It is arguable that the name Jim Alcheik is not as revered as it should be in martial arts circles. Alcheik was a true pioneer of martial arts in Europe, being one of the first Europeans to train in Japan. He was proficient in Aikido, Kendo, Karate and Judo. Vernon Bell, the father of British Karate, described him as the greatest martial artist to come out of Europe. However, for many, the name of Jim Alcheik has been largely forgotten.
Named Jean, Alcheik was born in June 1931 in the Algerian village of Duperré, to a family of Turkish origin. The family moved to a suburb of Paris in 1934. It was around this time that Alcheik began his schooling.
Alcheik’s journey into martial arts began in 1948 when he started learning Judo from French pioneer Raymond Sasia at the Paris à L’Alhambra dojo. Sasia, as a member of the French Resistance in World War Two, had been wounded aged only fifteen. He would later go on to become a bodyguard to Charles de Gaulle, from 1961 to 1971.
The turning point in Alcheik’s martial arts training came when he met Japanese master, Minoru Mochizuki. Mochizuki holds a special place in martial arts history, being one of the few men to have been a direct student of Jigoro Kano (Judo), Morihei Ueshiba (Aikido) and Gichin Funakoshi (Karate). In the 1930s he established the Yoseikan dojo as a place where all the arts he had learnt could be taught.
Between 1951 to 1953 Mochizuki travelled around France as a Judo and Aikido teacher. He was also the first instructor to teach Aikido in Europe. It is around this time that he is thought to have first come into contact with Alcheik, who probably attended one of his training sessions.
Like most young men of the time, Alcheik had to do military service. He travelled to Tunisia, where he is thought to have taught Judo.
Alcheik earned his 1st Dan in Judo in 1952 from Raymond Sasia.
In 1954 Mochizuki invited Alcheik, alongside fellow Frenchman Claude Urvois, to the Yoseikan dojo in Shizuoka, Japan, where they would spend the next two to three years training in various martial arts. They studied Judo under Kyuzo Mifune, considered to be one of the greatest ever judokas. They studied Aikido under Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of founder Morihei Ueshiba. Masaji Yamaguchi, a direct student of Shitô-ryû founder Kenwa Mabuni, taught them karate. They also studied Kendo, Jujutsu and Iaido.
Alcheik eventually returned back to France around 1956/1957. By this time he held a 4th Dan in Aikido, a 2nd Dan in Karate, a 2nd Dan in Kendo and a 3rd Dan in Judo. Several of Mochizuki’s students including his son Hiroo, Tetsuji Murakami, Mitsuhiro Kondo and Shoji Sugiyama, accompanied Alcheik back to France.
In 1957 Alcheik opened his first dojo in Paris, where he taught the Yoseikan versions of Aikido, Tai-Jitsu, Kendo, Karate and Iaido. In the same year, he founded the French Federation of Aikido and Kendo, becoming the organisation’s technical director. It was also during this time that the French Karate movement through Alcheik’s association with Henri Plee began to gather pace.
Terry Wingrove, a pioneer of British Karate, recalled visiting Alcheik’s dojo in 1960. He had visited a number of dojos during his visit to Paris. Alcheik’s dojo was one of the toughest places he had ever trained, including dojos in Japan. Karate was taught as a fighting art at the dojo, with many injuries occurring from full contact sparring matches.
In December of 1961, Alcheik helped organise and hold the first World Judo Championships held in Europe. He worked with Dutchman Anton Geesink, who become the first European to win a world title in the open weight class event.
During the period of Alcheik’s time at the Yoseikan dojo and the early 1960s, he authored and co-authored a number of books and pamphlets on the martial arts. This included a book with his mentor Minoru Mochizuki.
1961 saw Alcheik’s birthplace of Algeria in a state of turmoil. Algeria’s Arab-Berber population had been conducting a war of independence against the colonial might of France. since 1954. The situation was further complicated with loyalist Algerians wanting to remain a part of France, as opposed to their nationalist countrymen. Added to the mix were expatriate Frenchmen who feared to lose their properties or being expelled from Algeria if it gained independence.
French President, Charles de Gaulle, announced that a referendum would take place in the January of 1961, to decide Algeria’s future. This sparked discontent amongst French Algerians wishing to remain a part of France, which led to the formation of paramilitary groups, such as the Organisation Armée Secréte (OAS). The OAS waged a terrorist campaign in France and Algeria, with an estimated 2000 deaths resulting from bombings and targetted assassinations.
It is thought that Alcheik was recruited by the French government as an agent and sent to Algeria to fight against the OAS. The reason for Alcheik being selected for this mission still remains unclear. He recruited men for the mission, many being his students.
Details on the activities of Alcheik and his men are still vague. What is known is they were engaged in counter-terrorism against the OAS, using all available means. It has been suggested that interrogations were routinely performed, as a means of getting information from suspected members of the OAS.
On 29 January 1962, Alcheik and seventeen of his men were staying in a villa in Algiers, that served as their base of operations. Alcheik had ordered a printing press which was intercepted by subversives. Alchiek and his men were killed by a parcel bomb. Alcheik was only thirty-one years old.
With the death of Alcheik Europe lost one of its brightest martial art practitioners. With the vast experience he had gained from some of the best masters in the world, there is no telling just how great Jim Alchiek could have become. He was a true pioneer of martial arts in Europe.