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Minoru Mochizuki (1907-2003)

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by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

Mochizuki at 80

On May 30, 2003, the aikido world lost one of its greatest figures. Minoru Mochizuki was among the top tier of students of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei and was himself the creator of a unique composite martial system called “Yoseikan Budo.” He stands as an epic figure in the martial arts world, his career spanning some 90 years! Mochizuki had the good fortune of studying directly under Jigoro Kano, founder of judo, 10th dan judo great Kyuzo Mifune, and Morihei Ueshiba, the originator of aikido. Moreover, he was the first to bring aikido to the west when he traveled to France to teach judo in 1951. I would like to offer an overview of Mochizuki Sensei’s martial arts career and contributions together with some personal reminiscences of this important figure.

Early judo career

Minoru Mochizuki was born in 1907 in Shizuoka City and embarked upon his budo career at the tender age of five when he began the practice of judo. As a boy his eclectic approach to budo was already apparent, and his training also included kendo and a classical art called “Gyokushin-ryu jujutsu.” In 1926 at age 19, Mochizuki enrolled at the Kodokan, the mecca of judo, and in less than two years he was promoted to sandan, an outstanding achievement for that time.

Mochizuki relates an amusing story of how he came to the attention of the famous Kyuzo Mifune Sensei while attending kangeiko (intensive winter training). At the time, he was living in Tsurumi, which was quite far from the Tokyo location of the Kodokan. In order to participate in the early morning practice session he had to leave home at midnight. One morning outside the Kodokan, failing to find the bucket he was accustomed to use to wipe off the sweat worked up during the vigorous all-night walk, he jumped into a well and broke the ice that had formed on the surface. When young Mochizuki emerged from the well, an unknown hand began to pull him out. It was none other than Mifune Sensei who peered at the drenched boy incredulously and yelled: “What are you doing splashing yourself with cold water? You fool, you’ll ruin your health that way!” Mifune ordered Mochizuki to stay at his house that evening. He continued to stay on at Mifune’s home thereafter as an uchideshi and learned first hand the importance of being at the side of one’s master 24 hours a day.

Singled out by Jigoro Kano

Despite being a young man in his prime and full of competitive spirit, Mochizuki felt the need to expand the scope of his training. Kano had established a “Classical Martial Arts Research Group” at the Kodokan and Mochizuki joined to practice Katori Shinto-ryu. Eventually, he caught the eye of Jigoro Kano who told him “You have the makings of a leader…. In the future you will be a top teacher here at the Kodokan.” Kano asked Mochizuki to report to him once a month concerning his training progress. This led to a series of meetings in which the philosophically-oriented creator of judo attempted to stimulate the mind of the young Mochizuki who, at that time, could only think of winning tournaments. Nonetheless, Kano’s observations concerning the true purpose of judo and the pitfalls of sports would later contribute substantially to the theoretical basis of Mochizuki’s own Yoseikan Budo.

The tie-in between judo and aikido began when Kano, at the invitation of Admiral Isamu Takeshita, witnessed a demonstration of Morihei Ueshiba’s jujutsu in October 1930. Highly impressed, the judo leader arranged for two of his top judo students—one of them Minoru Mochizuki—to study under Ueshiba.

Learning Daito-ryu under Morihei Ueshiba

Scroll received from Ueshiba

Mochizuki began learning Daito-ryu aikijujutsu from Ueshiba a few months in Mejiro before the opening of the Kobukan Dojo in Ushigome, Shinjuku in April 1931. He was twenty-four years old at the time, and he made rapid progress due to his broad budo experience and innate talent. Shortly after entering the Kobukan, Ueshiba asked him to act as the supervisor of his uchideshi and to serve as a teaching assistant. Ueshiba even suggested that Mochizuki marry Ueshiba’s daughter and become his adopted son and successor. Mochizuki declined and, as fate would have it, fell ill shortly thereafter with pleurisy and pulmonary tuberculosis. He was taken back home to Shizuoka City to recover. After a three-month hospital stay, he slowly began to teach in a dojo built by his brother and some friends in the center of town. His official dojo opening was held in November 1931 and many dignitaries from Tokyo, including Ueshiba, Admiral Takeshita, and General Makoto Miura attended.

Although Mochizuki spent only a few months training with Ueshiba in Tokyo before his illness, Ueshiba visited him regularly on his way to and from Kyoto where he taught budo seminars as part of the Omoto-sponsored Budo Senyokai. It was during this period that Ueshiba presented Mochizuki with two Daito-ryu scrolls. Both are dated June 1932. The title of the first is “Daito-ryu Aikibujutsu” and its content is identical to the “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Hiden Mokuroku” given out by Sokaku Takeda as the first level of proficiency in Daito-ryu. The second is titled “Hiden Ogi,” the scroll awarded for the next highest level in the Daito-ryu tradition. Both scrolls bear the signature, “Moritaka Ueshiba, student of Sokaku Takeda,” and a seal that reads “Aikijujutsu.” These documents provide additional proof of the importance of the Daito-ryu tradition in the historical development of aikido technique.

Possessed of a spirit of adventure, Mochizuki relocated in Mongolia with his family in the late 1930s where he spent a total of eight years. He returned to Japan after the war’s end. There he had an opportunity to observe the lifestyles of the agricultural and hunting peoples of that region. This experience gave him a further understanding of the historical roots of Chinese martial arts. He also trained with a Japanese karate master during his stint abroad. Back in Shizuoka after World War II, Mochizuki renewed contact with Morihei Ueshiba, who requested his assistance in the management of the Shinjuku Aikikai Hombu Dojo, but he declined to become involved in organizational matters.

Travel to France

Mochizuki c. 1951

Mochizuki Sensei was a pioneer in aikido from a variety of different standpoints. He was the first person to bring aikido to the west when he traveled to France in 1951 to teach judo. Europe’s introduction to aikido and its association with judo came about directly due to the early activities of Mochizuki. He was to set a pattern that would be repeated in most European countries where aikido would cast its roots within the existing judo community. A large number of early European practitioners were judoka who were past their competitive years and found the graceful techniques of aikido to be a perfect alternative allowing them to continue active martial arts practice. Mochizuki spent a total of two-and-one-half years in France and his efforts sowed the seeds for the development of the world’s largest aikido population outside Japan. It is said that today there are more than fifty thousand active practitioners in France!

Birth of Yoseikan Budo

As his thinking matured in the years following the war, Mochizuki gradually formulated a composite martial art system of his own that included elements of judo, jujutsu, aikido, karate, Katori Shinto-ryu, and other arts. This style came to be known as “Yoseikan Budo.” His thinking bears the indelible imprint of the philosophies of Jigoro Kano and Morihei Ueshiba, his two revered teachers. Kano, the rational thinker and Ueshiba, possessor of great spiritual sensitivity, in their own ways both taught Mochizuki the futility of thinking only of victory and how the true purpose of budo lies in the development of the character of the individual.

Mochizuki maintained periodic contact with the aikido founder until the later’s death in 1969, although he remained organizationally independent of the Aikido Hombu Dojo. He continued to travel abroad on a regular basis to such countries as France, Australia, Taiwan, and Canada. He continued teaching Yoseikan Budo at his dojo in Shizuoka and writing books and articles on a variety of martial arts-related subjects.

Mochizuki spent the last several years of his life in Southern France with his son Hiroo. The headquarters of Yoseikan Budo was moved to France at the time of his relocation as well. His son became the official successor to his father although the former’s approach differs considerably and incorporates a system of competition. Mochizuki Sensei died peacefully at the age of 96 in the country that served as the stage for the international development of aikido.

Some personal recollections

Being interviewed in 1986

Mochizuki Sensei was already in his mid-70s when I met him for the first time at his dojo in Shizuoka in 1982. Although not practicing vigorously as he had up until a few years before, he was still on the mat everyday interacting with students and guiding them in their training. He had a razor-sharp memory and recalled in vivid detail his early days of martial arts study as a boy and, especially, his training in judo and Daito-ryu—precursor to aikido—under Morihei Ueshiba. Mochizuki Sensei’s home nestled above the dojo and he would trudge up and down the stairs all day long, his mind seemingly always on training and research. It seemed that there was no distinction at all between his martial arts activities and personal life.

Mochizuki Sensei had an impressive collection of old photos, especially of his years in judo and aikido. We were allowed to copy this collection and a number of these rare shots are included in this article.

Participating in the 2nd Aikido Friendship Demonstration

At 1986 Friendship Demonstration

Perhaps the highlight of our association with Mochizuki Sensei came in 1986 whe he honored us by performing in the held in Tokyo. He conducted a lecture-demonstration together with a contingent of his top students from the Yoseikan Hombu. The sutemi demonstration they performed, in particular, elicited a very positive reaction among the audience. Most of those attending had never seen such genial techniques before. Mochizuki Sensei had succeeded in seamlessly combining the sacrifice techniques of Gyokushin-ryu jujutsu with aikido taisabaki. Several thousand were introduced to Yoseikan Budo for the first time through this demonstration and the videotape distributed internationally.

Martial Arts and Ethics

Mochizuki Sensei was a profound man with a strong intellectual bent. He was not merely a skilled martial artist who cross-trained in a variety of disciplines, but also a deep thinker who contemplated the social and moral implications of the study of martial arts.

His ideas on the relative merits of martial arts compared to sports give an insight into the nature of his thinking. Here is a quote from our first interview conducted November 22, 1982:

If aikido or judo ever become part of the world of sports, then they will certainly become distracted by the sort of games that involve winners and losers, the strong and the weak. Their value as spiritual education and character development will be lost….

[In sports], it is a case of doing your opponent in and coming out on top as the sole winner. This is the spirit of sport and it will never do. Times have changed and now we hear people asking if the United States is going to win, or is it going to be the Soviets? Talking like that is going to bring about the extinction of the human race! The sporting mentality is going to bring the world to an end because it doesn’t contain the spirit of self-salvation and helping others.

In a similar vein concerning the influence of sports on the young, he made this perceptive observation:

One situation leading to delinquency involves a young person dropping out of his group of friends on a sports team. Coaches, however, are only interested in training team members and in the question of winning and losing. They pay no attention to those who drop out because they are only interested in winning. In sports there is no place for the weaker or the less competent.

Personally, I would rather see various sports transformed into martial arts, so that they become more concerned with spiritual development and the prevention of bad behavior. They should be more concerned with developing young people who are no trouble to their parents, who get along well with their siblings, and with promoting good relations between husbands and wives.

Mochizuki with Ueshiba c. 1950

Another example echoes the theme of the dangers of thinking in terms of winning and losing and shows how deeply Mochizuki was affected by the ideas of Morihei Ueshiba. On his return from Europe, Mochizuki related to Ueshiba how he had to resort to skills from other martial arts such as judo and kendo in order to best opponents when he was teaching in France. He further speculated that if aikido was to spread internationally it had to have a broader technical base. Mochizuki recalls their conversation and Ueshiba’s sharp reply:

“Your whole way of thinking is mistaken! Of course, it is wrong to be weak, but that is not the whole story. Don’t you realize that we are no longer in an age where we can even talk about winning or losing? It is the age of love now, can’t you see that?” This he told me and with those eyes of his!

At that moment I was still not able to grasp it, but gradually over time it became clearer to me. That’s why I feel as I do today…. We have seen the world situation move gradually toward a war that they say will reduce the population of the world to one third of its present number. In such an atmosphere how can we toy with the idea of winning and losing? That’s why I feel so sincerely from the deepest depths of my heart that it is this very budo that I want to spread to the world. I feel very strongly that there must be some words that can convey to people today the ideas and thoughts of Ueshiba Sensei. But also, it is necessary to have techniques that can teach these things. It is vital to be able to both express it in words and to perform it in deeds.

This summarizes the theoretical basis of Yoseikan Budo and the credo of Mochizuki Sensei during the latter part of his life. It was an honor to have known and interacted with this martial arts genius and perfect gentleman.

As time separates us from the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and his key students who shepherded the spread of aikido worldwide, the name of Minoru Mochizuki will occupy a special place. His genius lay in the depth and breadth of his martial arts skills and his ability to articulate in terms understandable by modern man the essence of aikido principles.

Patrick Augé

The leading exponent of Yoseikan Budo residing in North America is 7th dan Patrick Augé. His Yoseikan Budo website contains a great deal of information on this art and Mochizuki Sensei.