"Defier of death" ... that's the nickname the family doctor gave you, in the village of your birth in Cantal, because you had worried him more than once in your childhood. He was right, you played with death the moment you were born in 1919, but it was written you wouldn’t meet him in your young years. He wouldn’t have the last word until much later, at the end of this month of April 2013.
Pierre, there’s no doubt you would have told me that stories are not very important for they distract us from what is essential, but if I write these few words about your life, it is only to leave those who knew you with something more than the cold, sad feeling of a formal obituary.
You were among thousands in this military camp. By opening the doors to the German troops at the beginning of June 1940, the colonel saved his young recruits from a pointless death. Among these thousands three escaped; two to join their families, and you, who had the vague impression that something had to be done. You had no plan, General de Gaulle had not yet launched his appeal of June 18, you just let your heart dictate your conduct. Actions can be foolish, but if they are just, Heaven and Earth unite to bring man what he needs. Fate then took the face of a Canadian woman who was traveling in her car to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, hoping to board the ships evacuating the Polish army to England. The Poles lent you a uniform and a family, and it is with an eagle on the cap, a woman's hand in yours and a child in your arms, that you became a deserter, keeping your mouth shut, between two rows of French Civil Guards, on the same boat as Maurice Schumann.
At 21 we put our trust in our star. This is not in the bottom of a bomb shelter, but on the roof of the buildings that you experienced the bombing of London. It was a great show, and you explained to anyone who would listen, that a bomb launched so high had little chance to reach such a tiny spot as you in this huge city. One morning, the owner of a pub had hung a sign on his beer pump miraculously intact in the middle of the roof and gutted walls: it said "Open as usual." That British backbone you admired was just like yours. You have often told me, what matters is to hold on.
Holding on is not easy: after the Armistice was signed, the majority of French who were in England returned to France, "since the situation was now normalized". At Carlton Gardens, the headquarters of the Free French Forces, you did your best to stop them, "France is still occupied!". But in the end it was with only a handful of comrades that you stayed with General de Gaulle. Then came your enrolment into the First Free French Division, Tunisia, the long war in North Africa, before you there were Rommel, his Afrika Korps, the desert, real opponents.
The Vichy government had sentenced all the members of the Free French Forces to death for treason, so you went to Naples in 1943 with the French Expeditionary Corps singing "Marshal, here we are" with the spirit of a youth whih the rightful insolence who had agreed to die.
During the Battle of Garigliano, you took the wrong road with your Jeep and, without realizing, entered Rome abandonned by the Germans, which makes you the first Allied soldier to enter the Eternal City and somehow free it before General Juin. You told me that laughing as if it was a trivial anecdote, one day when we had practiced Aikido in Lazio, as if going back to the scene of your past brought back to the surface an old memory. The past prevents some people from living the present, you were not one of them, you used to say that you were just living in the here and now, that's why you remained young to the end.
The landing in Provence brought you to Cannes, to its relaxed lifestyle that seduced you before crossing France to Franche-Comté to free Belfort.
What a journey, Pierre, at a time when courage and commitment were lacking in so many men! And I can attest to the understatedness and modesty with which you evoked those moments. You never tried to bathe in glory. All that seemed so natural to you that it never occured to you to claim the benefits to which you were entitled due to your war injuries. It was just the state of the world ... and it was you, there is nothing more to say. After five years of hardship and suffering, you were discharged with a final settlement of 30 francs and your colt 45. And the gratitude of the country…
After the war came Paris and the magic it held. Life amongst artists and everything that could help you forget the cruel and useless stupidity of mankind. Bathing in champagne, a warrior's rest if you like. I remember how you used to talk about Piaf, and your sorrow on the death of Montand.
You stayed away from the war in Algeria. In Lyon, at the end of 1944, the French Army had been "whitened" to head north, but you knew full well that the elite troops of the Wehrmacht backed away from the colonial troops, the Algerians, the Moroccans, the Tunisians and the Senegalese in Monte Cassino and throughout Italy. For what reason on Earth would you kill these men, your brothers in arms in their own country? Men who literally died in your arms, some of whom probably saved your life.
It was at the end of this period in Paris that Aikido touched you. It could not have found a more fertile ground? You told me one day about the dream that Nakazono had told you about: he had a dream of you in form of the founding father of Aikido. It may seem strange to say this, but with hindsight it seems that this dream was prophetic. Let’s face it, which of the key founding events of modern Aikido have you not originated?
In France in 1952 a surviving kamikaze, Tadashi Abe arrived. Yesterday's enemy found the way to your heart and gained your respect. You organized his teaching and subsequently that of the Japanese who succeeded him: Noro and Nakazono. This was the time when you took to the ‘routes nationales’ and crossed France with a few pioneers in an old Dauphine, to knock at the door of the Japanese master of the time, without even being sure he would be willing to open it let alone teach you some movements, which he did, sometimes in the middle of his living room after pushing back the furniture. Back at the club, friends of course asked what you learned, and that is how you started teaching... of course there were errors, as you openly explained by reminding us that the ‘experience is a sum of errors. In 1962, you created the statutes of the European Aikido Cultural Association, which became the European Federation of Aikido in 1977 and you were long-time president. You were inolved at the same time in the the creation of all the Cultural Associations: French Belgian, Swiss, Moroccan and so on...
In 1963, you welcomed to France Nobuyoshi Tamura and helped him settle here. In 1966 you obtained a permanent residence permit and a work permit for him, thanks to the friendship that linked you to Louis Vallon, a former member of the Free French Forces. It was he who asked the favour of Jean-Marcel Jeanneney then Minister of Social Affairs.
Pierre, if Tamura’s students in France and Europe recognise your actions even just a little, they can but mark a moment’s silence today. I would suggest they use this to consider what they owe you, everything your interventions made possible, everything that has nurtured them in the 40 years which have followed.
In 1975, you created the statutes of the International Aikido Federation, which to this day remains the tool of the global development of Aikido. You were General Treasurer and member of the Supreme Council of the FIA, but resigned from these positions after the Aikikai of Japan took over leadership of this organization, because you felt that the association no longer served its purpose.
In 1981, it was you who decided that Aikido should no longer remain under the administrative supervision of the French Judo Association. And against the vast majority of those who more or less gave in to the orders of the FFJDA you created the statutes of the Free French Federation of Aikido and Budo. FFLAB it starts with Free, but this is more than just a nod to your youth, it was the refusal of an order imposed by force. It was the same refusal, relatively speaking, as that of the occupation of France by Germany. And besides it is not by chance that we found Pétainists nuances in the feelings, arguments and vocabulary that people challenged you with at the time. You became a dissident, the renegade, described as a marked man in martial arts magazines at the time. But you were used to it, and had a thick skin. Dissent is evaluated against the established order. But who decides the legitimacy of the established order? Ultimately it’s history. History vindicated you in the early 1980s, just as you were vindicated in 1945, in opposition to and against the majority. And the fact that French Aikido is now completely independent of Judo means crediting this achievement to Pierre Chassang.
I consider it an honour, Pierre, to have founded with you Takemusu Aiki Intercontinental (TAI), the last association in which you were involved, without knowing what this new commitment would bring, concerning yourself rather, as you always did, with doing the right thing– the only thing which mattered in your eyes.
Thus we can see how all the major organizations for the development of Aikido in France and abroad were born of your hands, and how Nakazono’s dream finally came true. And I would like to remind people here, that you never received a centime for your immense work, and in many cases you invested money that you never recouped. ‘Charitable’ is not a bad description for your actions. Those who think otherwise show only proof of their pettiness. At the end of the 1980s I shared a meal on the tatami in Iwama as an uchi deshi with Morihiro Saito and Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of the founder of Aikido. As I paid my respects to the Doshu on your behalf, I understood the respect he had for you in the way he replied to me. How could he forget the person who, in 1976, said to him, in the presence of all the Shihans of Aikikai and the representatives of the 28 nations gathered for the first Congress of the International Federation of Aikido in Tokyo: “one day the Japanese will come and learn Aikido in Europe”?
I will end this note by talking about Aikido O Sensei, and the best understanding we have of him – also due to you. Without much help, and purely by virtue of your efforts and perseverance, you discovered the heart of Aikido – irimi tenkan – the way an axis spins round on itself. You drew attention to this, and made it so apparent – this is the origin, the heart of technique. For this especially, Pierre, thank you, thank you and well done! Shortly before your death you said to me that there is nothing, nothing at all and from nothing, something is born. It’s a mystery, a great mystery and Aikido can help us better understand it. You believed this and made Aikido your life’s work, and Aikido changed your life.
In Cannes, the avenue where you lived has recently been named Boulevard de la Première Division Francaise LiBre. You were happy about this. The fact that you were not invited to the inauguration of the plaque, was only because you never felt it necessary to be part of the association of war veterans, so few people actually knew you were one of the last survivors of the Free French Division. But above all, the way that Heaven pays respect to those who have followed the rightful path is via discretion. That same discretion which means you passed away on the same day as the Founder of Aikido.
Adieu Pierre, adieu my friend, adieu to the man who cleared the path and who inspired so much enthusiasm among many, including me. You may be dead, but like Tadashi Abe, upon whose death you wrote the following “you are one of those people who never die” – for the impression that you leave on the souls of those who knew you is forever inscribed in your legacy.
May, 2nd 2013
Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.
The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.
In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.
Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.