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Interview with Minoru Mochizuki (1)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #54 (April 1983)

The following interview was conducted in the dojo of Minoru Mochizuki Sensei in Shizuoka City on Movember 22, 1982.

Aiki News: Mochizuki Sensei, the first martial art you studied was judo, I believe.

Minoru Mochizuki, originator of Yoseikan Aikido
Mochizuki Sensei: Yes, that’s right. I started the year before I entered elementary school. In the fifth grade we moved and I had to stop my training, though. Across the street and one house up from the new place there was a kendo dojo and so I started to do that instead. Then in middle school I took up judo again and I have been at it ever since. I felt that I would have liked to become a specialist in judo and so I went to the Kodokan (world judo headquarters). The year before that, though, I had entered the doo of one of the Kodokan teachers by the name of Tokusanbo. In those days in judo circles they said, “For technique, it’s Mifune but the devil of the Kodokan is Tokusanbo.” He was really a powerful and scary teacher. His dojo was located in a place called Komatsugawa. At that time I was living with my sister whose home was near there. I trained for about six months before we moved again and I entered the Kodokan to become a judoka.

I entered Tokusanbo Sensei’s dojo in 1924. At that time, a teacher of an old-style jujutsu called Gyokushin-ryu lived very near to my sister. His name was Sanjuro Oshima. This teacher was really saddened to see the classical styles of jujutsu disappearing one by one and he was determined to see to it that his own art was preserved. So much so that he reqested that I learn it from him. I would go to his house and would be treated to a fine meal. I didn’t have to pay any fees to study and they actually gave me dinner. That was how I cam to study jujutsu.

Were you awarded some kind of ranking in this art?

After about six months I received a license called the Shoden Kirishi Mokuroku which would be roughly equal to a first degree black belt in judo. That was the end of my relationship with that teacher, but to this day I still remember his words. “The name of our tradition is the Gyokushin Ryu. The name is written with characters meaning ‘sperical spirit.’ A ball will roll freely. No matter which side it is pushed from it will roll away. Just this sort of spirit is the true spirit that Gyokushin Ryu seeks to instill in its members. If you have done this, nothing in this world can upset you.” At that time I was still a child and so I didn’t understand what he meant very well. I simply imagined a heart or spirit rolling here and there. It wasn’t until I had passed 50 years of age that I can to understand what “Gyokushin spherical spirit” really meant. If you don’t spend 50 years at it, you won’t be able to get it. I had forgotten about it for many years.

What other martial arts did you practice?

I also did kendo. I’ve forgotten the name of my teacher but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the things he said. He once told me this. “When I was 13 years old I took part in the famous Battle of Ueno. Look at yourself! You’re 12, aren’t you? How do you expect to be able to pick up your sword next year being as weak as you are?” That’s the sort of teacher I had for kendo. So, during the time when I was studying judo with “Devil” Tokusanbo, I was also practicing Gyokushin-ryu jujutsu. This system used a lot of sacrifice techniques and others that were very similar to those of aikido. Then, in 1926 I joined the Kodokan in May and in June I was offically promoted to first degree black belt. This was because before that, whenever I’d go out in any competition I would beat the black belts who came up against me. I think I had been more than black belt material for a long time before I received the grading. That’s why I was promoted to second degree the very next January, only a half a year later. The year after that I was made a third degree black belt. I guess I must have been about as strong as most third degrees during the time I was ranked at the second level. After all, I had been doing judo since before I entered grade school.

What was judo training at the Kodokan like?

About that time, one of my sisters was living in the town of Tsurumi in Kanagawa Prefecture, and she too was kind enough to let me live with her. Everyday I would ride the train up to the Kodokan in Tokyo to practice. Then came the special winter training sessions called kangeiko. We were supposed to practice every morning starting at 4 am and this was to go on for one whole month. Of course there were no trains running at that early hour so the only thing I could do was to walk to the dojo. It was quite a distance from the house in Tsurumi to the Kodokan so I had to leave at midnight to make it on time. There I was clacking along the old Tokaido highway in my heavy wooden clogs. As I got nearer to the Kodokan I would start to meet others, their black belts over their shoulders, diligently on their way from other places. Some of them would be in front of me and likely to beat me there. Well, I had been on the road since 12 midnight and I wasn’t about to let them beat me now so I’d start to run. When they saw me on the run they would start too. (Laughter)

Anyway, I ended up walking and running the whole way, and by the time I made it to the Kodokan I was dripping with sweat. There was a small well there but the top was always frozen over. I would smash the ice and splash water over my body from head to toe and then run into the dojo to practice. Well, one day when I got to the well, my usual bucket was missing. Someone must have carried it off someplace. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend looking for it or I would have been late for the start of class so I just jumped right into the well for a few seconds. When I went to pull myself back up out of the hole, I felt someone pulling me up by the hand. I turned around to thank him for helping me and who do you suppose it was? Mifune Sensei of all people!

I was rather taken aback and stiffened up. Of course I had just crawled up from the ice and all. I finally managed to say good morning. Sensei stared me in the face. “What on earth are you doing?”, he asked me. I answered coweringly that I was rinsing myself off in the water. Maybe Sensei felt sorry for me because he gave me a small towel and told me to dry off. Then he asked me why I was splashing myself with cold water. I explained that I had to walk every day from Tsurumi. At that, Mifune Sensei said to me, “Tonight you can come to my house. You fool, you’ll ruin your health like this!”

From that day on I stayed at Mifune Sensei’s house. In essence I became one of his dependents. At that time, there were hundreds of students who lived at his expense in order to learn judo, but of course Sensei couldn’t have that many staying in his own home. When I went there he already had three people staying with him. I was told to go into a room with only three mats (about 20 square feet) and there were already two other fellows staying there. And were they ever big! There was hardly any place for me to spread my bedding so the only thing I could do was lie down between them and go to sleep. It was warm enough sleeping there because I had the other two men’s quilts on top of me, but during the night whenever they moved they would pull their blankets in either direction. Time after time I would wake up because of the cold. (Laughter)

What kind of relationship did you have with Mifune Sensei?

During the day Sensei would often tell us stories about various martial arts. That was especially good for me. I really learned just what judo was all about. It was often said since the old days that there was no way that a student who came to the dojo only to study and then returned home could get a license. In other words, such a person could never receive a menkyo kaiden master-level teaching certification. These outside students come for practice time and when training is over they return home. On the other hand, the uchideshi are there for 24 hours a day and so are able to hear all the various stories that the teacher has. I really learned a lot. You come to understand the spiritual idea behind the art.

This story is about Jigoro Kano Sensei. Among his close students there was an excellent man by the name of Okabe who was really intelligent as well as being a strong judo man. However, this Mr. Okabe insisted that judo was a sport. “If judo is not a sport it’s nothing!”, he said. Now Kano Sensei truly loved this student but Sensei himself felt deeply that judo must not be turned into a sport. As you know in foreign countries there are churches which specialize in teaching people how to lead a moral life. In Japan, we have no such institution whose job it is to instill such a sense of morality and, as a result, Kano Sensei invented judo as a form of physical training which incorporated a method of moral training. While he was doing this it was a period when students had to really cram at their studies and, consequently, many of them would become sick. A large number died from lung diseases.

Kano Sensei reformed the old jujutsu forms into judo; that is, he tranformed these techniques into a sport so that it became possible to do something of a sporting nature in the rather special atmosphere that we find in a dojo. We have make a distinction between seniors and juniors and things like that. The do of the word budo (martial way) carries the meaning of “virtue” or “morality.” That is what a dojo is all about. It is a place where you cultivate virtue while you train in martial techniques. It is essentially concerned with virtue. That’s why this one student and Kano Sensei had such heated arguments. No matter how much Sensei would explain his viewpoint the other man would insist that “such a half-hearated art is unacceptable. The method of winning and losing in judo is a sport and personality development is personality development. There is no need for any form of moral cultivation in sports. It comes naturally while you play.” Later this man received certification as a master of physical education. He was extremeley theoretical.

All of this made Kano Sensei think. If a person does only judo it seemed that their art turned into pure sport. For this reason he decided to introduce training in classical martial arts into the Kodokan and had a special dojo built for that purpose. He had hoped to show the pre-modern martial arts to everyone there and those who were interested would be able to freely practice. He thought that if he could get them to come to understand the spirit of the classical martial arts they would then be able to practice developing the true budo spirit. That’s how he came to establish the Kobudo Kenkyukai (Association for Classical Martial Arts Research).

Were you connected with this group too?

I had been staying at Mifune Sensei’s home all this time and I too felt the need to engage in spiritual training and so I joined the research group. At that time I was also a second degree black belt in kendo so I already understood how to use the sword, the footwork, and how to extend my arms. So I was completely different from those teachers who had done only judo. That’s why after I started to take part in training in the classical arts I came to the attention of Kano Sensei. “You have the makings of a leader,” he told me. After that I was to report to him once or twice a month on the progress of my training. While I was doing that Sensei said to me one day, “In the future you will be a top teacher here at the Kodokan.” I was stunned. At that time among the teaching greats were Mifune Sensei and Tokusanbo Sensei. I wondered if I could ever reach such heights. Then one day after I had finished my report Sensei asked me this question. “How do you understand the character ju in the word judo?” “It means flexible or soft,” I replied. “Can you practice judo only by being flexible or soft?,” was his retort. Now I was caught. Of course, if you are only soft you will lose every time. Sensei continued, “What you are doing is not judo but godo (hard way), and that will never do. Within flexibility there is rigidity and within rigidity there is flexibility. Jujutsu is the way of controling what we call hardness and softness by means of the blending of these two essential concepts.” At the time I was only a boy of 21 and so I listened with the feeling that I understood somewhat what he was saying and yet I didn’t understand. Since “ju” is something that is very rational, it is quite an intellectual concept.

Would you tell us about association with Kano Sensei?

On one occasion I took part in a judo tournament at Nihon University. I went out and won. Then, that same afternoon, there was another competition at Meiji University which I also won. There I was with two medals in one day. I was still a kid then and really happy about it so I completely forgot about my appointment with Kano Sensei for that day and rushed straight home. When I got there my sister asked me if I hadn’t promised to got to Sensei’s home. I rushed out of the house and jumped on a train back to town before I realized I’d forgotten my wallet. With lowered head I was able to get the conductor to let me get by that time, but the problem was that I had to change trains along the way. When I had no idea that I didn’t have my money it was not a problem to just jump on the train as usual. Now, however, I knew before hand that I couldn’t pay so it was really hard to get up the nerve to get on. (Laughter) I hesitated and finally I just explained the whole story to the new conductor and he kindly agreed to let me on. I’ll never forget that terrible feeling.

Anyhow, I rushed to Sensei’s place like that and arrived for my 2 pm appointment at about 4:30. Sensei was a very busy man. He was the type who planned his workday second by second and so I was worried about how badly I’d get bawled out this time. It was with these thoughts that I went to meet him. Kano Sensei was 70 years old at that time and when he heard that I had finally arrived he slipped into a hakama to meet me. He actually changed to more formal attire just to meet a student some 50 years his junior. He stared at my face for a few seconds then asked if I was sick. Then I explained how I’d just come from winning the two medals. There must have been a hint of pride in my voice because Sensei’s tone changed completely. “Just what is it that you think these tournaments are anyway?” I had won and so I just could not figure out why he wasn’t happy about it. he continued, “We write the word shiai with characters which mean ‘to try out together.’ Shiai are part of the art in order for you to measure the limits of your own strength at any point in time. Does it take you two times in one day to do that!” I’d been out there just to win. I hadn’t given any thought to the trying out of my strength. Sensei then went on, “You have mistaken understanding of judo. Competition is not some sort of game you do for fun. With that kind of attitude you’ll never be a very good instructor.” Although there was a large age gap between Kano Sensei and myself, he had already started trying to educate me about how to become an instructor.

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