Philippe Gouttard Sensei is one of the greatest French and worldwide Aikido expert. Displaying a high teaching focus in conjunction with a strong passion, he always aims at sharing with all students his own personal vision of Aikido. Today, during the following interview, he fully opens to us in view to deliver his own perception on the teaching and the practice of this discipline. Also sharing his past and current experiences throughout the Aikido world, in France as well as abroad.

By Stéphane ETHEVE


1 - What are the reasons, the circumstances that brought you to Aikido? And today what are your main motivations to stay on the mats, to continue to teach Aikido?

I ended up doing Aikido by sheer luck... I came upon an ad within a newspaper saying: " Do 11 classes and become invincible !". Straight away I said to myself "why not try this!"

Funnily, I went to the wrong place by mistake. When asking to the person who welcomed me on that day, what was this sporting activity about, He simply replied that he had no clue but that an Aikido course just started with a Japanese expert: Me Tamura.

As soon as I started on that day I never left the mat. My personal belief, is that most of Aikido practitioners started it without knowing what it was really about.

I always loved the contact with the others. Though being very shy when I was much younger, practicing Aikido really boosted my desire to continue it and to never give it up.

As for teaching it, I am absolutely passionate on sharing knowledge with the others. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing students progressing, improving and reaching a level possibly superior to the one of their own teacher.


2 - It seems that Your practice has changed over time. Can you tell us today what it was before and what you perceive of it today? what do you think about the fact of practicing an aikdo that you think is good one day and later, change course in all honesty?

Of course Aikido's practice is in constant change and evolution. This, according to the Masters we do follow, people that we do meet on or off the mats during our Aikido lifetime and most of all according to our own personal life we do keep.

The pains and injuries we do come across while practicing also do change and shape up our practice. At first we start with a weak body that we do strengthen through multiples exercises and techniques that allow us to adapt and go through necessary motions within Aikido. Yet, we have not fully assimilated the technical aspect of things as this comes along with time and thorough practice.

As years go by, our body loses strength, becomes less enduring therefore our overall practice does change. Not suddenly though but slowly with time to probably reach what would be our own personal ideal vision of Aikido. However do not be mistaken, the road is long, filled with doubts which impact our perception and way of thinking. I do personally believe that these fillings of uncertainties and hesitations push us to continuously change and improve. We also need to take into consideration that nowadays, students become stronger, bigger so they do comprehend quicker what took us years to assimilate.

I firmly believe that all instructors are teaching in the most honest manner. What really matters, is when we are at a student's stage, as this is when our future will be shaped up. That includes the physical and mental work that we are going through at the time plus the aspects of failure and none recognition we might face. As far as I am concerned, Aikido can be resumed as a psychotherapy. By this, I mean through the perpetual physical and mental work we must provide, we must stay as honest as possible with ourselves and most of all with all students willing to do well.


3 - What is your definition of Aikido? What are your hopes about its evolution in the more or less long term?

As far as I am concerned, Aikido is about using natural gestures while being in an unnatural/uncommon situation such as within a fight. For that reason the technical aspect of things is mainly based on attitude and gesture. What we usually call Shiho Nage, Kotegaeshi & kokyu nage are not techniques per say. They are means of understanding how our body behaves and works.

Aikido's evolution will definitely follow the human being's one. With time humans will become stronger, bigger, faster etc And along with it we will develop different way to move and throw. My sole goal is to train students that will, in their time, continue to pass on the passion of practicing this art to future generations. Most of all, that in 50 years time, people that will be looking at our videos won't be laughing at how we are practicing nowadays.


4 - Is there, vulgarly speaking, an Aikido for young people and Aikido for the oldest? How to ensure that each generation can practice the same discipline with different aspirations?

I believe there is no such concept of an Aikido for young or for old people. Bodies do move exactly in the same way so both young and old can achieve the same motion. The only difference might be noticed through the speed and overall aspect of the motion. For years I have tried to be powerful when throwing partners even if Uke was not really willing to accept it. Today, these days are over as I do not accept any longer roughing up someone either young or less experience than myself.

It is pretty obvious that when younger, you feel the need to perform fast enhanced/exaggerated motions with impressive break falls. A bit similar than during a show... This is perfectly fine as it is the natural path toward our ideal (see question 2). Therefore it is highly important to practice with older generations as it allows younger ones to reflect on Aikido differently and possibly understand it in a better way. A bit like in a family when knowledge is being transmitted from grand father to father, son and so on.


5 - According to you, and without being pejorative, is there a difference between feminine and masculine practice? How do you see the future of feminine Aikido?

There is not a single Aikido existing for one or the other. For both it is the same. Sure we can notice that women are in general less powerful than men even though it is changing.

As far as body control is concerned, I do not see any difference anyway. Women are more applied than men and if they do become as powerful as men then the overall difference will disappear.

We can notice that more and more women are teaching these days which probably means more men are willing to attend their classes. This is absolutely fine. When on the mats, we can dismiss politics, religion, genders and so on.

We are practitioners doing our best omitting how the other thinks or lives. Aikido is an open door to leave our fears and meet others without back thoughts.


6 - Can we talk about efficiency in Aikido? What does this notion mean to you? Could you clarify your vision on this particular point and explain how you apprehend this notion in your teaching?

This has been a recurring question for years... Is Aikido effective in dangerous or fighting situations?

Well my usual answer is: Is it effective to create damages or build up something good? I believe that only a positive body development along with the mind's one must lead us to the practice. We chose Aikido as this is not a competitive activity with organized fights. However there is some sort of "fighting" going on while practicing Aikido. Fighting, which aims at ensuring that our partner is progressing in a positive way and thus become better, more confident. This is what Aikido is best at!! To guarantee that our students become stronger and more clever than ourselves.

There is not much reality in Aikido. So how can we assess when a good attack does happen?: Is it when we have knocked down our partner? What is a perfect throw? : Is it when we have inflicted joints pain to our partner?

I always hang on to these notions: a well achieved technique, is a motion that allows the other to move in the nicest way. A good throw allows him/her to execute a nice break fall which enables then to perform an even better new attack. How should we act to let the other gain maximum freedom and confidence without fearing/suffering retaliation? To twist a hand that was offered to you is easy to do. The difficulty is the opposite, to return the hand in a better shape than when it was offered to you... Aikido is not about weak persons using means to hurt others in view to win a battle. Our own mind and gesture controls must be the key of our daily practice.

Aikido starts to be pleasant when a beginner, having spent a good session with an advanced person, becomes also a skilled student. He found out and learnt out how the advanced was moving. They both blended together and an experience was learnt from each others.

To teach is to be willing to give everything to our students. They are not stupid and know that not all answers will be given under the roof of one single teacher. This is the reason why we must allow them to experience others ways, teachers without showing any forms of jealousy. Even if this is not so easy to do.

I regularly tend to mention this sentence from the book "La citée de la joie" (City of joy): Anything that is not shared becomes lost. As instructors, we must give absolutely everything without necessarily expecting some form of return. We must trust that what we have given will serve a purpose. Which is for our students to transfer an even better knowledge to others.


7 - What other notions do you think it is important to teach in Aikido? Which ones do you think are essential?

In Aikido the notion of freedom is very important knowing that there is no freedom without being technically skilled/knowledgeable

I could sum up saying: do whatever you want, but do it well without cheating, feeling the need to dominate or have revengeful thoughts toward your partner.

Often you can hear me say while I am teaching: When on the mats, I do not want to loose! I won't lose! I only want the other to win!

I actively focus on the body development for it to become stronger and thus able to accept, tolerate, absorb badly/wrongly done techniques coming from various partners. At the same time to allow these partners to feel more confident in their practice.

I deeply value these concepts when teaching Aikido.


8 - What does mean technique for you? How do you analyze the gesture in Aikido? In other words, what are your criteria for judging its quality?

As I have been saying, gestures and attitude do constitute the technical aspect of Aikido and how exactly our own body does behave. Though, we need to keep in mind that, the majority of techniques we do can't be applied within the external world. The only valid links between these 2 worlds are the way we move and feel what surrounds us. Aikido does nurture the need of doings efforts, respect the other and maintain a strong will in life.

One thing does puzzle me: Why we always need to do the exact same gestures with various partners! Size and weight are obvious factors that we will need to adapt to when practicing. In such cases, both partners must adapt without any existing frustration arising. Being physically different induces for sure different body motions coming from both partners.

We are all human though all different. Diversity is part of us. Aikido created by O' Sensei is his own Aikido, reflecting his weight, size and current age at the time. All physical activities are developing/progressing with time and I cannot for certain say or want to say if nowadays these changes are good. The only sure thing is that without our Aikido "ancestors" we would not be where we are at now.

Concerning the new generations coming up, I'd say all should go well if we continue to practice a strong, respectful and totally free Aikido. There is no good or bad Aikido! There are only people who devote their life to Aikido at different degrees. Different people who learnt differently. Aikido is a school for life where we do accept the unacceptable. Where we loose all sense of being. It is also to expect no rewards for our acts and to accept to be a substitute. To resume it is to accept life as it is.

Each student has its own vision which obviously is the right one for them. However the latest might not be understood by more experienced practitioners.

9 - Being somewhat more philosophical now:  Does the plurality of existing practices in Aikido harm its unity or does it participate in its universality as wished by Morihei Ueshiba? In other words, could you explain to us how a student would be able to adapt to the diversity of practices along with his/her own personal development?

Aikido is an art and there is no limit to its diversity as for any other arts such as music. There is however a rule, one must be able to do "the right tune" must I say. As for music, it requires time and focus. To repeat on and on to be able to play the right note, perform the right tune.

Heterogeneity can only be a good thing for Aikido and we must promote it. But again without trying to play the "right tune", one looses the essential that leads to enjoy practicing. Diversity, can't harm Aikido specially if one tries to look at someone skillfulness while practicing instead of his/her imperfections.


10 - On another more touchy note...: How do you consider your own succession? Do you reckon, that at some stage, someone will be able to share the same vision of Aikido as your own one? 

The new generation is already here. Older generations must leave space for young teachers willing to develop a new Aikido along with their vision and evolution.

It reminds me of when I had started the technical College (French state do offer courses to become official teachers). I was young, immature and was not really comprehending the elder's current vision and behavior. I take this opportunity to apologize if in the past, I might have hurt people or been misunderstood through my conduct/words being said on the mats.

Aikido must not take a step backward level wise. This is the reason why I tend to emphasize on one single point: one must train hard and pour a fair amount of sweat while at it…

Nowadays, we must allow more delay/time between each grades. The current sporting « federal diploma » (Brevet Fédéral) for teaching Aikido should be suppressed to leave room for « state diploma » (le diplôme d'état) that should be available only as from 4th Dan. Not to do this means we will probably end up with more teachers than students on the mats.

As far as my own vision is concerned, it is irrelevant. My only hope is that through my teaching, students who do follow me will find their own path.

I do recall times with Yamaguchi Sensei. When he passed away, we all thought we could achieve what he used to do on the mats. But today, this is not the case... Why? Simply because the overall practice has changed, students have changed. Also due to the fact that we are all different and that his own approach belonged only to himself.

My own doctrine is to give the best of myself at all times. Then students following me will do according to their own feelings hopefully without saying to themselves: am I doing as he would have liked to? We should get rid of this unnecessary pressure.

Often I do consider the following: if O'Sensei would be back amongst us, maybe he might be disappointed on how we are performing and would much prefer another teacher's way that we do dislike...

To conclude, we must focus on what we know and always try to give the best chances for young students to deliver a better Aikido.

Philippe GOUTTARD sensei will be present in Reunion from November 20th to 30th, 2019, together with Mutusuko MINEGISHI sensei, as part of the 1st Indian Ocean Meeting organized by the Aikido club de Saint-Pierre.

To know out more about our guests, click here

- English translation by Philippe GOUTTARD and Cyril LAGRASTA. Special thanks for doing this job!