From Rock-climbing to Aikido
My Aikido journey started in Garches, France, at the age of 14. It was interrupted when my sensei, Jean-Pierre Fillault, had to move for his job. I then focused on another art for 35 years: rock-climbing. A few years ago, thanks to my son Sylvain and Liam Venter-sensei, I was back on the mats in Te Atatu. Here are a few reflections on re-starting aikido with a rock-climbing background.
Aikido and rock-climbing have a few points in common: balance, posture, breathing, timing and focus are paramount to any technique or climb. But the reality behind the words is quite different.
of all, in the dojo, the moves happen on a horizontal plan. Climbers play on a vertical or overhanging plan. This requires the use of legs strength, core muscles but also shoulders, arms and fingers strength. The general trend is to not let go! I apologize to all my ukes and nages who had to cope with my stiff body and its inappropriate level of strength for all these years…
Nage’s posture has a direct effect on uke’s body. Shihan Robert Nadeau taught us to improve how we feel our body and to ameliorate our posture in order to make a technique efficient. When climbing, once you have achieved a good posture, your effect on the rock remains quite unnoticed and it will not make this small hold come any closer to your hand! In this common case, you have to overreach and use strength in order to progress. This is of course something I had, and still have, to correct in my practice of aikido.
Timing and breathing in rock-climbing only depends on you and the motionless (hopefully!) rock. In aikido, uke is moving so I have to start at the right moment and adapt my pace and my breath to the situation. This has been, and still is, a real challenge to me, with improvements in this field opening me up to other levels of refinement.
Our practice of rock-climbing was inclusive: we always offered to our new friends to come and have a go, even if we knew that it would be a day practicing at a lower level than our usual one. I have found the same kind of generosity at Riai. I want to acknowledge all senseis and advanced students who are always happy to share their knowledge and experience at a level at which I can understand. We all improve together.
My experience of rock-climbing implied harmony with nature and with the people climbing with me: my wife Laurence, my sons Sylvain and Pierre and some very dear friends. Coming back to aikido has helped me progress in my own search for harmony by, in priority, focusing on internal factors. This is now something I try and use at home, at work and during other activities.
One last detail: in rock-climbing, when falling down (flying, in French), we do not roll!
Roban for Shodan, December 2017