AIKIDO YOSEIKAN DOJO
24221 Hawthorne Blvd Torrance CA 90505 USA Tel 310-373-DOJO
December 28, 2013
Dear Students, dear Parents, dear Friends:
As 2014 approaches, I would like to share with you some experiences and thoughts directly related to our study of Budō.
One summer early morning, I was having breakfast with Kanchō Sensei (Mochizuki Sensei) at the dōjō. I asked him: “Did S. Sensei quit? I haven’t seen him for a long time!”
With a “What-are-you-talking-about?” look on his face, Sensei answered, “Budō people don’t quit!”
At that moment, his reply did not make sense to me. S. Sensei had always been present at the dōjō, assisting Kanchō Sensei and practicing with us. Then suddenly, he was gone, and nobody had said a word. I had witnessed so many similar disappointing cases of enthusiastic and assiduous Budō students and old-timers, who, out of the blue, joined the ranks of the dropouts and master-less instructors that I heard at least one voice explain, “That’s what happens when you’re too zealous and don’t get what you’re after… Rigidity cannot overcome rigidity; it always leads to rupture.” Also, the judgment that quitting or jumping ship was considered a shameful act which led to no one talking about it did not help clarify the matter.
But another voice also was saying: “Sensei has a knack of giving us answers to trigger our thinking far beyond the literal meaning of his words.” To some students, he explained everything while, to others, he gave answers that brought more questions. At that time, I had not seen that behavior as his way to treat us equally, that is, according to our respective ability. I had to think more deeply in the context of his teachings before I realized what he had been doing.
I found myself reflecting on this path that we travel. We look at the Martial Path as a way to meet and manage life’s difficulties, starting from our need to survive most fundamental physical threats, such as falling and bullying. Through the use of martial techniques (Bujutsu) as tools to work with our fear of falling or getting hurt by someone else, we progressively internalize the concept of Familiarization as the Antidote to Fear. Nowadays, physical threats still exist, but we are more likely to be threatened psychologically than physically, and the resulting damage may be worse. In one day, do we not face many unpleasant events? How do we manage to go through each day?
We start with our commitment. One of the Yōseikan’s mottos – “Whatever Happens, Meet it with Kiai” ( Danshi Koto Ni Atatte Kiai Daiichi Nari) – was displayed near the Shōmen (Dōjō Front). In simpler language, it means: “Face challenges with determination; don’t chicken out!” We have many and regular opportunities to examine our commitment. In our training, first, we must experience the threat at the physical level: Committed sincere attacks lead to committed sincere defenses. Otherwise, there can be no Kiai, that precise moment when our combined mental and physical energy meets that of our Uke (Partner). What we experience at the physical level can be transferred to the mental level; the same rules apply. But for that to occur, we need the example and guidance of experienced teachers who have gone through the training themselves. That is one of the reasons why Yōseikan cannot be done alone if we want to operate at the Budō level.
Later, I understood Mochizuki Sensei’s answer to my question: Someone who quit actually had not been studying the Martial Path but only had been mindlessly repeating Martial Techniques in the hope that some miraculous self-transformation would occur. This explained why he wasn’t able to manage the obstacles that life put in his way in order to train him to overcome greater challenges yet to come. That is the result of conditional commitment.
Other students have practiced conditional commitment. One I distinctly remember was a very talented student who did everything his own way. He kept insisting that Aikidō was just a health exercise and that all that spiritual mumbo-jumbo was nonsense to confuse and manipulate people. He obstinately refused to teach beginners; he considered it a waste of time since he was practicing for his own pleasure, which is what he believed everyone should be doing. He had made a habit of arriving after the beginners’ class had started so that other senior students would be tasked to teach that class; he also routinely missed the Sunday afternoon Mondō (Period of Questions and Answers), which was the weekly session when Kanchō Sensei, Uchideshi (Resident Students) and Kayoideshi (Commuting Students) communicated with one another without time restraint. This student also – among other events – regularly skipped Shihan meetings where important decisions were to be made. (Of course, he never failed to criticize the outcomes of these meetings.)
Kanchō Sensei often scolded him for his self-centered behavior and half-hearted commitment.
That student couldn’t differentiate tough love from harassment, so he disappeared sometimes for several weeks when he felt humiliated and came back when he felt better. After Mochizuki Sensei passed away, he resigned and became independent. However, because he skipped learning all the fundamentals, for he was such a rare talented individual – one of the few that I have ever encountered – he could only teach from his present level and could not teach those who needed a foundation in the fundamentals. Therefore, since he did not teach the basics, he guaranteed that no one who followed him would ever reach his level. His own personal achievement was the end of the road, which was his focus from the beginning.
The Yōseikan embraces the concept of Mutual Welfare as one guiding principle in our path. I have met Bujutsu people who had come naturally to the discovery of the Spirit of Mutual Welfare through their relentless research and application of the Principle of Efficiency and reached the Dō level while conversely, so-called Budō experts had stopped their study at the technical level (Jutsu). As one teacher once said, “If your two eyes are on the goal, you have nothing left to watch the Path!” This is one of the results of getting stuck in one’s comfort zone: we fall into a comatose state. The Aiki Expo gatherings have given us ample exposure to those situations. Some well renowned teachers showed genuine curiosity over and interest in what others were doing and went around observing and even participating in other teachers’ classes; however, other celebrity teachers expressed no interest at all and left as soon as their classes were over, and they no longer had to teach or even be present.
Being present is where everything begins. An old French proverb says: “He who is away is always wrong.” Or in more colloquial terms; “You snooze – you lose.” Nothing can replace the direct experience of being present physically and mentally. There is a distinction between being absent from an event due to some urgent priority and being absent due to negligence and/or indifference. A person’s true motivation always ends up being revealed through his or her attitude regardless of the explanation offered.
For that reason, make sure that you make up for missed classes. If you cannot practice due to an impeding physical condition, attend the practice and observe it attentively. It’s called Mitorigeiko (Practice through Observation), a powerful learning tool that anyone can cultivate. On the mental level, it also helps motivate students to re-join the practice as soon as possible, which results in faster healing. Attending practice when ill or injured is an especially beneficial discipline that must be developed early and consistently. Beginners and lower-ranked students who miss classes, intending to resume practice later when more favorable conditions allow, may inevitably find themselves filling that missed class time doing something else, something more “fun” and “entertaining,” and possibly never make it back to class. Thus, the mind should be set on learning even when the body cannot practice. Both can still be present.
The same principle applies to intermediate and advanced students. If you are going to miss a camp or any important event for whatever serious reason, you are encouraged to offer to help those attending in some way. Find and take advantage of leadership and involvement opportunities at the dojo throughout the year. If you need to miss your class, consider making up by staying with other classes besides practicing with yours. There is always a way when there is a will.
Black Belts, you need to accept that the junior students are watching your example. Your behavior speaks more loudly than your words, and it sets the standards for those coming after you. A sign at the Yōseikan said, “Black Belts arrive early and leave last!” Of course, as you know, this statement means more than just logging in time.
And for those aspiring to rise to the advanced level, do not wait until you reach the brown belt level to start developing the qualities of a black belt. Start right away. Once you reach the purple belt level, ask yourself: do you join the Saturday morning practice, or do you maintain the same weekend routine as before? Do you sometimes stay with the beginners’ class to share your experience and polish your basics?
Yes, the Yōseikan enforces demanding standards – and there has been pressure from all directions to lower the standards in order to accommodate and attract more students. It already had been going on while Mochizuki Sensei was active; he would often hear: “There are too many techniques; students cannot follow”; “This technique is too dangerous”; “Promotions are too slow”; “We cannot compete with other schools.” He had to deal with these and other similar complaints.
All this whining infuriated Kanchō Sensei: “What do you think will happen if you lower the standards? You will never be able to raise them again! Look at the present deterioration of Aikidō after Ueshiba Sensei! You have to study and teach better in order to bring your students up to the standards and not lower the standards to your students’ levels!”
As one of the four designated successors of Mochizuki Sensei, I renew my vows to maintain the standards and the values that we have received from him. I know that learning and practicing techniques is easier than training the mind. I also know that the more natural ability we possess, the more likely we are to neglect the cultivation of the Spirit (Shin) and focus only on Techniques (Gi) and Physical Fitness (Tai). But what happens then in the absence of spirit when the body deteriorates due to age and abuse? History has proven that those who follow that easy path will irremediably give up or become independent while those less gifted ones – the majority of us, who have made a habit early in life to deal with hardships – have consequently developed the appropriate skills. For this reason, we have been taking a more direct approach to train students from the beginning level to develop Kiai and Zanshin (a Continued State of Mental Awareness and Physical Readiness). Starting with clear greetings upon entering the Dōjō to set the mind for the practice, children and beginners have been responding well to the training. Some adults, even experienced ones, have been struggling with it, but they need to get over their own personal inhibitions to develop something valuable that they – and others in our dojo community – may use.
I stand by my statement that “The Yōseikan is an endangered species.” That statement has drawn criticism to the effect that it may continue to discourage people from joining a community and a way of life that may disappear. My reply is that we continue to seek only students who have a vision for themselves and others and who aspire to develop noble leadership to realize that vision. Many people would be interested in this form of Budō for themselves and/or their children if they knew of its existence. The question is how do we reach them and get their attention in this present numbing mediocrity and confusing maze of $9.99-a-week-plus-free-uniform deals, nine year old black belts, and great-grandmaster com-martial artists? (Yes, the pun was intended!)
Our best source of stable and long-term students continues to be the word of mouth. That is why we have been encouraging our existing students to develop the skills to talk about Aikidō, how its study has benefitted them, and how it can benefit others. We invite you to share your experiences with others who may benefit from what you have developed.
Many thanks to Mr. William Brown who kindly offered to review this original English version prior translating it into the French. For a better understanding of the subject, I recommend reading both versions for those who are fluent in both languages.
We wish you Happy and Mindful Holidays and a Healthy and Prosperous New Year. Thank you for your continuous trust in and support of the teachings we received directly from Mochizuki Sensei.
Patrick Augé and Kaoru Sugiyama