Interview with Evolene Premillieu: Aikido for Tomorrow

Evolene Premillieu began training aikido in France when she was eleven, under Mariano Aristin Sensei. Once he retired, Evolene moved to Boulder, Colorado to train under Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei and Tres Hofmeister Sensei and pursue a degree in science. It was the encouragement of Ikeda Sensei that pushed Evolene to start Aikido for Tomorrow, a project to bring the younger students of aikido together to create a better future for the art. So is the topic of today’s interview. All images provided by Evolene.

Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Welcome Evolene Sensei! Thank you for taking the opportunity to talk about Aikido for Tomorrow.

Evolene Premillieu: It’s wonderful to be here! Thank you!

MAYTT: What drew you to aikido at a young age as opposed to other martial arts or sports? Was there some aspect that caught your attention or provoked a particular emotion?

EP: I first heard about aikido in a comic novel I liked. My Dad had done judo as a teenager and told me that aikido was a non-competitive martial art. I liked that idea. When I entered junior high school, there was an aikido dojo nearby and my cousin was going. My parents accepted that I joined as they could share rides with my aunt to take my cousin and I home after class. After the first class, I read the little book the teacher gave me. It said that O-Sensei wanted to bring peace in the world with aikido and that’s what made me decide to practice aikido and never stop.

MAYTT: You have had the fortunate experience to train aikido in two countries, France and America. Were there any notable differences in how training was conducted or even how training was looked at by practitioners?

EP: I also practiced a little bit in Japan for a few months. There were definitely differences but I would not associate them with the countries but more with the schools. Each dojo has their own history and lineage which shapes the practice and each Sensei brings their own personality within the dojo. And finally, the people who train in a place also give it its special feeling.

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Evolene training at Boulder Aikikai with Tres Hofmeister Sensei.

MAYTT: You also had the opportunity to train and learn from a handful of highly experienced and recognized instructors throughout your aikido journey. How has having various instructors of such caliber impacted your journey? Has one instructor’s lesson in particular stood above all the rest for you personally?

EP: I feel extremely lucky and even spoiled to have had some of the most highly experienced instructors since I was a teenager. It always pushed me forward and gave me the opportunity to practice with a lot of people who had a lot of experience. Mariano Aristin Sensei, who was my Sensei from age fifteen to twenty-two, is the one who had the most influence on my practice as he always took care of me, pushing me, getting me ready to test and finally prepared me to test for the aikido instructor exam that we have in France (Brevet d’Etat d’Educateur Sportif in Aikido). He taught me to teach and this was one of the most valuable experiences I received in my practice, on many levels.

When Mariano Sensei semi-retired and moved away, I came to Boulder, Colorado to learn from Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei and Tres Hofmeister Sensei. They both pushed me to transform my aikido and deepen my practice. I need to be challenged and I still feel this challenge in their classes. Ikeda Sensei is pushing me hard and I feel grateful for that.

MAYTT: That is amazing how Mariano Sensei still influences you today. Aikido was designed to ultimately be employed off the mat as well as on the mat. How have you utilized aikido’s core principle outside the dojo in your daily life?

EP: Aikido has been my one reason in life since I was thirteen. I think of aikido’s principles all the time outside the dojo. They apply to everything. When things are difficult outside the dojo, I always relate to aikido and try to solve the situation in a way that preserves my integrity and respects others around me. This is taking different forms over the years, but we can only go deeper and polish more.

MAYTT: What would you consider to be the most important principle to exercise within your chosen career field of science and why?

EP: I ended up studying science and it was a way to get a student visa and live in Boulder to train at Boulder Aikikai. I enjoy it but I don’t feel attached to that field and am not sure it will be my career for a long time. Since I have been in the field of research in science, I would say the best lesson I learned in aikido that is useful at work is the ability to stand up for myself. Science is even worse than martial arts in terms of male domination. I have been in several situations where I felt disrespected for my work because I am a woman. Being used to that kind of treatment from older men in the aikido world, it was easier to stand up (not every time though, there were situations where I just totally lost any confidence).

MAYTT: Considering back to your training, what do you feel was your most valuable lesson learned while on the mat? How did that particular lesson wound up influencing your future as an aikidoka?

EP: The first thing that comes to my mind is something Mariano Sensei told me when I started training in his dojo. He said, “I can tell aikido is very important to you, you need to show it and smile big on the mat.” And off the mat too, I thought, as aikido is part of my life. Remembering to focus on joy while on the mat and in life always reminded me to keep hope and put energy into keeping aikido practice very lively.

MAYTT: Aikido, like many traditional martial arts, is struggling worldwide with overall membership, especially in the eighteen to thirty-year age range. Did this statistical void inspire you to create Aikido for Tomorrow (ATF)? How do you see this initiative bridging the membership age within the current aikido?

EP: I have always been among the youngest on the mat, wherever I trained. I enjoyed it but as I came to my late twenties, I started to feel that it was not good at all that there wasn’t a big group of people younger than me, and mostly everywhere where I trained.

I think there are two problems, one is how to attract young people and the other is how to keep young people in the practice. My hope is that AFT brings people together and gives them the motivation to stay dedicated to the art, which should also attract more young people if they feel a sense of community that meets their needs.

MAYTT: This past February marked the initial introduction of Aikido for Tomorrow to the aikido community with its first scheduled event. How was both the idea and the event received in your opinion? Did the reception meet your expectations or were they exceeded?

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Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei with Evolene at the 10th Anniversary of aikido Bridge in San Diego.

EP: The idea and the event were very much supported and encouraged by a lot of people. However, a few people, mostly in my dojo, did not receive the idea so well. But I knew from the beginning this would happen and I had promised to Ikeda Sensei (and to myself) that I would not give up. The event went very well and was well-received by all in the end, I think.

MAYTT: It’s great that the event was well-received! Without a doubt, countless hours and hard work goes into organizing such an event of this magnitude, especially in any project’s early stages of development. Did everything go according to plan?

EP: I mostly organized things in my head and didn’t feel like spending that much time on physical things but yes, writing emails takes time indeed! Many people helped and it made everything go smoothly. Everything went very well, and the weather was contributing to the plan too!

MAYTT: Now that the event is passed and you have had some time to reflect, are there things you would have done differently?

EP: We are moving our communication tools to a website mailing list and are improving our social media reach to better advertise our next events. I am hoping to have more teenagers attend next time.

MAYTT: Aikido for Tomorrow was held at Boulder Aikikai in Colorado, which is under the direction of Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei. What was the reasoning for choosing this dojo as the project’s inaugural event location? Will Boulder Aikikai be the location for future events or do you plan to hold Aikido for Tomorrow at various dojo all around the country?

EP: There are several reasons why Boulder Aikikai was hosting the first event. It is a big enough space for more than fifty people training comfortably. It has spacious changing rooms with several showers and bathrooms, and it could host people to sleep at the dojo for free. It is central in America which made it easier to come for everyone, and is easy to get to from Denver airport. It is also my dojo and it meant a lot for me to highlight the support from Ikeda Sensei and Tres Hofmeister Sensei. However, the next events will be in different schools all around the country, and at as many as possible.

MAYTT: As Aikido for Tomorrow is now planning its next event, what are your hopes for future installments of your project?

EP: I am hoping more people will get involved by organizing seminars and bringing their friends. I am especially hopeful for teenagers to attend, as I am hoping it would be a motivation for them to pursue aikido when they go to college.

MAYTT: With most of the aikido world now sequestered to their homes in some capacity in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, do you have any words of encouragement or guidance to give them?

EP: Never give up aikido.

MAYTT: That is sound advice, Sensei. Final question, in the face of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, what does the immediate future hold for Aikido for Tomorrow? Where do you see the project going post COVID-19? Do you feel the pandemic will have ripple effects long after a clean bill of health is given?

I am personally very afraid of the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the relationships within schools and maintaining the community that keep dojos alive.

MAYTT: I hope so as well! Thank you again Evolene Sensei for discussing Aikido for Tomorrow and your aikido journey!

EP: Thank you for the opportunity to spread AFT’s message!

To find out more about aikido and its history in America, click here.

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