December 29, 2010
Dear Students, dear Parents, dear Friends:
2011 is about to begin, and I would like to take this opportunity to contemplate two of Mochizuki Minoru Sensei’s maxims that were posted for all to read at the Yoseikan Hombu Dojo in Shizuoka, Japan:
“Human beings have to evolve.”
“Evolution starts from a ?”
Please bear in mind that my objective is to look for ways to improve ourselves by assessing the situation without mincing words or worrying about hurt feelings. Consequently my statements should be considered as material for reflection, not as attempts to either please or attack anyone.
Mochizuki Sensei’s frustration with those of us functioning on auto pilot was well known. We are creatures of habit. Over and over again we repeat the same patterns of behavior as our predecessors while expecting better results.
What value has technological evolution if it only serves our emotions such as greed and hatred and keeps us away from what really matters?
During the feudal era the majority of people were too busy surviving to think of educating themselves or questioning anything. The ruling class, the aristocracy which was controlled by the merchants, made sure that it stayed that way.
“Panem et circenses!” (“[Give them] bread and circus games!”) were the ironical words of the poet Juvenalis who two thousand years ago bitterly criticized the decadent demands of the Romans who were only interested in food and free entertainment while remaining completely ignorant of (and disinterested in) the ways that they were being manipulated by their rulers. Isn’t the world the same today?
Looking at some Aikido demonstrations and how they are perceived by the majority, don’t some of us feel that something doesn’t fit? And if someone expresses his opinion, what reaction does he get? Isn’t that similar to the straightforward little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? Isn’t that a reflection of our eternal resistance to evolution?
Nowadays, the ruling class (the politicians—really nothing more than an elected aristocracy) is controlled by special interest groups that make sure that we remain ignorant by keeping us distracted and occupied through mindless entertainment and activities. Fundamentally, nothing has changed. Man keeps exploiting man through increasingly sophisticated mind control techniques such as marketing and propaganda. Who has the time to read and analyze those brochures and flyers sent by government authorities and political candidates before elections? Furthermore, who has the time and motivation to clear the confusion and to find the truth behind the many possible interpretations of proposals that candidates make or the personal attacks they launch at each other? Especially when a major entertainment event is being held shortly before the election? The same question applies to all of the contracts and waivers that seem to rule our lives.
We wrongly think that Budo appeals to noble minds only. Like all things of value, it also attracts opportunists and frauds. We just need to look at the recent history of the martial arts. A master passes and within a very short time, the group falls apart. Could that have been averted? Were there any signs that could have revealed that some monjin (students) had already developed different agenda and were just waiting—consciously or not—for the master’s death to split the group so that they could go their own ways? Was the master aware that the only reason for those monjin’s continued presence was the convenience of being able to claim that they had studied directly under him and were “continuing with his spirit?” Wasn’t it already obvious in their behavior? The means that we use in order to achieve our goals reveal our true intentions.
In Japan, some students were showing signs of disagreement with Sensei for various reasons: some had been excluded from being promoted, others wanted organized competition in order to increase membership or to enter MMA tournaments, others wanted to lower the standards in order to accommodate their own students, and others who hadn’t been keeping themselves up-to-date were complaining about changes. I was present at one of the last exams Sensei attended at the dojo. He was 90 years old then. At the end of the exam, when every one had thought that it had run efficiently, he scolded the examiners for testing too many students simultaneously and not spending enough time observing each individual. That disturbed those who looked at testing merely as a formality, but it triggered serious contemplation of the meaning of exams in those who regarded them as an integral part of study. This is just one example among others.
Shortly after Mochizuki Sensei’s passing, I gathered all our black belts together and gave them a short lecture about martial arts history: my experience of the split in the Aikido world after Ueshiba Sensei’s death; some of the unpublished (and unpublishable?) causes and conditions that led to that split; and the consequences for all present and future Aikido practitioners, the Yoseikan included. There were already signs that some of my senior students had been taking different directions. I asked the following question: “Can we learn from history’s lessons? Can we do things differently? Please tell me!” I looked everyone straight in the eyes. Some returned my glance without hesitation, some avoided it, and others looked confused.
After the meeting, one of the senior students privately said to me, “Sensei, you are the link between Mochizuki Sensei and us!” I had heard that one many times. Combined with other red flags, that’s what many people say before jumping ship.
Our endless quest for convenience, cheapness, and popularity doesn’t promote evolution. It only reflects our mental torpor. True human evolution means that we make a priority of developing wisdom (or subtle intelligence, the intelligence of the heart) over gross intelligence (the intelligence of the brain). To develop wisdom we train our brains to serve our hearts, not our greed. Everyone wants to be happy (who wants to be unhappy?), but if we do not ask ourselves the question, “What is happiness?” and take the time to meditate on its meaning, our minds will have no clear definition to lead us efficiently out of survival mode. So, we will keep searching for the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.
When we have a problem to solve and spend the time to reflect on it, little by little we start to realize things and find pieces of relevant information that will lead us to a solution. Most of us are skilled at solving problems that involve concrete, measureable, quantifiable facts. But it also works the same way for what is abstract, non-measureable, and non-quantifiable. For example, if we ask ourselves a clearly formulated question such as, “What is the purpose of my life?” and keep pondering it, nothing will come out at first, especially if we fear some disturbing answer might emerge. But, if we keep asking ourselves that question over and over again with deep presence of mind, then gradually we start to notice hints from what had had no meaning to us before. It might be something a parent or a teacher said, a quote or a story from Scriptures, a newspaper article, a person we met, etc.
I realized this through the clear learning methods that Mochizuki Sensei left us: we start from basics and techniques organized in a logical order, then proceed to Designated Practice (shitei randori), followed by Free Practice (jiyû randori), then Power Practice (chikara randori). Once we are familiar with this process, we can apply it in dealing with daily life difficulties. We begin by practicing with small discomforts and challenges which gradually prepares us for greater challenges that will come our way. Most of us have the ability to overcome our challenges. However, we have been conditioned to run away and to react like victims, claiming unfairness, discrimination, violation of rights, etc. As a result we waste time and energy which greatly affects our mental and physical health. The point here is to train ourselves to function in solution mode right from the beginning.
This process wasn’t obvious to me at first, but I trusted Mochizuki Sensei. By observing his daily life, I realized that his loyalty to his students and his teachers --and what they represented to him, was unconditional. At first, however, my commitment to Budo was mainly technical. But by applying the same principles to daily life, I experienced a shift in my understanding of the Mind-Technique-Body (shin-gi-tai) connection that Sensei and other teachers had mentioned. I believe that this process is a very practical way for today’s students to understand the mind-body connection through direct experience.
In my forty years as Mochizuki Sensei’s student, I have seen many people quit or take different directions. Of the many skilled students who were sent away to teach, few returned consistently to continue their own study. Financial difficulties were popular excuses that worked for the majority. However, “where there is a will, there is a way”. In my opinion, those students had left too early and had failed to train their spirits long enough while at the dojo. Some would blindly accept whatever Sensei told them, others would disappear for a while when Sensei scolded them. The cause was the same: lack of understanding and failure to develop a teacher-student relationship. Then, when they were struggling due to expanding lifestyles, family demands, low student enrollment, etc., pressure to lower the standards developed. Mochizuki Sensei’s reply was that it is a teacher’s responsibility to bring the students’ level up to the Master’s standards, not to lower the standards down to the students’ level. His opinion regarding this matter was very clear: “You can only teach what you have practiced!”
The result is that those people reverted to victim/survival mode. Some quit teaching; some joined other organizations or became independent. In any case, they cut their students off from the source and destroyed all chances for the next generation to continue the lineage, thus sidetracking their students into a dead end. There is a common pattern of behavior when this sort of situation occurs. The first step consists in organizing a test and promoting all the students who followed. The inevitable consequence is that once the excitement of the newly acquired freedom period is over, some students become more conscious of the fact that they did not deserve those ranks. As the saying goes “easily gained, easily lost”. Soon those students have a disagreement with their teacher and the cycle continues. Our children will treat us the way we treat our own parents. It is the same with students and teachers. Once a tradition is interrupted, it will not return on its own.
Frequently, I receive mail from instructors who want to join our organization or to invite me to teach seminars at their places. A large number of students is often mentioned as bait. I make it clear from the beginning that I do not deliver ranks, and that usually takes care of it. Sometimes students who have left for their own reasons want to come back. Whatever their ranks, they have to start with a white belt. Humility is a true Budo practitioner’s quality of heart. It indicates a student’s sincerity and what he has truly learned. Nevertheless, in my fifty years as a Budo student, most returnees I have seen have turned into chronic quitters. If we think about the negative effect that this pattern has on other students, we can understand the purpose of the policy. On the other hand, black belts who return with a white belt until they are invited to wear their black belt again will display their ability to turn a temporary obstacle into a great learning opportunity for themselves and others. Isn’t that evolution?
I believe in the meaning of the black belt as our masters taught us: a student who has mastered the technical and mental basics and has attained a level of maturity where he can continue his Austere Practice (shugyô) by himself. Consequently, a black belt who leaves should return his black belt not only as an acknowledgement of his inability to continue his shugyô under his teacher but also as a sign of respect towards his teacher and other students. He will then be free to start all over again with a guiltless mind.
As a direct student of Mochizuki Sensei, I am committed to developing what he has taught us and to maintaining the standards that he has left us. You cannot temporarily lower the standards and expect to raise them again later. It goes against human nature. I know that we cannot gather many students this way, but otherwise, what kind of students would we produce? As for Budo, this is an era of darkness. Most of the masters have left and have been replaced by celebrities. Very few know the difference. But in spite of all that confusion, as history has taught us, there will be a time when demand for authentic budo instruction will arise. I may never see that, but those who carry on after me will.
Again I am asking this question for my students to meditate on: “Can we do it differently?”
Black Belts, please read this text carefully and think about it. We will discuss it during next year’s mondo.
Please remember to notify the dojo when you are absent. It shows your commitment. As part of their study, children should call as soon as they are old enough to use the telephone. I take attendance every evening. It helps me think of every student individually.
This year Kaoru Sensei and I taught about Mitori Geiko (practice through observation). If you have a physical condition that prevents you from practicing, come to the dojo and observe the practice. Some time it’s even possible to do stretching or basics, to help another student, etc. It keeps you connected, hence motivated. What happens when students stay away? They disconnect, get involved in something else and slow down other students when they return. It’s part of a student’s practice to help others, and respect of others’ time is essential.
Word of mouth has been our best source of stable, long term students. Most people don’t know the difference between a dojo and a commercial studio. Please recommend your dojo to those who you think might benefit from studying an authentic Budo. Planting a seed may take some time to see the result!
We have some dojo projects to complete next year. One is Senbazuru (one thousand cranes) making for one of the students who just underwent a serious surgery. Notice will follow.
The Kangeiko (winter practice) will be held the week of Jan 16-22. Participants are encouraged to overnight at the dojo. Notice will come later.
Kaoru Sensei and I wish you a Happy New Year. Thank you for your trust and support.
Special thanks to Mr. Alan Zeoli for his help and suggestions in editing this text, and to Mrs. Simone Augé for her assistance with the French translation.
Patrick Augé and Kaoru Sugiyama