 years ago, 20 years ago… and probably in 5 or 10 years from now it will mature again. So how to define Aikido? Well, first of all, it is a martial art. Some people tend to forget that fact. That’s fundamental. And through this Budo, this martial art, one can forge his character, evolve… Of course there are physical aspects: you must develop athletic skills, a good posture, you need to harmonize your body and your movements… And of course there are also all the human and spiritual aspects, which flourish with time. And since you practice and progress all the time with others, that changes radically the way you look at people. I can be closer to people now than when I was 20. I can touch them more easily. I feel less stress when someone touches me. That may sound rather simple, but… Contacts… Kneading others on the mat… That changes a lot the way you see other people’s body. Then, regarding the impact on your own personality… Well, I cannot know who I would be if I hadn’t done Aikido. But I think anyway that Aikido improves many thing. Like self-confidence or the faculty to bind easily with others, the ability to foresee potential issues with people… …way in advance… thus dealing with them better since you have more time, more space before the problems actually arise. Aikido can therefore develop many things. However, since we are at the center of this process, it is not easy to extrapolate and imagine what would have happened if we would have not studied Aikido… or what role Aikido really plays into all this. Yet, the effects Aikido has on character building are important, and when I meet friends from my college years, or people from the same age, I often feel that, well… I feel that they haven’t grown much. It is hard to explain… The way they evolved is sometimes odd. I don’t know if you share the same opinion, but I also come from this kind of scientific milieu, somehow, and I think that Aikido taught me to like people. Because scientific studies formats you to categorize things, and so people who don’t fall under categories, or people who do not have that scientific, or let’s say logical mind… You always find them annoying, you don’t accept them much. However, when you are on the mat, you finally understand that you cannot grow without the others, whoever they may be, well, I think Aikido balances the rigidity of that scientific mind. … Right ? Yes I agree First, we manipulate, or work with people; or we are manipulated… …we’re actually more manipulated by others than the opposite… by people from different origins, whom we wouldn’t have associated with in the past. Moreover, like you said, indeed, people with higher background tend to categorize others depending on their education or their intelligence… Plus, plus-plus, medium, minus, etc. We are more likely to hang out with people deemed of the same “level”. Or those who think alike. So when someone you see has an idiot pins you down or throws you away, that rapidly makes you rethink your judgement. I also practice others disciplines, like kickboxing, etc. It is the same: I train with people whom I would never associate with in my daily life. but whom I must respect once I enter the room, because there is no choice. And so it is the same with Aikido. I came to meet and appreciate some people I would never have bound with before So yes, Aikido changes radically the way you understand relationships with others. And since we try to avoid hurting our partners during practice, I can feel a sentiment of fraternity… which grows stronger year after year inside the practitioners. That’s what I think… Are you a “professional”? What does “professional” means nowadays in Aikido? Many of our followers are not French and they might not understand how the Federation works in France. So I have a couple questions about that… Ok! In order to explain how Aikido is organized in France and how it affects the life of its instructors. So yes, I am a professional instructor. That’s how I make a living. Nonetheless, you have to understand that there are different types of professionals. Some will teach numerous classes. Classes for children, classes in public schools, always increasing their number… Personally, I am lucky to be with Christian Tissier. He pushed me to… to improve many aspects [of my Aikido] so I can eventually become a professional. It meant that I had to be on time… I was often late before. I had to dress up properly and needed to be clean all the time, on the mat and outside the Dojo. That may sound rather simplistic… But it wasn’t necessarily natural for me at the beginning… Back then I didn’t min being scruffy. Again, this is very simple, but I had to work on that. Finally, being a professional implicates that you practice a lot. You must be very demanding regarding your expectations and thus exacting with your own training. Without that, well…. Your Aikido would be empty. There is no other way to say that. So yes, that’s a lot of work. I used to train a lot when I was 25, when I joined Christian’s Dojo. I still train at least twice a week. More if I have the opportunity. And most importantly I try to always improve my pedagogy and the way I practice with my students. Or when I have the opportunity to teach larger groups during seminars. Besides your classes do you have any responsibilities inside the Federation or teaching committees? There are changes right now within the French Federation, but I am a member of what they call the “Technical College” (committee), which gathers about 30 people appointed by the Federation to spread its the technical canons of Aikido and to form new instructors. I am also the technical director for the Picardie region. It is the area to the north of Paris. I represent the federation in this region and my job is to make sure that people progress while maintaining the integrity of the techniques. Those are my responsibilities. That’s all concerning the Federation. So with this kind of organization, it is safe to assume that there are many exchanges between different regions. Maybe not on a very large scale, but… You live and teach in Paris, don’t you? Right! But Picardie is just next door, so… that’s very convenient. But like often, things tend to compartmentalise somehow… A federation can provide us with many good things but at the same time it creates walls. People in different areas don’t necessarily know each other. Unless they live nearby… Things don’t always go as smoothly as we would like but there are connections anyway. The Federation tries its best to dispatch instructors here and there and makes sure they rotate so they don’t end up in the same area all the time. There are pros and cons. Less follow-up that way. Maybe… So yes, pros and cons… To my knowledge, France is the only country where participating in seminars is mandatory for grading. Maybe. I don’t know actually what happens in other countries… (Jordy) I think it’s a good system. Some may stupidly try to seek the same instructor all the time, but at lest it gives people opportunities to… Well, I think that… Well, I did all my Aikido in that system, so it seems natural to me now. But I think it is important because… I started in a small club, a small dojo in the suburbs. And the first time I went to a federal seminar, It was with Bernard Palmier who is a 7-dan Shihan now. At that time I discovered what technique really is. Pedagogy also. It opened my eyes. I understood that there were experts, almost flawless; they had a very precise pedagogy. The Federation was hosting those events; It was for everybody, it was cheap. There was one seminar every month. I think it is important. Of course people can choose not to go, but those who really want to learn will snatch the opportunity. Those seminars must continue to exist. Now, concerning grading, I think it is a good thing that the seminars are still mandatory. All the practitioners go through the same seminars. Some may come from prestigious Dojo, others from average or worse ones, but everybody is there so that smoothes out the different levels. So I think it is important, yes. So, how do you organise… …because somehow, teaching Aikido is like… I was about to say “part of the entertainment business”… There is probably a better way to say that, but.. Instructors work when other people don’t. People go to the Dojo when… (Fabrice) Yes! it is offbeat People go to the Dojo when their work is over. You have a family… It must be difficult to organise your life based on a system like that. You have to prepare your class during the day. Then… teach during the evening, sometimes late… How does a technical director plan his days? With Helène, my partner, we do the same job. We are very fortunate. We can easily talk about what we do and we work at the same time, so… But on the other hand we cannot take turns to take care of our kids since we work together and offbeat, compared to other people. Evenings, lunches, weekends… You need to rely on others… babysitting… We can’t always be with the kids unfortunately… That can’t be helped. We try to spend time with them early in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon after school… We have a network of friends and sitters who help us. Family too. We talked about the influence Aikido can have on people’s character and their evolution. How do you integrate that in your pedagogy? You teach you students technique only? or other stuff? Well, so far, I find it difficult to deal with my students’ personal problems. Of course, if something bad is happening I acknowledge it and try to give advices. If people come to me with their problems I try to help. But it is hard for me to… confront their personality on the mat. If something negative happens several times I will step up for sure; but yeah, I focus a lot on technique, on the body. Anyway, regarding character building, it naturally comes with years of training… If it does not come… Well! If it does not come, generally people just quit. They loose interest. But yes, if it does not work, I need to address it. It is not easy. Do you think that through the exchange of techniques and through the philosophy that underlies the technical syllabus of Aikido, one can find, if he wishes to do so, if he sees it and decides to embrace it, something… that allows him to reflect upon himself. Even outside the dojo? I think so, yes. The energy you put on the mat during all these years washes your personality. It is… You need however a lot of ego to be able to stay many years on the mat. A strong personality will help you. But anyway, yes, practicing Aikido washes you somehow, and that makes you evolve. Don’t forget that many people often start Aikido with assumptions. They have read about it… Well, sometimes they just try randomly, but; some may have ideas about esoteric concepts… Or how to evolve or change one’s life, as we talked about earlier. The thing I am very careful about, besides technique, is the general mood of the class. It must be good an positive, so each student can express himself and progress. People need to find some pleasure practicing on the mat otherwise people stop everything. If there is no fun, people stop the class. The mood in which we train is very important. I often stress that aspect. It keeps the group willing to go further. Nowadays people tend to classify Aikido in different styles. Let’s name them: Aikikai, Iwama, Yoshinkan… Even inside the Aikikai, to which we both belong, there are different training styles. And we can see, even during the seminar we are participating in right now, Christian Tissier, Miyamoto-sensei, whose Aikido are completely different, at least visually, working together. To what extent do you think it is important that Aikido manifests differently from one person to the other? I am asking this question because I want to examine what “Christian Tissier’s Aikido” is. There are probably many people who would rather not define their Aikido based on Christian’s, but he and his students stimulated something. How do you feel the difference and what is “Christian Tissier’s Aikido”? Of course, morphologies are different, Mentalities are different. Well I think it is important to follow the same instructor for a long period of time. When you start Aikido and you want to reach higher levels. Otherwise you will just disperse yourself. Your body must acquire the basics on which you will be able to build for a long time. Serenely and safely. This is very important. Of course you need to carefully choose your instructor otherwise you will waste your time. Then you need to follow him for a long time in order to acquire strong and durable basics. I am personally interested in meeting with other high level practitioners, from time to time… Because they can propose new solutions to technical problems: distance, power, engagement, situation… They might see the problem from another perspective. The way of solving it may be different. I learn a lot from that. it… helps me being open minded and gives me new possibilities about reacting or progressing. That interests me a lot. However, it is probably not a good thing to focus too much on the differences between styles. It is not important after all. Indeed each sensei has his personality and thus tends to attract either strong students, or quick or smaller people, but… There is good in every style. You don’t need to be stubborn about that Of course, I am Christian’s student… But I am interested in other styles as long as there is quality in them. Finally, to answer your question: how to define Christian’s Aikido… I don’t know what to answer. There are a few clear things about is Aikido though. First, he is extremely demanding regarding the technique, the physical and mental commitment. The psychology… I think he is right. Without that commitment your aikido will be average at best. Furthermore, what often impressed me in his Aikido, and what probably is for a big part in his success… is that he always teaches several positions at the same time. This evening he taught basics. He can pass down the Aikido of the Doshu, the fundamentals. Those never change. It is a bit like clockwork. It is simple yet powerful. It works. Everybody should acquire those fundamentals. So, Christian can do this and at the same time he does a lot of research. He practiced other martial arts and I can see now how that impacted his way of apprehending technique. And since he was very close to Yamaguchi-sensei, he is always looking for new technical ways, and evolutions regarding the use of the body based on his own evolutions and spiritual development. Looking for more efficiency and more pertinent manners. Christian wears several hats, and that makes his Aikido vast. There is something… as seen from outside… Because I’ve never studied with Christian, except for a couple of seminars and classes… His pedagogy always impresses me. I remember something, and I feel he passes that down to his students and I find it remarkable. So I remember, 6 years ago, at the international symposium in Yoyogi where he attended at least half of the classes led by other instructors, in order to study people, to prepare his next class and judge the level of the students and what they needed to work on. He was studying his colleagues’ pedagogy. Only he did that. In term of pedagogy, it is… I am not saying that his pedagogy his better, but if I compare with the instructors I know… Although, I usually train in Japan, not in France. Maybe we could do here a comparison between France and Japan, but here there isn’t much pedagogy actually. So that was something I liked in him… Your opinion is interesting, since you live here in Japan. In France, indeed, and especially with Christian, the structure of the classes are well thought. He is interesting because his pedagogy is very well structured but at the same time it is also very spirited, he can adapt to different situations. So it is structured yet spontaneous at the same time. You can find both aspects. Indeed I feel that Japanese sensei… They often… well… they don’t give spoken explanations. But situations are supposed to serve as explanations. So time and practice will make the students understand, feel, then structure the information in their minds. Personally, I am used to the French way where Christian and many instructors tend to structure or decompose, sometimes too much, sometimes to a level where you loose track of the teaching… So I find it refreshing, on the contrary, when instructors let the situations develop on their own. So… how can I put that… They propose to practice without giving too much guidance. Pedagogical or else.. Just practice what they propose. I like it. It is good from time to time. I do understand your point of view. For sure, the structure of the pedagogy is important. Well, that’s interesting: in your opinion, since you travel often, sometimes with Christian sometimes for your own seminars. Do you think this is specific to France? Or let’s say Europe… This kind of structured pedagogy? Or do you think it is like that everywhere in the world, except in Japan? Obviously it is very “Japanese” to submit yourself to a discipline without much explanations about it. But everywhere I go I found a solid pedagogy. Maybe because I follow Christian in his circles… There are some places where the teachings might seem a bit strange, where the pedagogy seems very mystical… in that case, well… But I think that things tend to be more structured nowadays all around the world. Practice only is anyway very “Japanese” for me, indeed.