AIKIDO YOSEIKAN DOJO
24221 Hawthorne Blvd Torrance CA 90505 USA Tel 310-373-DOJO
Dear Students, Parents, and Friends:
About twenty years ago, on a Saturday afternoon after practice, as we were starting the weekly mondo (question and answer period) for the advanced students, I asked the following question: “What keeps you motivated?”
Many people already had come and gone over the years since the time Kaoru Sensei and I had started teaching. But on that day, the students present had been there almost from the beginning. We had all been traveling together back and forth from Ottawa to Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Tuscaloosa—more times than we could remember—in order to spread and develop Mochizuki Sensei’s Budō. We had been doing kangeiko (winter training) and shochugeiko (summer training) in Japan, Canada, and the US; we had been overcoming challenges of all sorts, and we were eventually able to build our own permanent dojo which, although it wasn’t the end of our difficulties, was definitely a step forward on the path. As a result, a strong bond was keeping those students together.
Kaoru Sensei and I were convinced of the value of Mochizuki Sensei’s teachings and felt that we had a duty to pass them onto the next generations and, therefore, to find the right people to continue the lineage. So when I asked that question, I wanted the students to develop a clear understanding of what they were doing. That is what distinguishes leaders from followers.
As a reply, one of the students asked me, “What keeps you motivated to keep going yourself?” No one else said anything. I thought that students were maybe too shy to express their own minds in public, but I soon realized that many in fact had no clue and were mostly stimulated by external factors such as technical demonstrations, motivational speeches, videos, readings, etc. Others knew that something deep inside was moving them but couldn’t explain what it was. It became clear to me that, as their senior and teacher, I first had to develop a clear understanding inside of myself before being able to expect my students to understand themselves.
I started to look into myself for clues as to what kept me going in spite of all challenges and difficulties. At first I believed that it was thinking of all the talented people I had known who had wasted the teachings received from our teachers that was the main motivational factor, a kind of example of what not to do. But I eventually realized that that was just an external factor which couldn’t be reliable. There was something deeper than that. There was always that inextinguishable little flame that kept burning inside no matter what happened. Little by little, teachings I had received during my childhood and my adolescence started to emerge. One in particular seemed to be the foundation of all others: “Watch your thoughts all the time; do not let ‘bad’ thoughts such as greed, anger, envy, discouragement, doubt, etc., take form in your mind because thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, and habits form our personality.” Once our thoughts gain momentum, especially the negative ones, they turn out to be unstoppable for us ordinary people, and we end up losing control of our lives.
I also asked my own teachers about what had kept them going, and their answers combined with my own experience and research helped me to formulate the following method to find the strength to carry out my mission in daily life. It’s posted in the LA Dojo on the white board as Five Interconnected Sources of Strength:
Aspiration is the ability to literally “bring in the spirit.” It’s preparing one’s mind, body, and environment in order to be receptive to teachings and to learn from all relevant sources. Good seeds can only develop in a prepared soil. It requires an unconditional attitude towards learning. It must be cultivated in daily life through awareness of our thoughts, words and actions, of the kinds of readings we do, of the shows and movies we watch, of the activities we participate in, etc. and above all, of the kind of people we spend time with as we tend to bring ourselves to their level! I have witnessed too many failures among former dojo mates and students due to their poor choice of friends, partners, and/or teachers to ignore that factor, no matter how politically incorrect it may be. Not everyone can find a master but with the properly cultivated state of mind, one can find a true teacher who himself has studied with a master and is maintaining the lineage.
Mochizuki Sensei constantly emphasized the importance of focusing on what to do, not on what not to do. This applies to our thoughts and words as well. The subconscious mind doesn’t judge, it just remembers the words. For example, if I say, “Don’t forget to…,” it will remember “forget” which increases the chances of forgetting. I should say, “Remember to…” instead, since that is what my mind will remember. Some words such as “quitting” or “can’t” for example must be avoided. “I’ll try” becomes an excuse for failure and should be replaced by “I’ll do my best.” Negative expressions lead to discouragement. Once discouragement is allowed to enter our minds, it becomes uncontrollable. Instead, we should tell ourselves that there are other options. These may seem like silly little words, but they are like water accumulating on a roof: it eventually finds its way inside.
Once our aspiration (combined with the four other following sources of strength) has become unshakable, which may take years, it becomes easier to deal with all kinds of people and situations. To summarize, aspiration results from the daily cultivation of a greater vision than our everyday lives. It helps us understand that we are part of something larger and to value that reality. Without it, we feel disconnected, unaware, indifferent, easily discouraged.
Aspiration lets us sense who is a true teacher, one who has his students’ best interest at heart, in order to develop and maintain a long term relationship with him based on mutual welfare.
Aspiration is a foundation and needs the reinforcement of other complementary sources of strength to become truly effective and stable. This brings us to the next component.
Familiarization is the process by which we develop habits through repetition. The proverb “Everything becomes easier with familiarization” is a reminder of its power. Through our study of budō we have learned that familiarization is the antidote to fear. It allows us to moderate our likes and dislikes; to eat all kinds of foods; to learn all sorts of skills; to develop confidence, self esteem, understanding of others, etc. Familiarization is gentle and patient. It only requires us to listen, observe, and practice without expectations. It expresses the application of the principle of “Flexibility overcoming stiffness.” Once we start becoming comfortable with our study, we move to the next stage.
Discipline, that is to say the rules we have established for ourselves, results from understanding, not obligation. By understanding, I mean the knowledge that regular practice is the most efficient way to function. It requires watching our thoughts, words, and actions, and practicing our skills with presence of mind and concentration. Also, solo training has always been a powerful method used by the masters to build discipline, and other strengths. Through the process of familiarization, discipline becomes a lifelong habit. This leads us to the next source of strength.
Determination is the promise we make to ourselves that whatever happens, we will keep our vision, find a way to continue our shugyō (austere training), and maintain our standards. In other words, determination is synonymous with willpower. It’s different from stubbornness which is mindless, stiff, and dangerous. Determination is based on experience and study; it’s flexible. It may be the kick in the butt needed to take off when we feel low and when nothing else works. But, determination alone will not work. In order to be effective, it must be cultivated in sync with the other sources of strength.
Finally, the ingredient that acts as a catalyst to link those strengths together.
Reflection. In budō training, we learn to reflect on what we have done. If we have performed properly, we reflect on it in order to reinforce it. If we have made a mistake, we reflect on what we should have done and correct it immediately if possible. There is no time for frustration. On the battlefield it could mean death, not only our own but also other people’s. Through familiarization with this process, we learn to shift immediately to solution mode and avoid falling into victim mode (most common case) which, though it may eventually lead to some results, will have disastrous consequences on our mental and physical health.
Reflection may seem like a waste of time in our quick-result, shortcut-oriented society. Without reflection we may find ourselves constantly getting trapped by our emotions and repeating the same patterns of behavior, even if we do correct them afterwards. If we think well about it, reflection becomes an efficient way of making sure that when necessary, we remember what to do and how to do it. It’s all part of budō training. As my first battojutsu (quick sword drawing techniques) teacher, Tsunoda Aguin Sensei taught: “In budō we train ourselves to expect the unexpected.” As part of our discipline, we reflect on our day before going to sleep in order to confirm what we did right and to mentally correct our errors. Thus we can sleep well and prepare for the next day. Pride and guilt should be harnessed mindfully so as to maintain concentration.
Through reflection we develop understanding… Previously, we have learned that in order to change and improve, we need to go through the practice of acknowledging, accepting, refraining from justifying, correcting, and finally, reinforcing the whole process by reflecting on it. Through this same process the Five Interconnected Sources of Strength work together.
How? Let’s take the case in which I do not want to meet a certain person who has wronged me and towards whom I feel a deep grudge, but I know that somehow I should meet that person. Do I procrastinate and refuse to think about it, expecting that time will erase that memory? My determination is weak. So I call upon reflection. Thus I can understand what that person is also going through. Maybe he or she is much older than I, feels a deep guilt and will probably die before I do. The more I think about it (familiarization), the more I can empathize with that person. I also know that I have the discipline to do what I have set out to do and that, in the past, once I have started this process, I have been able to overcome all kinds of uncomfortable situations. I just have to recall some of those examples, reinforced through reflection. Then I just let it sit quietly, interrupt the occasional negative mind chatter, and go through the process again (cultivating aspiration). One morning I wake up or I am in the process of doing something, and then I feel a strong urge to meet that person and prepare making arrangements (determination). It has all occurred in the mind!
There is no perfect way and this method needs to be tested and improved. We must each start from something that has already been tested, see how it works for us, and modify what needs to be modified, test it again, and teach it in order to make sure that someone else will also keep improving it. In the process of our shugyō (serious training) if we fail, we can always recover with the help of these cultivated strengths. The Yōseikan method of evolution must apply to more than just the martial techniques if we aspire to evolve ourselves and to inspire the next generation to continue the lineage. Then we can call ourselves Mochizuki Sensei’s students.
Kaoru Sensei and I wish you happy holidays as well as health and prosperity for the coming year. This past year has been full of strengthening challenges for all of us and thanks to your continuous trust and support, we have been able to continue our mission.
Please remember to recommend your dojo to friends and acquaintances, as referrals have been the best source of stable students. In this hard economy this is a precious asset.
Also I would like to recommend a subscription to Aikido Journal on line (aikidojournal.com) as a present to a serious aikido student among family or friends. It’s a great source of objective information regarding all historical, technical, and spiritual aspects of aikido and a reliable tool for the cultivation of aspiration.
These holidays, as I do every year, I will be visiting my family in France. I will be teaching a three-day seminar at my old dojo and will meet with my old teacher, Mr. Michel Bourgoin who just turned 75.
Please take note:
- The dojo will be closed for the holidays from December 19 (Mon) to January 5 (Thu) and will reopen for the Advanced Junior class January 6 (Fri) at 4:40 PM.
- The yearly kangeiko (winter practice) will be January 15 to 21.
- Please remember to bring your tuition on time and to check your envelope in order to keep tuition and yearly membership up to date. This will make it easier for the student in charge of tuition.
- Every evening before going to sleep, I take attendance. That way I can remember who was present, who was absent and gave notice of their absence, what students did and need to do, etc. Please let your teacher know whenever you cannot attend class. It shows that you have discipline and that you acknowledge others’ existence and care for them (definition of respect). Responsibility grows with rank and seniority. It’s part of cultivating aspiration!
Finally I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Alan Zeoli for correcting and editing the English version and to Madame Simone Augé for the French version.