Interview: Shihan Jacques Payet

Interview conducted by Neil Horton. Interview taken from World Budo Development Society Newsletter dated February 2020.

I was delighted when Shihan Jacques Payet agreed to be interviewed by me for the WBDS Newsletter. He has a great deal of history and experience which is evident in the ensuing interview. He left his native France to train directly under the Aikido legend, Gozo Shioda, and resides there even today. I must point out that I have only amended a small amount of Shihan Payet’s original words because I want the work to be interpreted as if speaking to him directly.

How did you first get involved in the martial arts and Yoshinkan Aikido?

Since high school, I was influenced by Bruce Lee`s movies and attracted by the martial arts. At University in Lyon France, I practised Kung-Fu and traditional Ju-Jitsu and one day during a Ju-Jitsu seminar I saw for the first time an old 8mm movie of Shioda Gozo Sensei the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido. There were many videos of famous Japanese and Chinese masters but I was very impressed by this old man of small stature effortlessly throwing and pinning a much bigger partner with grace while laughing. I promised myself to go to Japan and check out this master.

When did you decide to travel and become ‘uchi deshi’ to Master Gozo Shioda?

Upon graduation from University and a year of compulsory military service in France, I left home for Tokyo, Japan in September 1980. I was 22 years old. I wanted just to meet Shioda Sensei and train under him, but in those days there was no internet and I had no contact in Japan and no idea how to look for Shioda Sensei`s dojo. I went to the University of Tokyo and met a young student in French literature who could help me in my search, and if possible, in French, since my English was very basic and I was to realize few Japanese mastered English or other foreign language. I was to find out that we do not become a “deshi” of a master like that. First I had to join as a regular student and study the base with young instructors before being taught by the master after becoming black belt. Every day for one month I came to the Honbu dojo to train 3 hours as a regular student. However, very soon all my savings were gone and I had no other choice than going back home. It is when I went back to The Dojo for a last time to greet my instructors and say goodbye, that the course of my life changed. I met one of the sons of Shioda Sensei in front of the dojo and when I told him my biggest regret was that I will have to go back home without seeing even once Master Shioda. `Today is your lucky day. If you want I can introduce you to my father”. Shioda Sensei looked at me straight in the eyes and said “ if it is true that you came all that far to train Aikido and if you are courageous, ready to get up early, do many chores and care for your seniors while training 6 hours a day, then I will give you a chance: you can stay and live in the dojo here for 3 months. I will reevaluate you in 3 months to see if you can stay longer”. That is how I could become ‘ Uchideshi ‘ of Shioda Gozo sensei.

How long was you ‘uchi deshi ‘to Master Shioda?

I started for one year as a “dojo sei “… a student allowed to live in the dojo, then naturally became ‘uchi deshi’ for 5 years, until December 1985. Then I left Japan to teach in Europe before joining back again as a ‘uchi deshi’ from 1989 until 1993. In all, I was a ‘uchi deshi’ for Shioda Gozo Sensei for 8 years.

Can you explain what was involved being ‘uchi deshi’?

‘Uchi deshi’ literally means “inside student”. An ‘uchi deshi’ lives a communal life in the dojo with other ‘uchi deshi’, has no privacy and has a life totally dedicated to the needs of his master but also takes care of his seniors or Sempai. A young ‘uchi deshi’ gets up early, spends at least an hour cleaning. He trains 6 hours a day 6 days a week, and between classes, he is not allowed to sit down but stay alert always guessing what his teacher may need and bring it to him if possible before he is asking for it. The mental aspect of the training is the hardest. It is to never be surprised or late but always ahead of any expectation, answering the phone almost before it rings, opening doors at exactly the right timing, offering a towel exactly at the right moment when needed. Missing a timing would mean being hit in a combat situation, the real training was to be able to train oneself constantly not only physically in the dojo but anywhere and in any occasion. The ‘uchi deshi’ trains himself how to kill his ego, never questioning his master or complaining, accepting the most degrading or difficult task with gratitude and a loving heart. The ‘uchi deshi’ washes his master`s back and help him in his bath, such a bath he has prepared himself and felt with his skin the perfect temperature his master wanted the water to be. He hands him his clothes sensing the order his master wants his clothes on; pants first or shirt first; socks or tie? – while pursuing a normal conversation. This is a fluid randori, a perfect connection of body and mind that makes a uchi deshi training very special and essential to traditional education.

Can you tell me the other Aikido masters you are also trained with?

I have trained with most of the Yoshinkan Aikido teachers alive today.

Have you studied any other forms of Budo?

I am a black belt in traditional Ju-Jitsu, Kung Fu and Shotokan when I was young. In Japan, I studied Yagyu Shinkage Ryu besides Aikido.

I understand you have lived and taught in the UK and USA?

Yes, I was technical director of The British Yoshinkan Aikido Federation in London for one year in 1987-88. I opened a dojo in Hollywood Los Angeles and another one in Orange County, California where I lived from 2000 to 2005 I am also travelling intensively for seminars and workshops all over the world.

Please tell me about the system you have created called ‘Mugenjuku Kenshusei’?

In 1990, I was asked by the late Shioda Sensei to design a program for foreigner living in Japan to become instructors. I helped the design of a one-year instructor course running together with the famous Yoshinkan Police 1 year special course. The selected foreign students could share some of the police training together with some specific classes with a non-Japanese instructor. Based on this experience I developed a new program which basically keeps the intensity and strong spirit of the old program but eliminates the militaristic boot camp style of training with bullying and negative effect, encouraging maximum effort for self-realization and personal challenge, while maintaining the essence of true traditional martial education.

Is it important for you to live in Japan?

I have lived in many countries and I continue to enjoy very much travelling and teaching all over the world. People are the same everywhere especially when they love Aikido and Budo and it is a real pleasure to teach anywhere I go. However, I feel home in Kyoto, I think the city itself feels “Aikido” in the sense that people are calm and polite in harmony with others, no violence, a natural feeling of peace and understanding, tolerance and joy that it feels like Aikido is everywhere. There are very few confrontation and people are naturally expert on conflict resolution. It just feels the best place to train, teach and live Aikido here.

Do you think weapons study is important to Aikido?

Yes, I do. I have a weapon class that I teach every Friday at my dojo. However, I do not think it is wise ( or useful) to introduce the Kouryu concept (or Riai) of the weapons to Aikido, rather we should use the Aiki concept and incorporate it to the weapon. In Kouryu the concept is to kill the enemy and all the reasoning is to focus on that. In Aikido the weapon is a tool to understand better our technique, add some distance (Mai) concept and connect with a partner with a weapon. In other words the use of weapon in Aikido is very different than other weapon training, but a very important aspect of the training.

What are your thoughts on school children holding dan grades?

In Japan, child rank and adult rank are two separate systems. Generally, children can test up to Shodan or sometimes Nidan, then when they become high school student 14 years old, they join the adult class. They would test again for an adult rank between 4th Kyu and 3rd Kyu according to their maturity and technical ability. So in the best case scenario they will have an adult Dan between 16 and 18 years old at the earliest. Especially in the West, it is probably better to limit Shodan rank to 18 years old and up.

Do you have a favourite ‘waza’?

I really enjoy all the basic techniques without exception. Every time I practice them I try to do as if it was the first time and there is always something new to discover. If I have to point one in particular maybe iriminagae.

What characteristics make a good instructor?

I think a good Instructor put his students first, is loyal, inspires, commands respect, trains and researches more than any of his students and is an example. Do you think martial arts politics have had a negative result? Yes, unfortunately. The martial arts tend to cultivate strong egos when it should be the opposite, so something wrong is going on. Instead of supporting each other and showing an example, organizations, as well as individuals, compete and bad words each other when they should be training hard to find the true way of their respective Budo.

I understand you was the translator for Mike Tyson when he visited the Yoshinkan?

Yes. Before his fight in Tokyo in 1990 with Buster Douglas, he wanted to see some Japanese martial arts, so he asked if Shioda Sensei will show him some Aikido. He had no idea what Aikido was and was expecting more of a good Karate fight. He came with his promoter Don King, and a large entourage, mainly young black boxers. I had to educate them in Japanese culture explaining that it was very rude in Japan to enter a dojo with one shoe on and without bowing to show respect. Eventually, they became cooperative and Mike Tyson enjoyed Shioda Sensei`s performance noticing that no muscle or power was involved in Sensei`s throws or pins and that he had a perfect balance whenever he moved. When asked to experience a joint lock from Sensei, Tyson refused, arguing he had a very expensive insurance policy on his wrists and could not afford any injury. In the end, he said Aikido calmed him and he was glad he came.

How often do you teach?

I have a full-time dojo, except on Monday when it closes. We have classes from 7 am in the morning until 9 pm at night. I share teachings with my instructors but in general, I teach about 4 days a week at the dojo when I am not doing seminars and workshops.

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