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Patrick Augé at Aiki Expo 2002

by Ikuko Kimura

Published Online

The following interview with Patrick Augé Sensei was conducted by Aiki News editor Ikuko Kimura at Aiki Expo 2002 held May 3-5 in Las Vegas.

Ikuko Kimura: Are you enjoying this event?

Patrick Augé

Patrick Augé: Yes, very much. It’s a great opportunity to meet other people who also practice seriously and who learned similar basics and fundamental mental attitude, and to see what they have developed by themselves after years of training. It is a unique opportunity because I think that when we have students, we are busy teaching them, and so our tendency is to forget about what others are doing. As you say in Japanese, we become like “frogs in a well.” To see what other people are doing is a way to open our minds. That’s why I believe the Aiki Expo is a great opportunity to see such a variety of approaches developed from the same thing. What I particularly appreciate and find refreshing is to attend other professional teachers’ classes. Observing their teaching styles - how they approach their teaching, how they relate to the students, how they develop these relationships between themselves and their students, and how they nurture the relationships among their students - I found all these very interesting. One negative side I think is that many students tend to follow their teachers in their classes. They should go to other classes. Maybe the teachers should have only one or two students to assist them. The students should try to have exposure to as many teachers as possible. I see it more as a cultural event than as a way to learn new techniques.

How about your students? Have your students gone to other classes?

That’s what I wanted them to do, so sometimes I had only one student with me, but that’s enough to explain difficult things. I can do it with people who are attending my classes. I think it’s more interesting to demonstrate something with students whom I have never practiced with before. Then they act more naturally.

You came from Los Angeles with how many students?

I think we have the total of about fifty people from our American group in Los Angeles and the Canadian group in Ottawa and Montreal.

You are practicing Yoseikan Budo in Los Angeles.

Yes. That’s right.

Is Yoseikan Budo already a combination of several kinds of martial arts?

We cannot say it is a combination. It’s a comprehensive budo based on aikido, but the other martial arts have become like minor subjects.

If you go to the university, and you want to study a subject like physics, for example, then you are going to take other courses as well. You have to take mathematics, chemistry, and all kinds of courses. For the students during the time they are going to school, this seems a waste of time because they want to focus on physics. But later on, when they become professional, they really realize how important those other courses were.

We know very well that during the Kobukan Dojo years (1931-1942), Ueshiba Sensei’s students who were his training partners were all highly ranked in other martial arts, so when they came to study and train with Ueshiba Sensei, they already knew how to attack and how to fall. They were strong and solid people. There was a lot more variety of techniques at that time. But after the war, aikido was open to the public, and people were not required to have a background in other martial arts. The techniques became simplified, and there was no emphasis on attacks, which resulted in the lack of effectiveness we can see today. Mochizuki Sensei has been very aware of that, and for this reason, he always tells his students to study other martial arts like karate, judo, and kendo. That’s why in Yoseikan Aikido, we are required to train in other forms. We are still able to do the traditional aikido if we want to. We can shift, but we are not afraid to go to the ground if necessary. We can try to apply the techniques against full-speed attacks. As a result of this, we have to constantly review and sharpen our techniques because they never work one hundred percent. Sometimes it is very frustrating because we may have been working on a technique for many years, and we think it works and then we find a student who attacks differently, and it does not work any more. Therefore, the learning is always dynamic and evolving, and there is never a definite answer. It requires us also to maintain a sharp mind.

So you are developing the idea of Mochizuki Sensei.

That’s right. We never stop learning this way. That’s why most of our senior teachers who came here are in their mid-forties or mid-fifties, and I myself am in my mid-fifties. I am thinking of adapting my training so that I can continue and evolve. In my sixties, I will still lead my students. Some of my students are already older than I am. They are still practicing, training, and studying. We require all our teachers to continue training. If they don’t train, then we take away their teaching privilege.

I think one of the weak points in aikido is the level of attacks, and that’s why the techniques lack a practical sense.

Yes, it deteriorates. Mochizuki Sensei explained: “Truth can be built only on truth.” So if you want to make a system that is true, you need to have a true foundation. We can compare that to, for example, a lawyer who is specialized in defense. The lawyer also has to be familiar with what others are doing, because, if he is specialized only in defense without knowing what the other side is doing, he is not going to be a good lawyer.

You have done judo for quite a long time and participated in competition. Have you studied sword techniques as well?

Yes. I studied them with Mochizuki Sensei. They were based on Katori Shinto-ryu. Mochizuki Sensei modified them to make them fit to aikido. They are still the same type of techniques but more with the idea of kuzushi, unbalancing the other person, or taking away the sword from the other person while doing kenjutsu.

Mochizuki Sensei went to France, right?

Yes.

He was the first person to introduce aikido to Europe. When he showed aikido, he sometimes used judo techniques and that’s how the mixture of aikido and judo started. I think he also devised sutemiwaza (sacrifice techniques).

They developed out of necessity. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Every technique exists as a response to a particular need. Techniques are not rigid; they have to evolve. In Europe, Mochizuki Sensei had experiences of fighting with boxers and wrestlers, so of course he had to use some strategy to fight against them and also to modify the techniques to fit his needs. He also realized that if he missed the technique, then automatically he could resort to an appropriate combination. He was able to draw on his extensive judo training. In judo, he learned to apply the techniques all the way. Judo training is mentally very demanding. Our attention has to be all the time on the present situation. We cannot think about anything else. Mochizuki Sensei realized that judo was sharpening his mind and was helping him to be sincere in his techniques. He saw that many aikido techniques could not be applied the way he had learned them against sincere attackers. When he was in France, even when he was training with his students, he noticed that they were practicing aikido with a judo mind, and they did not take falls if the technique was not working. So he really had to modify the way to do techniques to make them more effective. That was his experience.

Maybe their fighting style was different. When Ueshiba Sensei was developing aikido, he was thinking more of sword attacks.

Well, Mochizuki Sensei said that at that time he and others, who were trained in other martial arts, were Ueshiba Sensei’s partners. Ueshiba Sensei wanted serious martial artists as his uke. He did not want to fake his techniques but wanted his techniques to be effective. His opponents were testing him all the time. Mochizuki Sensei said that Ueshiba Sensei was very difficult to sweep with ashibarai, for example. Mochizuki Sensei tried often to catch Ueshiba Sensei with ashibarai, but in vain. Mochizuki Sensei said Ueshiba Sensei was like a small ball and always recovered his balance. Ueshiba Sensei wanted to be challenged so that he could sharpen his techniques, but he used to scold Mochizuki Sensei saying, “You are annoying me, Mochizuki. All the time I have to review my techniques because of you!” (Mochizuki, omae wa urusai na….. ) [Laughter]. Ueshiba Sensei, in fact, was happy because he was getting challenged intelligently. I think Mochizuki Sensei is not the kind of person who fits in Japanese society. He is not a “Yes-man.” If he thinks of something that has to be said or done, then he will do it but always using common sense. That’s why often people tend to misunderstand him. It’s more convenient that way…

So, you are really taking over Mochizuki Sensei’s teachings including his way of thinking.

They were also Kano Sensei’s teachings.

But Mochizuki Sensei did not make it into a competitive aikido.

No. He thought the danger of competition is that the competition may become a purpose. Competitions should be a means of training, but when an organization grows, then the ideology of the founder gets lost. There will be two dangers. First, if we say “no competition at all,” then the focus becomes more on the organization and on just collecting members. But if we say, ” OK, competition,” then the focus goes towards only organizing tournaments, making champions and stars, getting Olympic recognition… But it takes a lot of people to train the stars, and usually those stars take everything for themselves without giving back anything. They set a poor example. So it goes against Kano Sensei’s principle of “mutual welfare and prosperity” (jita kyoei).

Kano Sensei was against the Olympics, I believe…

I heard that when Kano Sensei came back from the Olympics, I don’t remember the year, maybe 1936. He said, “I saw what happened in Berlin. Judo is not a sport. It will never be in the Olympics.” Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937, restorer of the Olympics) had asked Kano Sensei if he wanted to put judo in the Olympics at the 1940 Olympic Games which were scheduled to be held in Tokyo, I believe. If I remember well, the hosting country could have one of its national sports as a demonstration sport. Kano Sensei was against that because he had seen what was already happening.

As a serious judo competitor in France, I was very happy in 1964 when I saw judo in the Olympics. It was quite foolish on my part. We were excited because there was really a boom in the development of judo in France at that time, but then the quality of the spirit deteriorated afterwards.

Do you do randori?

Yes, we do it as a means of training.

Do you do that in a judo way or an aikido way?

If we do randori, safety is always a matter of concern. If we decide to do a more competitive style, we will decide on what kind of rules we are using at this time, then at another time maybe we set different rules. It’s mostly for safety; it is also to prevent the students from getting stuck in rules or starting to use the rules in order to win. They have to think all the time. But we do that only when the teacher has control of students. If we do something like this, I am always present.

Is it very effective?

Yes, it is, if we are really serious. I realized from my experience in judo competition at a lot of tournaments that every time I was going to compete, I had to have good preparation and mental attitude. In a shiai that lasted just a few minutes, I could accumulate the experience of several months of training. I always remembered what I had done and it was really helping me to progress. I knew what I had to correct or improve in my training, in my techniques and mental attitude, so I knew what I had to work on. It really helped me with my study at university as well. I could go to take exams and be completely relaxed. My mind was clear. I could see other students much more prepared than I was academically, but they would panic in test situations. As a result, they could not function properly. Often the night before the exam, I would have practiced judo, so I had not studied very much. But I was completely relaxed at the exam, and my mind was clear, so I would do well. I was sorry to see other students who had studied all night and been better prepared but who didn’t do well.

It’s not the amount of study that counts.

No, it’s the mental attitude. And I think that’s what most examiners are seeking. My judo training prepared me well for that. I believe it is thanks to my teacher, too. My French teacher, Monsieur Michel Bourgoin, was very strict on mental attitude. He was a champion himself, but he did not push us to become champions. He said to me once, “If you want to be a good teacher, you have to train as if you wanted to become a champion. When you have had a hard time, your experience will help you teach with a clear mind. If you had it easy, you will feel like a hypocrite!”

He was a good teacher.

Yes. His teacher was a student of Mochizuki Sensei. Mochizuki Sensei always taught us not only through his words but also through his actions. He was always attending beginners’ classes and also children’s classes. He told me, “Always teach beginners and children yourself. The top teacher should teach them by himself. Beginners and children have no second chance to get a first good impression. Don’t make the mistake of letting your assistant do that and of teaching only advanced students.” This way, of course we cannot make a big organization. We can concentrate on quality but not on quantity.

How many students do you have?

Right now, all together, in Los Angeles I have about a hundred students, but in Canada we have about three hundred active people.

Luckily your students had opportunities to meet someone like Mochizuki Sensei and Sugino Sensei.

Yes, I wanted them to have exposure so that after me, they would know what to do. Now I am putting focus on my students so that they get more exposure. I am fifty-five, and I can teach maybe twenty or twenty-five more years; I do not know. I may die next year… I do not want to see the same mistakes as before happen again, so I am preparing my students now to take over. That’s why at the demonstration yesterday, I did one part of it, but I let my students do the other part. So they already had the experience of being on the front line. Often I see one sensei has exposure and he is the center of focus, but after that there is nobody. So it becomes very difficult for the students to do something after the teacher is gone since they did not have that kind of training. I think we have to think about the next generation and prepare them. It is the responsibility of a teacher to prepare his students to take over. It’s hard to think about it because we don’t want to stop. But when we think about it, when we see what happened in the history of martial arts, we find that there were big problems after some great teachers passed on. I want my students to function as a group together. It’s easy to say, but to do it takes understanding and practice.

When did you decide to become a professional teacher?

When I was fifteen years old. In France I had a very good teacher, and he and his wife opened a dojo in Amiens, my hometown. They were quite generous and had many noteworthy qualities. When I met him, I knew that he would be a very important person in my life. I decided at that time that I would become a professional teacher. I also felt that at a certain point, there would be a limit to what I could learn if I stayed in France. I was reading a lot about martial arts. I was twenty-two, doing well in tournaments. Instead of trying to keep me, my teacher Mr. Bourgoin said, “I think now you should study with Mochizuki Sensei.” He knew I wanted to go to Japan after I finished my university studies. I had been making all the preparations to go, so he decided to introduce me to Minoru Mochizuki Sensei through Hiroo Mochizuki Sensei (the eldest son of Minoru Mochizuki), who was in Paris at that time. I was very fortunate. So my teacher was very generous.

I have observed many teachers, and I have concluded that there are four qualities that make a good teacher.

The first quality is generosity. The second is his ability to communicate according to the students’ level. The third is to immerse himself in teaching. That is, teachers need to study and teach at the same time. And the fourth is to live according to the teaching. Many teachers just talk about what they teach. They are very charismatic, but after they finish the class, they are just like anybody else. For example, they get angry on the road if somebody cuts them off; if they go to a restaurant, they don’t treat waitresses properly, and so on. I think then, “What kind of person is this? Where is the budo practice?”

Mochizuki Sensei has those four qualities. He is generous. He communicates with all students. And he teaches and lives according to his teachings. So this is what we are trying to develop in our daily lives.

You are really a martial artist! Once you become a teacher, your job is not just teaching. You have to develop yourself and always think of your students.

I will add something to that. I lived with Mochizuki Sensei for seven years, and after that, I kept going back to him every summer for at least two months. While I was living with him, there were things I did not understand, but I was like a sponge, and I was soaking up my environment. I could sense the presence of great people, such as Kano and Ueshiba Sensei, in him. There was something special about living close to Mochizuki Sensei that some of us felt. After I left for North America, I realized what I had missed and had not paid attention to while I was in Japan. So I understood I had to go back to him every summer. During my stay with Mochizuki Sensei, I saw that some people who had studied at the Yoseikan or some teachers who had left Japan to teach abroad did not come back regularly. Things at the Hombu were changing rapidly, and the techniques were evolving. Mochizuki Sensei was teaching more things; his opinions were evolving. Sensei encouraged his students to develop what he taught them as well. He said to us: I give you the raw material. You refine it!

When those people who had left Japan came back after a long absence, they saw a lot of changes and felt a big gap. Some of them got very discouraged, so they quit or started to misbehave and ended up being kicked out or left on their own. I thought, “This is the result of not staying in touch.” Some people were complaining because they were not informed about the changes, but I think it is the students’ responsibility to come back to their teacher and update themselves.

For example, in Europe, summer is vacation time, and people just want to enjoy their vacations. Many teachers organize camps at places where people go for vacation like beach and mountain resorts, and they teach there for the whole summer. People go there for a vacation and take those seminars at the same time. Many teachers can make most of their incomes during the summer time. So they get stuck in a pattern and cannot go to Japan even though it is the best time to go there. So we have to set priorities. Results come accordingly.

How could you afford making trips to Japan every year?

Well, everything just works out. It’s a matter of priorities. My lifestyle is very simple. My family and I live and eat well, but we don’t buy unnecessary things. When you have been studying a budo like aikido for a long time, you start looking at life differently. You look at phenomena beyond their appearances; you don’t get caught in the vicious cycle of never-satisfied desires. Materialistic concerns become secondary.

It’s true: if I counted all the amounts I have been spending to study in the last twenty-five years, I could be enjoying a nice house and be driving fine cars. But I don’t think I would be happy that way.

In our case, we make sure we always have whatever we need and we are doing well. Our students also take good care of us. If we need something, they support us. This time for the Aiki Expo, too, my students knew that it was important to support Stanley. I explained that Stanley and the Aiki News staff made a lot of efforts to organize this event and that this is a benefit for all the people who are doing budo and aikido. I asked them to support this. That’s why they decided to support this event from the beginning. Stanley needed some encouragement, some response, and some basic money to start working with.

I told everybody to register as soon as possible, and they did. When we first came to Los Angeles, they helped us by supporting us also morally and financially. That’s what we learned from Mochizuki Sensei. At the Yoseikan, whenever something was needed, all the students contributed to help Mochizuki Sensei. The higher your rank, the more you contributed. Some of the senior students took very good care of Mochizuki Sensei and his wife because they knew that it was important. I remember one instance where Mochizuki Sensei was inviting people, and he wanted to order tempura. He said, “Ok, order tempura for everybody.” Then at the end, he gave his wallet to one of the senior students and said, “You go pay now.” The student took the wallet, but he paid from his own pocket, and later he collected the money from others. He gave the wallet back to Sensei. Sensei never got to know that the students paid for the meal. So one day he said laughing, “I do not understand. There is always more money in my wallet. The kamisama (gods) take good care of me!”

I think Mochizuki Sensei is a really good teacher.

Yes. He is a great teacher himself. His teachers, Kano and Ueshiba Sensei saw that potential in him. He developed and transmitted what they taught him. If you plant good seeds in good earth and take good care of them, they will grow well. This is something that really impressed me when I arrived at the Yoseikan in 1970. The senior students helped me right away to get a good start. For example, Murai Sensei, who is Mochizuki Sensei’s most senior student, stayed late at night to teach me; Yoshida Sensei also came to teach me on his days off. They were doing that for many newcomers. I think that they expected us to learn from their example and do the same thing for others. That is the kind of students Mochizuki Sensei produced. Look at the student, and you will see the teacher.

The environment is important.

Yes. We have to choose students. Sometimes I am accused of discriminating. I select students, and if I do not want to teach this or that person, it’s because I think that those people have a different agenda and will cause trouble for my students. I think that a teacher should be like a father. He has the responsibility of protecting his children from negative influences while they are growing. If the father does not do anything when there is a problem, his children will go against each other. If the children are fighting, the father should not help one child against the other children. He should say, “You are all my children. I want you to work together.” I think that’s what he should do. I see teachers who want to make big organizations. They accept anybody and promote the new students very quickly. Those people behave as that teacher’s direct students’ equals. Then the direct students who have studied and been loyal for a long time feel betrayed and angry. Those new students may not care so much and keep good faces only in front of the teacher. Once the teacher is gone, they may become different people. I have seen some teachers who lost their best students as a result of this. Sometimes people just want to go off on their own agenda. They are not so interested in studying but just want to get ranks. When those dan tori mushi get what they want, they move on. I think that a teacher should be aware of that. By studying history and observing today’s politics, we start understanding human beings better.

So it’s very important for you to have direct contact with your students and respond to them.

It’s important to develop personal relationships with all the students. Control occurs by itself. If they understand, I do not need to tell them what to do. I have to be aware of what is happening. If there is a problem, we get together, talk about it, and spend time for that. Eventually, the students think about the common welfare of everybody and then sometimes they realize, “Oh, my ego is in the way.” That’s ok. That happens to everybody. We always manage to fix things. When we want to get everything for ourselves, we do not want to give anything. That’s when there is a problem. But when we want to share and think, “I have to give something,” then we accept looking at things in a different way. We accept looking at things in the way other people look at them and, if it respects our basic principles of “mutual welfare and prosperity” and “flexibility overcoming stiffness” (ju go yoku wo seisu), then we accept it. If it runs against the principles, then we do not accept it.

If it is for the benefit of one person only, for example, then we say no. We have to be together and stimulate each other. I taught this to my students, and they have given up more of their egos than I have. When they show me what they have done, then I learn from them as well. So many of my students are better than I am now!

They are good seeds that grew in a good environment.

Yes, but for that we have to choose where to plant the seeds. I think a teacher is someone who prepares a path for students. A teacher walks a little bit ahead, prepares the path and shows the way, but everybody has to walk the path anyway. Sometimes students are able to go beyond the teacher and go ahead, which is very good for the teacher, too, because it becomes an inspiration for the teacher.

It’s nice to have a teacher you can always go back to. You could go back to Mochizuki Sensei, and your students can come back to you. Even when you do not meet your teacher physically, you can always think, “If it were my teacher, what would he do now?”

Yes. I am aware when I make a mistake because my students pay for it! One of the good things I learned from Mochizuki Sensei is that he is a human being. He does not try to play the grandmaster. If he made a mistake, he would say, “Oh, yes. That was a mistake.” That’s all. He recognized that he made a mistake.

Everybody learned from that. Of course, those who do not understand this get disappointed and leave, but those who understand say, “Oh, he is a human being. Sensei is still learning.”

In my dojo, I have a picture of Mochizuki Sensei on the shomen. It’s not a formal picture; it was taken while he was teaching. It shows Mochizuki Sensei in all his sharpness. It looks like his eyes are following you. Then I feel Sensei is observing me. Sometimes kincho (pressure) is the same there as at the Hombu Dojo.

So many people leave their teachers only because of a single mistake.

As children, we look at our parents, and we tend to treat our parents in the same way we see our parents treat our grandparents. This has become our standard. I will treat my wife the way I saw my father treat my mother. That’s my foundation as a husband. And if I do the opposite, it’s still the result of having that foundation. So, as a student, I look at my teacher, and I treat my teacher the same way he treated his teacher. I heard my teacher praise his own teachers all the time. Mochizuki Sensei would always say, “Ueshiba Sensei did this. Ueshiba Sensei taught me that…” Or “Kano Sensei did this or that.” He is grateful to his two teachers for what they did for him. In turn, I treat my teacher in the same way. When a student leaves his teacher because of a single mistake, it’s just the excuse he was looking for. When a relationship is based on a shallow foundation, like physical or material arrangements, for example, then any thing can become an excuse to break up. On the other hand, when the foundation is solid, problems become the opportunity to strengthen that relationship. It works the same way in marriage, in friendship, in teaching, etc.

Sometimes I hear, “Oh, yes, I studied with so and so, but he was stupid and this and that….” Then I see these teachers lose their students. The students go out and open their own schools one mile down the road! They say, “We left because he changes teachers all the time.” I think we should study from different teachers, but we cannot have several masters. That’s why it is really important to find one teacher who has a balance between spiritual development and technical development. We can study techniques from different people, and we can study spiritual matters from different people, too. But we should have one master. We should not have two masters.

Living with Mochizuki Sensei and observing his daily life, I felt very much the presence of Ueshiba Sensei and Kano Sensei. Mochizuki Sensei is a senior student of the two masters. He has the same kind of attitude as Ueshiba Sensei and Kano Sensei, so Mochizuki Sensei’s teaching is authentic. Being with him, Mochizuki Sensei’s students can feel that Ueshiba Sensei and Kano Sensei are alive. They feel that they are part of that stream of life. That’s why the students of Mochizuki Sensei are always faithful to him. They can look at other teachers and learn from them as well. If we choose our teacher, he is like our father. We do not change our father. We have a father and a mother. We can also have a spiritual father and a spiritual mother. But if we change them all the time, we lose our focus. If we have students, then our students will do the same thing because that will become their standard.

I visited Mochizuki Sensei and stayed at his dojo several times. We had long talks.

People who go to the Yoseikan dojo in Shizuoka for the first time think that it is not a building, but just a box. However, once you stay there, you feel such a strong spirit. When you come from outside, you do not feel it. Well, it is humid and cold, especially in the wintertime, so life is hard. Even if it is an old building, there is something beyond. That is why we always want to return there.

What happened to that building now?

It’s still there.

Is someone living there?

No.

I heard there is a separation between the Shizuoka Yoseikan and the French Yoseikan.

Yes. It was a painful thing. It was something we could have avoided. The Yoseikan group in Japan and the one in France are separated, but only on paper. It’s only an official thing. It was done just to make things more convenient. There is no change because they are faithful to Mochizuki Sensei, but they may have to change the name of the dojo.

Are there communications between them?

Yes. I know Mochizuki Sensei has had some students for more than fifty years. You cannot cut relationships like this. What’s on paper is on paper. But the reality is different than the appearance!

I understand there is another big seminar being held this weekend.

I think there is a process of natural selection. I do not think it is bad that some groups organize seminars at the same time. This will naturally attract different kinds of people.

Even if people think differently, they should have a chance to see things from different angles.

When I just started teaching—maybe I was not very confident—I did not want my students to go around and take other seminars. I realized they become confused. One student went to another seminar and, when he came back, he had a new rank. He went for a weekend and came back with a higher rank. I said, “No, I don’t accept this.” Then he quit. That’s why I understand when some teachers are not willing to send their students to other seminars. But once the students have a strong foundation, they should get exposure. We should explain this to the students.

My students are learning from my experiences so that they will not repeat the same mistakes. Unfortunately, they make other mistakes! So sometimes I feel this is like trying to keep water in a basket!

Thank you very much. I really like your way of thinking. You think very deeply….

Thank you. That’s not what everybody is telling me. I have been told I am shallow! When people get angry with me, that’s what they tell me, I am shallow and have no leadership ability! So you are confusing me!

International Yoseikan Budo website

An Interview with Patrick Augé (Aiki News #92)