December 27th, 2005
Dear Students, dear Friends:
We are almost in 2006 now, and it's time to reflect on the year that is ending. In last year's message, I wrote about the purpose of the study of budo, which is to train ourselves to deal with life's difficulties. I have been using that message as a foundation for discussions with students. This one will serve the same purpose.
There are several ways to approach the study of budo. Most of us were first attracted to budo through its external aspect since it seemed to fill a temporary need for security. I was the same. However, my thinking changed after I met and studied under Mochizuki Sensei in Japan. While I was living there, I observed that many Japanese students and other people were wondering why foreigners were coming to study under Mochizuki Sensei. They asked themselves, what was so special about him?
Let me remind you that Mochizuki Sensei was a special student at the Kodokan in the 1920's, that he received direct instruction from Kano Sensei, and that Kano Sensei had selected him to go to study with Ueshiba Sensei of whom he became an uchideshi. In Europe, Mochizuki Sensei is considered by many senior martial artists as the father of modern European budo. He was one of the first Japanese budo teachers to leave Japan - right after the end of WW II - in order to teach. After staying with Kancho Sensei in Japan for a while - and meeting the extraordinary people I was exposed to through him (Okubo, Otsuka, Sugino Sensei, Suzuki Shunryu, among others) - I realized how special a teacher Mochizuki Sensei was.
I could sense his two teachers alive in him: on one hand, the rational Kano, founder of judo and one of the three most influential people in the history of Japanese education, and on the other, the charismatic and spiritual Ueshiba, founder of aikido. Both of them are considered as some of the greatest martial artists in the XXth century. Mochizuki Sensei was a synthesis and continuation of their legacy.
Later, politics and competition with other fast growing and diluted martial arts in Japan and abroad, as well as the many temptations brought by the Japanese bubble economy, resulted into a general lack of interest and commitment from young people. It soon became obvious to me that our school, the Yoseikan, was an endangered species. That was when I decided to dedicate myself to preserving and developing it. I also resolved to find the right people to teach and train to become teachers or supporters. For this, it was essential to cultivate the three following essential qualities: strength, compassion and wisdom.
Strength is the result of rigorous technical and psychophysical training. However, strength without compassion and wisdom becomes mere violence.
Compassion is the quality of mind which consists in understanding how others feel and the reasons why they behave the way they do. It results from learning to see clearly inside ourselves through observation and meditation. Compassion is based on rational thinking and must be complemented by strength and wisdom, or it can easily turn into pity which is an emotional state of mind that usually leads to unwise decisions.
Wisdom is the ability to understand the interconnectedness of all phenomena and make decisions accordingly. In order to be effective, wisdom must be backed by strength and compassion.
If we take the time to think about those three qualities, we can easily see how they interrelate with and complement each other. Just as safety instructions in an airplane prior to takeoff stress the importance of securing one's own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, so must one develop oneself first before helping others.
One can share only what one has.
The problem is that once our basic needs are satisfied, very few of us bother to develop any further.
That is evident essentially among beginners. Many people are attracted to aikido at a time when they are going through a crisis, usually triggered by a financial or an emotional catastrophe, which appears to be the direct cause. In fact, this crisis acts as a catalyst that starts a chain reaction exposing other pre-existing and dormant conditions. With the personal attention, support, and clear structure provided by the dojo, most people can overcome that crisis. However, once they find a new job and/or a new partner, or they believe that time has healed their wounds, many drop out under the excuse that they are too busy with their new lives and new activities and no longer have the time to continue their training. It has been my experience, though, that most of the time, they go right back to their former patterns of behavior which lead them to go back to where they had started. Appearances may be different, but the fundamental way of thinking hasn't changed.
In order to complete the healing process and make sure that we won't fall back, it is essential to continually confirm our commitment through regular attendance and sharing our experience with others who may be going through hardship. This way we encourage those who helped us, help them complete their own healing process, and repay them for their time and commitment by showing the way to others.
There is an old saying: give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for life; teach him how to teach others, and you feed the planet. Most of us just want to learn to fish for ourselves. With that kind of mentality, greed and fear take over and in no time we start fishing for more than what we need, then build huge floating fishing factories, empty the seas, and contribute to the seemingly endless cycle of suffering.
That is why the higher our rank, the more responsibilities we have towards other dojo members and society. Others' existence makes our existence.
Everything starts with the teacher. In his lectures, Mochizuki Sensei described do [or michi] as a path. 'A king builds a road for his subjects to travel safely from one place to another, help improve communications and trade, and protect his kingdom by allowing his army to move rapidly.' Similarly a martial path is established by a master for his disciples to live a meaningful life and lead others." Kancho Sensei stressed through his teaching and the example of his daily life that in order to study budo, it was necessary to have a genuine intention to do it in order to help others. The study and practice of martial techniques must be complemented with spiritual and mental training; otherwise, it's not budo.
Because a teacher tends to attract and keep students of similar character, he/she has to show the way by developing himself/herself through the four inter-related following qualities and skills of:
Practicing wise generosity; communicating clearly; studying and teaching (shugyo); living according to the teaching.
Those qualities have to be cultivated early in our study to become a unified part of ourselves. I maintain very strict standards regarding Yoseikan teachers' training and development. They are not only required to attend camps, clinics and teachers' seminars, but they must also be able to inspire their students through the example of their lives. If a teacher refuses to conduct himself/herself according to the values we have all agreed to live by, he/she is required to resign - or he/she will be expelled.
I have had to make such decisions from time to time. Most organizations would negotiate and compromise by fear of losing memberships. Decisions based on convenience and popularity bring temporary solutions but always cause more trouble later. When we find a rotting fruit in a basket, we throw it away immediately, or it will contaminate the whole basket. We must keep in mind that the Yoseikan is an endangered species; hence, we cannot use its existence for our own selfish interests.
A similar theme pertains to promotions: when a student reaches the next level, he not only encourages those under him who see the possibility for them to improve, but he also contributes to the development of those above him who helped him get there. When a student abandons the school, he hurts everyone. He hurts those who helped him; they ask themselves, "What did I do wrong?" And he hurts those who are delayed in their progress because of a partner who is missing and won't share what he learned. The higher the rank and/or the more attention one has received, the greater the damage he causes by abandoning his practice.
The same thing applies to absenteeism. When we miss classes or drop out, we often think only of our own conditions and convenience. But do we think that other students' practice might get affected due to our stalling the group upon our return to the dojo? When a student needs assistance, other students will help as part of their training if they know that that student is responsible and doesn't take that help for granted. That is why we ask students to notify their teachers of their absences and make up missed classes. Notifying one's teacher should never be regarded as a ritual or an obligation: it must be done with the mind of training oneself in acknowledging one's intentions; it's the first step toward assuming responsibility for oneself. However, dealing with all kinds of people is part of the study for teachers and students alike. It teaches us that motivation results from sustained concentration. Concentration is the ability to maintain one's attention on one object only, to the exclusion of anything that is irrelevant. Concentration is not inborn. It has to be cultivated.
I wanted to share those thoughts with you. I recommend that you take time to reflect on this letter; keep it in a place where it will be easily accessible for further reference. None of the things that I write should be taken as final; rather they should be seen as starting points for thinking for oneself. We will discuss them during next year.
Kaoru Sensei and I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Thank you for your constant trust and support.
Patrick Augé Sensei
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