I spent several months in Africa before returning to France. I was at the time a draft dodger, but was betrayed and welcomed into the Army with open arms by the infamous General Marcel Bigeard and his paratroopers. The disciplinary unit of this regiment, which numbered roughly twelve “non obedient” members, was given the “privilege” of being the first to jump out of the plane during training sessions. I later learned that during armed conflict the unit was the first to jump out and be exposed to enemy fire, giving the other troopers a chance to land before being killed. Mosquitoes, just as magnanimous, infected me with malaria, a disease that I still carry with me.
A few months after being “set free”, I found a job in the city of Tours, a small city on the banks of the Loire river in an area known for its wine and for being the place where French language is at its purest.
One evening, shortly after arriving, not being acquainted with anyone yet, I decided to go to the movies. At that time movie theaters in Tours were closed on Tuesday nights. So, I was facing a closed shutter (or was it a railing), but I wasn’t the only one.
Another customer, new to the city as well, gazed at the frontage, so we decided to have a drink in the closest café.
While we were sipping on whatever we ordered, a muted television set (as I remember) was broadcasting a film about Martial Arts. It might have been the film ‘Les Arts Martiaux du Japon’ by Michel Random and still available in the INA archives (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel).
Until that day, I had never been attracted by Martial Arts (my recent “martial” experience had been pretty bad) nor by Japanese culture. This film, more than an hour long, showed images from various Japanese disciplines, but when I entered the café and glanced at the TV set, it was showing Aikido. I was in shock!
The next day, I learned from the City Hall information desk that Aikido was taught in Tours. It didn’t come as a surprise to learn that, yes, of course, Aikido was practiced and taught in the Sports Center’s dojo.
Gérald Servat was the teacher.
I was taking my first class. Dressed in a brand-new keikogi, I stepped on the tatami. Several students were already seated in a row facing a man, seated on the other side of the mat. I found it rude to let that poor man sit all by himself, so I crossed straight over to sit by his side. I heard giggles coming from the row of students, but the man simply turned his head to me and without whispering a word pointed to the row where I should sit.
Soon, Servat introduced me to the small world of French Aikido. Tamura Nobuyoshi Sensei was then in charge of teaching the entire country.
Then in 1973, Chiba Kazuo Sensei was invited to co-direct the Aikido Summer Camp organized in the city of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. Since 1966, he had been living in England where after many struggles he managed to open a dojo in London. (See the following web site: T. K. Chiba Shihan – A Life in Aikido. Chiba Sensei’s biography , The Life Giving Sword, by Liese Klein, is also available in English.)
After the television broadcast, my second shock was Chiba Kazuo. Young and full of energy, he always seemed angry, but off the mat he was very affable. After I dislocated my left pinky toe, he made a plaster using an egg white to strap it.
The following year, during the Annecy Summer Camp, he knocked me down with irimi-nage. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. As a result, I decided to go visit him in the U.K., where I also met his father-in-law, Sekiya Sensei, the dojocho at Yamaguchi Sensei’s Shibuya dojo in Japan.
I have few recollections of my visits to Great Britain except for a skit, a canon sang by the group of French people (Jean-Paul and Yvette Avy, among others) played during the Camp farewell party, and the space where classes were held, in Bangor University’s church buildings in Wales.