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It Had to Be Felt #53: Mochizuki Minoru: "History was handing itself down to the future and asking me to pass it on"
It Had to Be Felt #53: Mochizuki Minoru: "History was handing itself down to the future and asking me to pass it on"
by It Had To Be Felt
It Had to Be Felt #53: Mochizuki Minoru: "History was handing itself down to the future and asking me to pass it on"

Considering the topic of this series, I am surprised to realize that although I met Mochizuki Minoru sensei many times from 1979 to 1995, and lived with him from 1990 to 1992, I cannot recall that he ever really threw me at all. I was his uke many times, of course, and took falls in the process, but he was teaching, something that would take a minute or two as he explained each nuance of a technique step-by-step. He sometimes did sutemi waza (‘sacrifice techniques") with me, technically smooth and excellent, but it was never in randori ("freestyle"), never a big, spontaneous throw from a good attack. I got tons of that from his students, of course, and they all got it from him in earlier times, so there was never a question of whether he could ‘do it.' He easily defeated the formidable Abe Tadashi and he recalled Ueshiba Morihei saying to him, "I constantly have to change my techniques because of you!" I think that was the key to their long relationship, and why Ueshiba used to regularly stop in Shizuoka to stay with Mochizuki on his way between Tokyo and Osaka.

Mochizuki sensei was in his mid-80s by the time I lived with him. He was more a lecturer than a performer then, albeit his lectures were usually in the midst of very active aikido training sessions. He mostly watched from his couch, but he would often stop us to demonstrate a technical point, then send us back to training.

The first time I met him is probably the best example of interacting with him in aikido technique [1]. It was 1979, Mochizuki sensei's first visit to North America, at the Hakudokan dojo of Raymond Damblant in Montreal. Mochizuki sensei called me out of the group and I hurried up to be thrown by the 73 year old 10th dan. He was teaching from another perspective, however. He had me take his wrist in kote mawashi (sankyo), and indicated for me to throw him straight forward. When I attempted to do this, he lightly stepped forward and wrapped my left arm under his right for wakigatame (a straight arm lock of the elbow), and held me there as he continued to lecture the group. It was a move from his hyori no kata ("forms of technique and reversals"). I had the odd sensation of being unable to move. I wasn't trying to struggle, but I couldn't move either foot, or any other part of my body. There was no pain and no sense of force, no shock or seizure of breath, but I simply couldn't move, as if I were glued on the spot. A bone setter by trade and skilled in koppo (bone breaking and dislocation) as well as seikotsu (bone-setting, chiropractic and massage), Sensei had stretched my skeleton and tissue into an arrangement where, with just a little pressure from his weight, he was able to hold me in full-body lockdown at a single point. I couldn't even struggle. When Sensei released me, there was no after effect (Perhaps Ueshiba Morihei held people down with one finger using the same principal). I had no time to ponder this, however, as Mochizuki sensei continued to teach. He had me take his wrist in sankyo again, and this time he told me to pivot away from him, to my right, and lead his arm to the ground on that side. A 23 year old brown belt, I followed his instructions, and Mochizuki Minoru took ukemi for me! Bloop! He just flipped over and rolled to his feet. I couldn't believe I had thrown a 10th dan! Of course, I hadn't really thrown him—he had taken ukemi for me. He did it as subtly as he had followed my first move to take me into wakigatame. It was a very light roll for anyone, but especially a 73 year old. We were half a century apart. History was handing itself down to the future and asking me to pass it on.

A 10th dan taking ukemi for me was the utter reverse of everything aikido culture had conditioned me to expect. Mochizuki sensei would later tell me: "Look at everything backward." Already, though, I knew he was something unique.

In retrospect, I do remember Sensei's throwing me after all, during that same weekend, a unique variation of osotogari ("major outer reap") presented as aikido, effortless and smooth as anything I've ever felt. I attacked with a karate oitsuki ("lunging punch"). Sensei pivoted back to absorb my strike and caught my wrist with his left hand, then swung it smoothly out to my side while stepping slightly that way with his left foot. He stepped past my right foot with his right, and pulled my right hand to his left hip, wrapping his right arm under my right to hug it to his chest. Then he pivoted left on both feet to turn his body like a shaft, and effected osotogari without sweeping his foot. He just turned and it took me backward over his leg. I went horizontal at his shoulder level, and he took me to the mat for a solid flat fall.

This is a very clear, step-by-step technical description of movement, and that's how Mochizuki sensei would have explained it. However, I think it may fail to convey the perfect softness of his control, the lightness and smoothness of his movement—what I considered to be aiki. He had kuzushi (control of my balance) from my initial attack, and when he stepped to his left and took my arm to my right, it was same-side whole-body movement, light as a feather, that increased the kuzushi. When he stepped behind my leg, it had a daring quality about it, as when he stepped to overtake my sankyo attempt, light and effortless, increasing the kuzushi still further. And even as he stepped behind my leg, he brought my extended arm down, hugged it and pivoted to his left. The unbroken path of kuzushi was headed for the floor in a circle—backward for me—and all I could do was go.

It sounds like judo, perhaps, but I think that for Mochizuki sensei, it was ‘self-defense aikido,' his regular aikido, expressed in a form for dispatching serious attackers in war or in defense of your own home. It was rational and technical—teachable step-by-step—because technique is built that way. However, it must be done lightly and smoothly, with fairly small movements that the attacker cannot perceive or understand.

I suppose many readers would like me to answer the question whether Mochizuki sensei used ‘internal power' in his technique. I'm sure that he had it in spades, but he really was a dragon-like fellow, and he used it very subtly. He never showed amazing stuff when I was around him—just pure, rational, technical and practical things, with a lightness and effortlessness that attracted me. It was the magic of simplicity: everything happening for obvious reasons, but with…something else. I always assumed it resulted from continual practice, but he could do it even when his health wasn't good and his movements were small. Showing me some judo one day, he reached up and took my gi on the back of my shoulder, and as he gripped the cloth, I could feel myself moving off balance, beginning to float. Then I just attributed it to his decades of training with masters—but there was something more.

Mochizuki sensei didn't like to go outside propriety. His perspective was that only your own power will work for you, so he never wanted to teach someone something that didn't work for them. Therefore, he taught effective techniques. I believe continual practice of those basics will develop major components of internal strength because all his basics were built on Daito-ryu aikijujutsu methods to induce kuzushi and lead the attacker to the end of his strength. But you have to know specifically what you are doing to make aiki work intentionally. Otherwise, the best you can do is good technique with occasional miraculous but irreproducible results, something I have experienced myself. I cannot do those things at will, but they suddenly manifest from time to time, amazing throws with almost no effort on my part. I think Sensei felt that internal strength development was too complex to teach the average person—or, more likely, that the average person is too shallow to receive it. He'd rather see a person able to effectively do a wide range of good, basic techniques than see anyone get involved in mistaken ‘development' of internal power that would lead them away from technique designed to work against a trained attacker. I think he felt that if you developed far enough in the basics, you'd eventually be rewarded—either by discovering things for yourself or by running into someone who could teach you. I have been fortunate to have been instructed by Dan Harden, Akuzawa Minoru, Rob John and (through written discussions) Mike Sigman subsequent to my time with Mochizuki sensei. I think this instruction has made me understand Mochizuki sensei better than I did.

One thing for sure, Mochizuki Minoru largely eschewed certain ‘mainstream' throwing methods of aikido and Daito-ryu, in particular all those techniques that involve throwing an attacker using only the attacker's grip on the defender. Perhaps that's a form of kyoku-ho, which at its most refined may be possible without any contact, like the famous ‘aiki drop' O-sensei would do. Mochizuki Sensei did incorporate te no uchi (inside the hand) methods in his techniques—moving the captured wrist within the attacker's grip so that the attacker cannot properly feel the changes tori is effecting. But while Horikawa Kodo, Sagawa Yukiyoshi and O-sensei all frequently threw attackers with their own hand-grip, Mochizuki Minoru taught always to free the seized hand and execute control of the attacker's arm. This process was executed smoothly, producing kuzushi in the attacker from the first moment, all in harmony with natural mechanics to extend the attacker's arm, capturing the skeleton, and leading the movement. To be sure, it might happen in randori that someone could be caused to fall while gripping the defender, but it was almost an accidental matter of timing. We weren't taught to do it that way.

Carefully watching films of Horikawa and Okamoto Seigo, I can see that their general te no uchi waza are present in the opening movement of Mochizuki sensei's techniques, but Sensei bypassed the point where they would throw with the attacker's grip, and took positive control to execute a generally larger technique. I think the reason for this is that he just didn't trust those techniques to be infallible, because he always credited attackers with the possibility of possessing a lot of strength and ability. Their ability to react and counterattack might be at too high a level, or their grip might simply be too strong for such throws were they not positively controlled, so he always released his hand from the attacker's grip at the very beginning, and took control at the point where the aiki waza would fail (if it were going to). He was an ancient-minded all-around expert in the broad ocean of jujutsu, and he considered the aiki methods to be a sub-class of jujutsu. He used them where appropriate, which, in his approach, was within jujutsu waza.

If you tried an imperfect aiki method on him, you'd quickly find you had no kuzushi, which, I believe, is why O Sensei complained that he had to change his techniques because of Mochizuki. He would catch any technical mistake, and he would not fall if the technique didn't work. Instead, he would follow through with another attack. As he credited all attackers with this ability, everything you did as defense had to have a reason. Every step, every movement in practice developed the habits with which you would meet a deadly attack.

Similarly, Sensei didn't put much stock in kyushojutsu (‘nerve attack' methods). "They work on some people but not on others," he said. He saw nothing wrong in using them wherever you would normally use atemi (‘body striking'), but he wanted us to rely on well developed technique to take the attacker under positive control. We never trained just to hit someone as a final technique. We trained to bring attackers instantly into a firmly locked down position, unharmed but helpless by the end of their attacking movement. Practice was for each person to develop individualized techniques that he or she could trust. Sensei had no time for anything that would distract from dedicated study of this method and he didn't practice anything he thought might fail.

I believe that is why he didn't want te no uchi throws done in his classes. If you relied on that method and it failed, you'd have no technique to follow up with. I never saw anyone in his dojo do any kind of te no uchi throws except for a very few times when Murai Kyoichi, his top student, did them on me. But that's another story for another essay.

Mochizuki sensei's aikido was an amalgam of Morihei Ueshiba's technique and Jigoro Kano's rationality, informed by his tutelage under master teachers of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu. When Mochizuki sensei said that aikido comes from the sword, he meant business. One day, Sensei was practicing his ken tai ichi no kata with me, using his favorite instructional tool, a large padded bokken made of PVC pipe covered with foam and wrapped in duct tape. You could strike realistically without fear of serious injury, yet it hurt badly enough to be a serious inspiration for proper body movement. We were using these to practice the second technique of the kata. I dipped under Sensei's weapon and dashed it aside, then stopped my cut just above his wrist. "Pretty good," I figured, but Sensei shook his head.

"Hit me," he said.

He was in his mid-80s and even though he was out on the mats all the time, his health was not perfect. I didn't want to give him a blood clot, which could have been disastrous for a man his age. I repeated the technique and lightly whacked his wrist.

"HIT me!" he said, looking a little cross.

I did it again and kind of went BAP! on his elderly wrist (like a tree limb). He looked at me and said, "HIT ME! Like this." He dipped his sword under mine, dashed it aside, and BAM! hit my wrist. It went to the tips of my fingers and up my bones into my body. It wasn't like going into space and seeing the earth, but it did pass through time, because I can still feel it. His strike still echoes in my bones. I nodded and did the technique, giving him as hard a whack on the wrist as I could make myself deliver. I see him now, nodding at me. "Like that."

When I recall Mochizuki Minoru sensei, it's a stunning memory of simply being around him and watching his unique being express itself in the broad range of human nature: with dignity, duty and creativity. I was most impressed by his continuing humble gratitude to Kano Jigoro, Ueshiba Morihei and Oshima Sanjuro of Gyokushin ryu, along with his benevolence to all his students. He told me, "Always treat your students like guests." It was tremendous good fortune for me to have known him.

For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
  • Only people who have actually taken ukemi the teacher who is the subject of this thread, may post
  • Simply post your direct experience of taking ukemi. This can include the nature of your relationship with them, as ukemi is more than merely taking falls.
  • Do not engage in back-and-forth with other posters, disputing their experience, or trying to prove why yours is more real. Just post your own experience. Trust your readers to take in each writer's account on its own merits.
  • If, for any reason, you find something to praise or condemn in anyone's description or wish to amplify your insights and perceptions, do so elsewhere. Start a thread about that subject in the appropriate section of Aikiweb.
  • Follow-up posts should be substantive, striving to equal the depth of the original essay. Simply agreeing with the writer, or a brief comment that, yes, the teacher in question was really powerful or had a wonderful shihonage or the like, are not congruent with the purpose of this archive.
David Orange began karate training in 1972 in the Kyokushin system. He began Yoseikan aikido training in 1974, and was one of the founding members of the US Yoseikan Budo Association in 1982. He opened the first Yoseikan budo dojo in North America in 1984, and trained at the Shizuoka Yoseikan Honbu dojo in 1986. He lived in Shizuoka City from 1990 to 1995, serving as uchi deshi to Minoru Mochizuki for 21 months, training in aikido, judo, karate, ju-jutsu and ken-jutsu. Since 1995, he has developed his Zero Degree aikido teaching method, applying Moshe Feldenkrais' neuro-muscular education principles to Mochizuki sensei's techniques. His website is yoseishin.esotericorange.com.
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Old 10-06-2015, 10:03 PM   #2
David Orange
Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 1,511
Re: It Had to Be Felt #53: Mochizuki Minoru: "History was handing itself down to the future and asking me to pass it on"

I would also like to credit Ole Kingston for insights he has helped me achieve over the past several years concerning the nature of aiki, aikido, aiki-jujutsu and daito ryu.

Also, I'd like to add that while Mochizuki sensei always released the hand in technique practice, in his suwari waza (equivalent to kokyu dosa in most aikido), he used methods very similar to other systems to reverse or manipulate the attacker's grip to produce throws and pins.

Much thanks to Ellis Amdur for including me in this series.

Last edited by David Orange : 10-06-2015 at 10:12 PM.

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