Jaffs interview with Aikidoka magazine

We talked to you not long ago about a unique book. Unique because it is one of those rare works of art that move you deeply and resonate long after you turn the last page. The book unifies three modes of expression and is called Mitori Geiko. It was created by Jaff Raji, a world renowned Budo teacher based in Rennes. Instead of making an awkward attempt to describe this work and risking missing something essential, we decided to let the author himself shed light on the journey and unique upbringing that have resulted in his heightened sensitivity and rigorous work ethic.


Aikidoka Magazine: Your book that just came out is titled: Mitori Geiko, to observe with all the intensity of our being. What leads you to base your teaching on this theme?


Jaff Raji: A kind of intense observation was instilled in me from childhood by my father, well before I started practicing Budo. My father was very demanding and didn’t allow distractions when my brothers and I would help him around the house or with home repairs. To behave correctly, ready to offer the right tool at the right time, to anticipate what was required and absorb everything so we could do it alone the next time—these were the elements of an attitude that I integrated in myself, and when the moment arrived I found them essential for the study of Budo. There was a certain harshness in this apprenticeship, but I realize now that it was very useful.


Later on, my teachers all insisted on this aspect of training, whether it was Master Tamura, Toshiro Suga, Malcolm Tiki Shewan or Pascal Krieger.


A.M.: What is the main application of this in the study of Budo?


J.R.: You must be able to observe in a way that captures the essence of diverse styles. Only a fresh mind allows you to do this: to observe concretely in order to acquire the essence of the movement that is shown, without being taken in by your own style or the style of the teacher. Given the way we practice and exchange today, students see many different teachers and go from seminar to seminar. This makes the ability to observe beyond styles even more necessary.


“To observe with all the intensity of our being” means that you have to proceed from the moment you learn something toward the source of the movement you observe, incorporating it into yourself right at the moment when you observe it. You have to frequently renew your attention to be able to receive everything that is given and not to imagine that this or that explanation was meant only for others. To take everything for yourself from the moment the class starts, as soon as you bow (reishiki).


In the case of bowing (reishiki) with weapons you have to use double the observation: of yourself and your instrument so that all the gestures, all the movements respond to the need for order in the Dojo, for safety, etc. In this manner, you heighten considerably your capacity to be present.


A.M. Is this applicable to techniques?


J.R. Yes, the mutual observation of partners, transposed by each person inside the self, creates a virtuous circle in which each one elevates the other. In the traditional case of the relationship between uchi dachi and shi dachi (eds: designates the partners in sword work, notably in Kendo), it’s the first who must instill this quality in the work so that both will benefit. We must make this a concrete experience.


A.M. You often mention the usefulness of repeating what has been learned in order to continue the work. What do you mean by this?


J.R. In the class you can profit from the smallest approval of the teacher to observe the movement in yourself when you hear, “yes, that’s it.” When it’s your partner’s movement that is approved of, you can also transpose the observation and take the teaching that was meant for him. As a particular technique unfolds, we consolidate successive lessons in observing with all our being the situation as it evolves. We can also enlarge this point of view: after each class, the relaxation we feel, the serenity, the readiness are also things we learn to use to improve human relationships in order to keep observing. For example, we can benefit from this by getting to the source of certain disagreements and trying to resolve them. We often hear stories about positive results from this quality of being present and this is also a validation of the experience. If others feel good in your presence, if they are calm and you say so, this can give you confidence in your progress. Due to all this, we have confidence in the practice and in the intensity of the observation.


A.M. Teachers must also observe with great intensity.


J.R. Exactly. This sense of direction toward the essence should be shared. The teacher must observe all the students together and each one separately to be able to help them move toward the principles in their bodily expression. On the other hand, the teacher must without a doubt avoid transmitting his style before the essence of the movement. In most cases, this limits you in expressing your personal liberty in the movement. The demands of observing in the most intense way possible will come back to the teacher: to show the essence with the body and verbally call attention to a particular aspect where you want them to focus their efforts. The body makes the essence visible, while the words underline the pertinent work of the moment. Conversely, the student won’t get much of a response to a question asked before the work with the goal of getting into details of a particular aspect: the work first, this kind of question after.


A.M. I suppose it’s the same thing for the book Mitori Geiko: transmission and observation of the essence, page after page?


J.R. This book was created in response to a demand from students who follow my teaching in 15 countries for three disciplines: Aikido, Iaido and Jodo. But I am not a writer and it wasn’t a question of creating a technical book that would take up where the video collection of 10 years ago left off. In terms of technique, the quality of the body and youth visible in the videos are relevant, but today I would like to express something else related to other things I have learned. In the end, I accepted the demand to create this project that took a year of work along with a team from the artists’ collective Hanatsu¹: two young, remarkable photographers, Lisa B. and Mako, and a young, excellent writer and graphic artist, Yon, who all tried, without any personal experience with Budo, to accurately reflect the work in the dojos and the body or verbal expressions that I live every day. The point of view of these artists wasn’t technical, so the book is not technical. You can find in this the virgin mind that I was evoking at the start. For the editing, I tried the experience of self-editing. This helped me experience another rich adventure in my journey as a Budo professional. I benefited twice from the kind counsel of Thierry Plée, editor of Budo Editions, so I’ll take this opportunity to thank him again. This allowed me to keep my first intention intact and to offer up this collection of images and words about the essential beauty of Budo.


¹ “Letting go” in Japanese

Jaff Raji’s web site

Buy the book online


Photo credits:

Photo 1 and 3/  ©Jaff RAJI-Editions /photo Mako

Photo 2 / ©Jaff RAJI-Editions /photo Lisa.B