Torrance, California, December 2015
Dear Parents, Students, and Friends:
As every New Year approaches, I reflect on the past in order to prepare for the future. Soon, it will be forty years since Kaoru Sensei and I moved from Shizuoka to North America to develop the Yōseikan. Now, please allow me to share with you my thoughts for this new coming year.
Beginning in the 1960s, Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) Colonel Sadayuki Demizu, while stationed in the US, trained and promoted several American practitioners to black belt. But left to their individual training without guidance for years, those black belts lost their sharpness, and they changed their techniques. While I lived in Japan, I took a trip to the US and observed and admired their strong determination, but I also thought that their practice needed fresh input. They needed a program that would ground them in the basics but also provide them room to evolve and develop on their own.
Designing and implementing that systematic approach to teaching Aikidō was something that Mochizuki Sensei had set out to do. In 1970-1971, at the request of Hiroo Mochizuki Sensei (Mochizuki Sensei’s first son, who was teaching in France), Mochizuki Sensei was preparing a program for the French Aikido Federation. Two other French students – Michel Coquet and Jacques Normand, both students of Hiroo Sensei – were also staying at the dōjō as uchideshi (live-in students). Four afternoons a week, Mochizuki Sensei would throw and/or pin us and make us do and redo this and that technique; he would then take notes and pictures. Applying Kanō Jigorō’s teachings, Mochizuki Sensei organized all the techniques in a rational and progressive manner according to their biomechanical principles. He eventually finalized the whole method on a long scroll that he posted on the wall above the dōjō entrance.
That was the program that we did for the whole time that I was in Japan. There were around forty practicing students at that time, and every night, we would work on that program. This is also the program that I have been teaching and developing since then.
In 1975, US Army Col. Thomas Bearden from Huntsville, AL, wrote a letter to Mochizuki Sensei; in it, he requested Sensei to send someone to the United States in order to evaluate the conditions leading to teaching students and forming an organization in North America. At that time, I had been thinking of moving to either England or Germany, countries which I had visited and lived in as a child and as a student. Instead, Mochizuki Sensei sent me to North America, and, in 1977, I started teaching in Canada while also traveling to Tuscaloosa, AL.
During all those early years teaching since 1977, I regularly spent eight weeks every summer at the Yōseikan Honbu. Even later, after we moved to Los Angeles in 1994, I kept going back during the summers albeit for shorter periods of time until Mochizuki Sensei left the dōjō to live in France in 1999.
What motivated me to maintain that practice of visiting Sensei? I knew that I had encountered a genuine teacher – and I needed to continue learning from him for as long as I could. I understood that my time with him in Japan was only the beginning of what would be a lifelong endeavor of learning under a true master.
Sadly, very few students of Mochizuki Sensei in Japan truly realized under what kind of teacher they were studying, and many did not see their education with him the same way that I did. Consequently, Japanese Yōseikan members, who left to teach abroad, did not come back to update themselves. Also, foreign teachers and students who visited did not spend enough time at the Honbu to be able to take back something of value; in fact, most visitors never came back again after their visit. In addition to that, many foreign students, who claimed to be uchideshi, got trapped into making money by teaching English, which was easy for a foreigner to do at that time. They took advantage of the dōjō as cheap accommodation and seldom showed up for practice because dōjō practice times coincided with the prime time for English lessons. These uchideshi had lost sight of the purpose of their stay in Japan; therefore, Mochizuki Sensei ordered a few of them to find living accommodation somewhere else.
During my whole exposure to Mochizuki Sensei at the Yōseikan Honbu from 1970 to 1999, I can name only three people who stayed at the dōjō for several years and qualify as uchideshi: Alessandro Preattoni from Italy and Jörg Schiffner and Jana Weihrauch from Germany. All other students staying at the dōjō were mere tenants or visiting students. These three people not only trained diligently but also later took care of Mochizuki Sensei and his wife in their old age. The fact that they saw their whole lives revolving around their teacher bears witness to their true purpose as uchideshi. My 1970’s uchideshi life was a lot easier compared to theirs!
As a teacher, I later discovered resistance among other teachers about the breadth and depth of the Yōseikan curriculum. Some of the teachers had been complaining to Sensei that the large number of techniques was confusing students and that some of those techniques were dangerous. They were teaching at public facilities where time and use of space were limited; consequently, their students had little opportunity to practice and polish their techniques. Mochizuki Sensei was already in his seventies then and declared that he would focus on teaching his more advanced techniques, which he was constantly developing; thus, he left teaching the basic techniques to the senior students, to whom he assigned teaching responsibilities. Little by little, the basic program was marginalized to the extent that some new black belts had only little exposure to it even though it was still posted above the entrance. Coincidentally, the dropout rate increased, and some nights, only a few students showed up for practice.
I expressed my concern to Mochizuki Sensei, and he replied: “Tomorrow, I may be dead, so go see Shioda Sensei (founder of the Yōshinkai) to learn basic techniques after me!”
We always return to that foundation embodied by that long scroll posted above the old dōjō entrance. Without a foundation, variations and advanced techniques lead nowhere. The study becomes mixed martial arts, short term tricks to get quick results without concern for later consequences. Students rapidly lose interest since they cannot evolve on their own and wait to be spoon-fed new material all the time. The Yōseikan curriculum grounds the students in the basics, which also open up whole new avenues for discovery, evolution, and growth for serious students.
The Yōseikan has been seeking more professional teachers, who understand the importance of basics in learning. However, due to its vast curriculum, Yōseikan will never be commercialized, for it tends to attract only those who are sincerely seeking self-perfection as a life endeavor. Learning takes a long time – in fact, a lifetime – an attitude, which does not attract students seeking quick rewards. Consequently, many instructors have left the Yōseikan to become independent or form their own organizations. Whether they use the same or different organization names, they still claim to be Mochizuki Sensei’s students even though they had little or no exposure to him; they even display his picture in their school. But if they are asked about their teacher and how they met Mochizuki Sensei and studied with him, they lie or avoid answering by changing the subject.
Here is common evidence of denial of Mochizuki Sensei’s teachings: Yōseikan Kenjutsu (sword techniques) is based on Katori Shintō Ryū. But Sensei modified it in order to adapt it to Aikidō by applying hip power with Kuzushi (balance breaking) and Taisabaki (body shift). Kenjutsu was part of the curriculum, so the Yōseikan was not issuing Dan rankings in Kenjutsu. Consequently, some foreigners in their quest for entitlement went to the Katori Shintō Ryū dōjō in order to receive ranks in spite of the fact that Sensei had told them that it would be useless since the purpose was different: Katori Shintō Ryū’s existence is intended for cultural preservation; Yōseikan Kenjutsu is integrated for the purpose of understanding the relationship between sword and empty hand techniques. It may not be obvious at first, but focused daily practice together with an inquisitive mind – practice done by oneself or with partners – will foster gradual understanding. Only those who expect to find answers within themselves can discover these truths.
Regarding those with little or no ability, the truth about the level of their understanding becomes easily obvious. But it’s more difficult to recognize those who fabricate their own history and credentials when they have impressive technical skills. However, if we observe how people live their lives and who does or does not gather around them, we will know the truth. As the Japanese proverb advises, “Ichiji ga banji” – One thing suggests all the rest (literally translated, “from one thing, ten thousand things”). Mochizuki Sensei, who was a good reader of characters, once said: “The way we move is like our handwriting: it reveals our personality.”
I then wondered: “What about those who fake their movements as we see so often in Aikido demonstrations?”
“Fake!” was the answer.
This reminds me of an incident that happened one summer when I took a group of black belt students from North America to Japan. After those students had returned home, I reviewed with Sensei pictures taken during their stay. Sensei pointed at one man and said: “This one is wicked. He will betray you! Watch him!”
That person was one of my most trusted students, so I thought: “How can Sensei say that? I see this guy every day. Sensei himself was betrayed by people he trusted; could he have foreseen those events?”
Years later, Sensei’s warning proved to be right.
Does that mean that we should distrust everybody and act accordingly?
Again, I am reminded of what makes Mochizuki Sensei a true teacher. He was a product of Shizuoka, an old Samurai town. There, people continue to embrace honor and loyalty as parts of their daily lives. While they have been wary of outsiders, they also are amazingly open to foreigners. Mochizuki Sensei, in particular, who was one of the first Japanese citizens authorized to travel abroad after WWII, had welcomed foreigners to his dōjō. Some days, there were more foreigners than Japanese practicing at the dōjō. (It was not always obvious, though, since some of them came from other neighboring Asian countries or Brazil and were fluent in Japanese.) He gave everyone a chance to learn.
In the same line of historical martial arts figures like Miyamoto Musashi, Sakamoto Ryōma, and Kanō Jigorō, Mochizuki Minoru Sensei was a social educator on the street. He practiced what he professed. In one of his essays (Aiki News #78 September 1988), he wrote that “every form of exclusionism is a crime, and there is only one way for humankind to survive in the future, that is, through coexistence.” For this reason, Sensei wanted to give chances to everyone since enthusiasm from the start does not constitute a guarantee that a student will persevere. It may take time before someone wakes up: guidance and patience formed the pillars of his teaching policy. One thing I know for sure: if Sensei had not been patient and understanding with me, I would not be where I am now. I am grateful for that teaching and, in turn, apply it to my own students. They may give up on me, but I will not give up on them.
Eventually – like I did – sincere students of the Yōseikan discover that their training is not merely technical but comprehensive and integrated. The dōjō becomes a place where they can explore the techniques inside the dōjō and connect their applications to other situations outside the dōjō. Thus, students learn to build themselves as martial artists and as human beings.
When I was a youngster, it was common for people my age to discuss philosophical matters, such as the meaning of life, among other worldlier subjects. Nowadays, one of my challenges is to steer adult students away from chatter about trivialities, such as work, business, computers, and the like to more meaningful conversations, particularly when they walk into the dōjō. We all know that the purpose of meaningless chatting is to fill a void and to stay away from what we are afraid of admitting: the main questions on life. Therefore, every last Friday of the month, after practice, the advanced youth group and I gather for a dinner-mondō, wherein students can talk freely about topics that are important to them. Again, we return to the basics. I believe that exposure to this skill at an early age helps develop the ability to think deeply, communicate clearly, choose wisely, and influence productively.
In this present world of confusion and self-serving disinformation, I do not expect to see the results of my efforts in this lifetime, but I have made the commitment to plant the seeds for those of the next generations who will be looking for authentic martial paths after all the diluted variations will have disappeared.
Please ponder these thoughts. I hope that they spur questions and insights in you, and I look forward to having conversations about them with you in the near future.
Please log onto our website, and our Facebook page. I would also like to recommend a subscription to Aikido Journal, online for you or as a gift to someone. It contains up-to-date reliable information on Aikidō, its history, and people. I have known its founder and editor, Stanley Pranin, for more than thirty years and respect him as an authentic historian, researcher, and technician.
I would like to thank Mr. William Brown, who so kindly revised this English version in order to make it more comprehensible.
Kaoru Sensei and I thank you for your continuous trust and support. May you and everyone be happy and healthy. We are looking forward to continuing our mission with you.
Patrick Augé and Kaoru Sugiyama