Richard has been practicing Nihon Tai Jitsu for 30 years. 6th dan and regional expert, teaching in Saint Jean de Luz (France) and head of the Aquitaine region, he is also certainly Roland Hernaez’ closest student. But Richard is above all a passionate practitioner, who is always in search.
1. Do you have any morning routine? (It doesn’t have to be related to martial arts)
Yes, I have a morning ritual. It might seem a bit “cheesy”, but for me it is fundamental: I say hello life.
After breakfast, 4 times a week I stretch for 45 minutes and I practice the first basic position of Aunkai that Xavier during a very fruitful exchange on the comparisons of our practices. Finally I finish with a work in sensation, more internal to build “lines” of force along muscular chains. When I can not practice in the morning, I try to do it late afternoon.
2. If you only had 10 min to train, what would you do?
I would start by choosing a technique of the kihon waza. I would practice it alone for five minutes trying to properly position the body segments, then putting intention and awareness into what is done. Then for the rest of the time I would create a problem solving situation using a self defense scenario. I will then look at the different opportunities offered by the chosen technique.
This approach is important since psychomotricians have scientifically proved that the areas of the brain that are activated during the thought of the gesture and those of the actual action are the same … this allows to create “paths” the brain will be able to use to find an answer to the situation in which we find ourselves. In addition, these paths are created physically, it is the phenomenon of neuronal plasticity. That means you can literally see them with an MRI. It would be a shame to know these tools and… not to use them!
For the anecdote Master Hernaez asked Master Mochizuki how to practice effectively. The latter answered that by walking in the street, for example, taking into account the environment if an aggression was to occur, one had to think of what one could do … without falling into an acute pathology (since then I’ve seen a shrink and we feel better …). Draw the necessary conclusions …
3. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself? In others?
I believe it was to be constant in my efforts. I’m lucky to have a job I love, but that gives me time to practice. Budos are a path of Excellence. So at the moment they occupy a large part of my existence, and this has been the case for thirty years, sometimes with periods close to … paranoia! Nevertheless, to deepen one’s knowledge, one must read, understand, practice, go to seminars, and confront others. For me, these processes are time consuming. That does not mean that I have achieved excellence, I just feel like I’m moving … at my own pace.
On others, it’s having the patience to teach. I have in my club a “hard core” of advanced students who have been following me for over ten years, most of whom come to every session. They correct themselves, follow advice, move forward. If they were not present, I think I would not be teaching anymore. They followed the evolution of my practice, … they are still with me. They fitted their interests. Others from farther away have hung up their wagons on a train that was already en route. It’s very rewarding, and it’s a great human adventure.
4. In your opinion what are the biggest mistakes that people make when training? On the contrary, what do you think people get easily from the beginning?
At the start, people are eager to learn a multitude of things. It’s normal, it’s new, so you have to go for it. And to achieve that, we think that we must work fast and strong. In fact, you have to listen to yourself and work slowly. Not all the time, but enough to feel what our body is “telling us”.
Then there is the classical one, he is my partner and friend, so when I attack him, I do it with tact, without wanting to offend him. Sometimes I hit … next to him not to hurt him. An education … that we need to fight against … to be sincere!
The lack of consistency in practice, I believe, is a mistake. Not from a technical point of view, but from that of learning. Of course, I do not blame people for having a busy professional and family life. Rather, I’m thinking of those whose little voice says “not today, next time! “. They are missing something. But I admit that it happened to me too! But if we fight it, we can go through it.
And then, there is the “corrector”, the one who corrects everyone on the movement that was not shown...
On the contrary, the elements that facilitate learning for beginners are this freshness and this lack of knowledge of the Martial Art.
Freshness because a beginner is a blank page. On the other hand, people who have practiced something else can create bridges or links with what they already know.
There is still so much yet to discover. Curiosity is a great lever for motivation. It’s like I’m saying, “Xavier, do you want to see something? “
5. Has any failure you had in the past help you get better at what you do? Do you have a favourite failure you could share?
Yes, it has been the case. Saying it is my favorite failure would not really be the best way to express it ! and I’m not proud of it.
It was in a national seminar in Madrid. Master Hernaez asked me to lead this course with him. Each of us had a group for the day, and the next day we were switching groups.
I showed a self defense technique and asked one of the persons present to be my Uke. When doing my technique, I feel a blockage. I do not think anyone noticed it. But tactfully, my Uke looked at me in the eyes, implying “There’s a problem there, right? “. And there I said to myself what’s going on? Two solutions, you tell yourself who is that guy to do this to me. Or what did not work? At the end of the seminar I went to see him to understand. He told me he knew someone who could help me move forward. And I took my car, full of apprehension to meet José Pérez of the Mochizuki School. José welcomed me at the Takilia Dojo with this simplicity that touched me so much. Since then, I have been working with him. I has been almost four years and my practice has taken a new lease of life.
6. When you feel you are reaching some sort of ceiling/stagnation period in your practice, how do you go through it?
This has happened to me many times. But the biggest one was after passing my 5th Dan. I had the sensation of stagnating, of not moving forward, of having gone around the method. Which fortunately was not the case! It seemed to me I was stuck in a technical-technician system. (that cost me this waki gatame in Spain, I am the only one to blame for that).
When that happens, I go back to the fundamentals: the basic techniques. I vary the situations. By having an acute awareness of our shortcomings, we can fix them. To do that, one needs a lot of experience and practice. It helps fill up what is wrong … But we encounter other problems, and it “feeds itself”.
I’ve also had a presence on my side for 25 years, it’s my wife. She has already kicked the area I’m sitting on … with a lot of compassion (!!!) telling me that in order to thank Hernaez sensei for all he did for me, I could not to stop. She has always been right and if I am there, I partly owe it to her, and to my parents, my children and my brother who always showed interest in my practice.
It helps a lot. Stagnation is not only technical.
And then I have extraordinary friends, Serge Rebois who has become a brother of arms and with whom we exchange a lot. Gregory Grès who was there in times of doubt. Lionel Froidure, who trusted me. All my students, especially the old ones, the people we meet on the tatami, sometimes just a gaze. All this makes me move forward.
Difficult to carry everything alone.
7. What do people never ask you that you wish they did?
Good question: Do you teach the same you were in the beginning?
The answer is no. I am at a stage where I need tools. It’s no longer a question of teaching a collection of techniques in an encyclopedic way. Master Hernaez has accomplished in the last 50 years a tremendous work of transmission and spent so much energy so that Nihon Tai Jitsu can be internationally recognized.
I was lucky to host Senseï Hernaez’ last regional seminar at my home, in Saint Jean de Luz. When he left me to go back home, he said, “Whether you like it or not, it’s up to your generation now to make the machine move forward. You have tools that I do not have, use them. “
What can we do at the dawn of 2018, how to transmit, WITHOUT ALTERING, the message that he left us?
I redefined the outlines of my practice.
The first tool is about knowledge.
Giving Nihon Tai Jitsu a theorical framework, especially on biomechanics and the correct use of the body. On learning techniques and emotions.
The second tool focuses on know-how.
Indeed, it is necessary to put this knowledge into practice: by using movement, therefore particular strategies specific to combat, by using the principles tsukuri, kusushi, kake.
These are only applciations and exercises.
The third tool is on how to be.
It decomposes itself into wanting to do it, i.e. finding the capacity to implement all that has been seen previously, and being able to do it. This barrier is certainly the most difficult to overcome since we must fight against our education on proper manner, against our stress, against our limits. Go from the explicit to the implicit!
And all of this starting from Nihon Tai Jitsu. Not mixing everything, keeping our history, making it real so that it can live today and prepare tomorrow.
8. Would you have any advice for your younger self?
I am no Master, no champion. I am not instructing any special forces. Nor am I the creator of a particular method superior to others. I am just an honest teacher, passionate about what he does and who wants to continue the work put in place by Sensei Hernaez to whom I owe much, if not more!
I will not invent anything. So first I would say, “Be patient.”
Indeed, when learning, we come back 7 times on a notion.
The first, when we discover it for the first time.
The second when the teacher explains it.
The third when one works to understand it.
The fourth when applied.
The fifth when preparing for a grading
The sixth time during the grading itself
The seventh time during the debriefing, it is the most important step because it makes it possible to measure the gap between the expected skills and those realized. Once learned these learned skills become routines and allow the prefrontal lobe to free up other resources. We can then consider changes in parameters, stress management etc … There, only, the real work begins … so patience.
Secondly, I would say “be methodical”.
Indeed, programming your brain to practice on a regular basis allows to make progress. Hence the importance of rituals. And it is true that with experience, when one knows where one wants to go, it is easier to plan a pertinent progression while also leaving space for the unexpected.
Then “Be perseverant”.
I will start with a little story of wisdom. One day, a group of frogs watched one of their peers trying to climb a tree. Of course, all of them were screaming that it was impossible, that the nature of a frog was not to climb a tree … but they eventually got tired. Finally the frog eventually climbed. Fact is, she was … deaf!
Do I need to elaborate some more?
There is a sentence of André Cognard Sensei that comes to mind: “The way is easy, it is about going further, higher. And when you get to the end of the end, then you have to go one step further.”
There is a proverb that says, “If you want to understand someone, put on his shoes and walk through his path.” Trying to understand others is difficult. Anyone who does not think the same way as us seems dangerous. Ego…
In a world where intolerance is in order, we do not take the time to put the woman, the man at the center of our concerns.
So at my small level, if I can help people by transmitting the knowledge I have been given, I do it willingly.
To finish “Be free”.
Masters have left us a legacy that is priceless to take us to this Freedom, so pay tribute by giving the best of ourselves.
Thank you Xavier for taking the time to publish this interview.