The aikido community is saddened and diminished by the death of Pierre Chassang Shihan, 8-dan, on April 26th at the age of 95. A huge influence on aikido, not just in his native France but across Europe, Pierre was a founding member of both the European Aikido Cultural Association (ACEA) and the International Aikido Federation (FIA), as well as his own Takemusu Aiki Organisation. He served as President of the European Aikido Federation during the 1980s, and helped to found the French Free Aikido and Budo Federation in 1981; he was also one of the founders of the UK’s National Aikido Federation.
The great budoka of the past have almost always known the experience of real combat firsthand, and Pierre was no exception, escaping from occupied France during World War II to join de Gaulle’s Free French Forces. With them, he saw military tours in North Africa and Italy, as well as his native France. His experiences during the war instilled a lifelong resistance to oppression and a willingness to put himself on the line - both physically and philosophically - in the defence of his ideals; characteristics that would make him a lynchpin for the development of European aikido.
Pierre was integral to the establishment of the art in Europe, assisting several of the Aikikai’s early representatives to France. As well as working with Tadashi Abe (under whom he began his aikido training in 1952), he studied with Mutsuhara Nakazono, helped Masamichi Noro to start his school in Paris, and most significantly, welcomed Nobuyoshi Tamura to France in 1963 and arranged for his permanent residence in the country. Tamura Sensei was to become a huge influence on Pierre’s work as well as a close colleague, and Pierre would later become the principal exponent of Tamura Sensei’s aikido. His expertise lay in his ability to distill the fundamental concepts behind Tamura’s teaching, and pass these ideas on to his students in an explicable and accessible form.
Despite over sixty years of experience, much of it gained at the hands of Ueshiba’s own uchi-deshi, Pierre never stopped striving to improve his aikido. He said himself that “L'aïkido est une discipline très difficile à assimiler... ce n'est pas seulement sur les tatamis” (“Aikido is a discipline that is difficult to learn... it is not just on the tatami...”). One of the art’s major visionaries, Pierre exerted great effort to realise Morihei Ueshiba’s vision of aikido as a truly unique and global art. The statutes he laid out still form the backbone of the International Aikido Federation, whilst his work with the ACEA laid the foundations for today’s European Aikido Federation. It is thanks to his (often vigorously resisted) efforts during the 1980s that aikido stepped out from under the umbrella of judo in France, and his bold statement to Kisshomaru Ueshiba - that, “one day, the Japanese will come and learn aikido in Europe” - is testament to the strength of his commitment to the development of aikido in the West.
In the UK, Pierre’s influence is most strongly felt through the National Aikido Federation, which we founded together with Tamura Sensei over thirty years ago. Pierre was a regular guest at the NAF’s summer schools and at special instructors’ courses, offering his insights into the martial arts. These insights were apparently often somewhat tangential to what was being asked of him - Pierre had a habit of answering questions with whatever information he wanted to convey at the time, irrespective of its relevance! Organising his trips over from France was a key part of the NAF’s calendar, although such efforts pale in comparison to the near-military operation required to bring Pierre to the UK for the birth of my son Matthew - as Matthew’s godfather, Pierre felt that it was imperative he be on hand to anoint the new arrival’s lips with champagne, in the true French tradition...
The aikido practiced at Templegate and the other dojos within the Federation is directly descended from Pierre’s teaching, as derived from Tamura and ultimately O-sensei. Through our aikido, Pierre’s legacy is continued in every training session. He himself may have passed on, but like a stone dropped into a pond, the ripples of his life and teaching continue to travel, a perpetual message for the aikidoka of the world. As Templegate’s students go on to become the next generation of instructors, they carry with them elements of Pierre; every time we speak of irimi-tenkan, or the nine techniques, or breaking the opponent’s axis, Pierre Chassang is standing right behind us. A good teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence will stop.