An insider view into the Yoseikan dojo with David Orange - Part 1
Part 1 - Training at Minoru Mochizuki's dojo
Hi David, thanks for accepting this interview. Could you introduce yourself in a few words to our readers?
I’m David Orange, Jr., of Birmingham, Alabama, United States. I’m an artist—a poet and novelist, with a few self-published small books, and a film actor. I haven’t portrayed a martial artist but have focused on portraying a wide range of characters, developing acting skills without aikido as a crutch or an excuse to be on screen. But I do use aikido in my acting, in projecting presence, the line of the eyes and the coordination of movement and time to allow the movement speak for itself. As a visual artist, I’ve been working on a detailed series of technical drawings of the many unusual sutemi waza Mochizuki sensei developed to recreate gyokushin ryu, the art of the spherical spirit, which is a poetic story in itself.
You had the opportunity to train under Mochizuki sensei in Shizuoka for many years, could you share how he was and how his techniques felt like?
I lived in Shizuoka City, near the Yoseikan dojo, for five years, from 1990 to 1995, living as uchi deshi in the dojo for twenty-one months. Mochizuki sensei was rather aged by then—eighty-three when I arrived and eighty-eight when I left—and though he supervised every aikido and judo class (not often the karate classes), he demonstrated techniques in step-by-step fashion, then supervised everyone on the mats in practicing his point. And he would sometimes use me as uke in these demonstrations. Otherwise, he would have someone like Tezuka sensei, Washizu sensei, or Kenmotsu sensei to show the techniques at full speed—also often with me as uke. These were the shihan most often present in the aikido classes and though each had his own particular application, they were all smooth and mostly overpowering but not surpassing a person’s physical safety. They also didn’t go past the point of submission but could stop every technique precisely. I could feel Mochizuki sensei’s hand in all their technique. You could feel him in the whole dojo. The technical training was austere and practical while randori was vigorous and fast, very advanced. Attacks could be karate, judo, jujutsu, tanbo, jo, bokken, or boxing or wrestling attacks.
|Yoseikan Hombu Dojo ©David Orange|
I trained fourteen years in a group under Patrick Auge sensei’s frequent instruction before I reached the Shizuoka Yoseikan hombu and I was able to step in and train vigorously with those shihan and so many others because Patrick’s program was a direct reflection of what Mochizuki sensei was doing. Not that I understood at the shihan’s level, but I got a lot of experience working directly with them and I tried to maintain a beginner’s mind as much as I could, and sometimes Sensei would give me some specific instruction. The first time I met him, in Montreal in 1979 or ’80, he called me up to be uke for him and demonstrated an aikido version of o soto gari. He blended with my punch, flowing back in nagashi tai sabaki and taking my arm down and stepped past my forward foot, taking my arm past my body. Hugging my arm across his body, he rotated on both feet and brought me over his back leg, reaping me without moving his leg, putting me high up in the air and bringing me down easily. It was soft and natural feeling but it really threw me. He was smooth, flowing, whole-body and fully in control at the pace of walking. It was nice technique.
Next, he had me take him in kote mawashi (yuki chigae) and throw him forward with it. When I went to throw him forward with the wrist lock, he scooped my arm down and under into hiji kudaki (elbow breaking hold). As per our standard, he used the technique to pull me down to one knee, bowed forward with one hand free, the other captured, twisted and bent backward to pin my whole body without pain but making me unable to move against the hold. In fact, I had the impression that I wasn’t able to move at all. I had no leverage. I might have been able to move my free arm, but I could do nothing with it. I was impressed by Sensei’s subtle power, but I got really shocked by what he did next. After letting me up from his hiji kudaki, he told me to throw him with kote mawashi again, but to pivot away from him and turn to the side as I extended my throw. I did as he said and instead of countering me, he followed and rolled over like a ball. Seventy-three year old 10th dan… It was mentally unbalancing, opposite to my expectations of what it would be to encounter a 10th dan. He got up and continued teaching. And I just now realized that the way he had me pivot on both feet was the same way he’d thrown me with o soto gari just before, or, more correctly, the turn he had me do was the complement or ura movement of his turn. He pivoted one way for the o soto gari, the other way for the yonkyo throw. Maybe that’s what he was telling the crowd that day… sometimes, it takes me a while.
As to Japan, one thing I understand better on review is the amount of time Mochizuki sensei devoted to judo and talking about Jigoro Kano sensei after aikido classes. I’ve thought a good bit about that and I’m developing a book on Kano’s educational method and purpose in developing judo. Also, I think that understanding of judo is important to the feel of Mochizuki sensei’s practice. It wasn’t made for cooperative people but for strong, balanced, determined and skillful attackers and it cultivated those qualities. It worked plenty well for non-resisting people, but Sensei’s baseline attacker was a tough guy with rough experience. Gozo Shioda was the same kind of thinker. So Mochizuki sensei’s techniques were meant to get rid of tough guys in a one-stroke spirit with very brief aiki stepping movement to produce a full jujutsu technique. He didn’t teach fure aiki in these classes. Also, there wasn’t much spinning the attacker around as you can see in some aikido techniques. It was direct to the mat with a throw or a hold in the space from beginning of the opponent’s attack to its intended completion. Maybe the longest technique is done with o soto irimi senkai tai sabaki, in which tori steps all the way around uke’s body in the space of uke’s attack. It tends toward sutemi and can end with uke in a strangulation on impact.
"It wasn’t made for cooperative people but for strong, balanced, determined and skillful attackers and it cultivated those qualities. It worked plenty well for non-resisting people, but Sensei’s baseline attacker was a tough guy with rough experience."
When nothing else was going on in the dojo and no one else was around, Mochizuki sensei would sometimes show me things or explain something to me. He gave me a number of personal lessons in judo waza and subtleties of aiki waza but no fure aiki waza. I didn’t have the early development in judo I should have had to get deep technical benefit from his instruction in judo, which would have helped me understand aikido more deeply. But his many and varied anecdotes and full lectures about Jigoro Kano, while beyond my exact comprehension at the time, did sink in, in a way. Sensei was a teacher, after Kano, the man who brought Reason and Physics to the Japanese public education system.
|Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo and teacher of Minoru Mochizuki|
Sensei’s character was shaped on every level by his experiences in judo, his long exposure to Jigoro Kano’s intellectual profundity, Mifune’s virtuoso knowledge of technique, and Toku Sampo’s fierce spirit in application. All of these were, above all, extremely tough people. Mochizuki sensei was a strong and experienced man, twenty-three years old when Kano sent him to Morihei Ueshiba. Minoru Mochizuki was an unusually highly trained martial artist for his age in those days. Under Kano’s direction, he’d trained with many top teachers of many arts, but even after all he’d seen, Morihei Ueshiba astounded him with strength and spirit. He asked Tadashi Abe, “Do you think I would have followed him if he were not strong?” But I think he also believed an ordinary person, without extensive martial arts experience, couldn’t get near the depth of what OSensei was teaching. He, himself, nearly died while training under OSensei in 1930-31. He only trained with OSensei some twelve to eighteen months, then spent six months in hospital, paid for by Kano sensei, before OSensei presented him with a daito ryu teaching license in 1932. It was a truly phenomenal accomplishment and I believe Mochizuki sensei was able to do it because of Jigoro Kano, Mifune and Sampo sensei, and the toughness they had ingrained in him.
"Sensei’s character was shaped on every level by his experiences in judo, his long exposure to Jigoro Kano’s intellectual profundity, Mifune’s virtuoso knowledge of technique, and Toku Sampo’s fierce spirit in application."
I sometimes say that Sensei’s method of teaching was like rock polishing. You put a lot of rocks in a barrel and tumble them together for weeks and weeks with abrasive. Sensei put us into keiko with Tezuka, Washizu and Kenmotsu sensei and with people from all over the world, tough, heavy, fast people who wanted to get better at aiki and jujutsu. Many people came regularly or periodically to his dojo. And he used that tumbling mass of boulders to polish everyone who entered.
How was Mochizuki sensei teaching in his dojo?
As I said, Mochizuki sensei was in his eighties and used that cadre of teachers to train. They all knew what Sensei was trying to achieve and they practiced the methods and techniques with the students and among themselves. And Sensei would observe all from his couch and sometimes he would come onto the mat and explain some fine point and observe as we worked on that point. Sometimes, he would choose someone to act as uke for him and he’d softly do the technique on them.
When I was there, I would usually lead the bow-in and warm-ups and the first hour of training while Sensei observed. I usually led the practice of happo ken no kata, keri yon ho, punching and kicking practice on the bags that hung every several feet around the perimeter of the great old room. That first hour was when we did te hodoki (hand releases) and sometimes suwari waza. The shihan tended to arrive around the end of that part and they warmed up on the side. And then we would do some techniques, but typically, we would begin an hour-long sutemi-only randori. On the other hand, we might well spend a good part of the night going through jutsuri no kata, tai sabaki no kata, ken tai ichi no kata or hyori no kata. And sometimes we would go through the katori shinto ryu standing kenjutsu kata—itsusu, nanatsu, kasumi no tachi, and hakka no tachi. And sometimes, we’d do the kneeling iaijutsu forms. For a while, we were doing sumo in normal dogi.
|David Orange at the Yoseikan Dojo|
Of course, all through this, Sensei would give some small lessons to various people and I was fortunate to observe many of those lessons, often as uke. And I was always glad to receive some direct personal instruction from Mochizuki sensei in aikido, his kata, sword, judo training, karate, etc. Each was always a small insight into the nature of what we were teaching the students and the deeper elements behind the flowing aikido techniques. Also, Sensei was a skeletal healer. He worked for some years as a seikotsu-in, bone-setter and adjuster, a practitioner of a kind of shiatsushi / chiropractor. As a master of jujutsu, he understood how to destroy a skeleton as well as fix it. He explained a bit to me about koppo, the art of breaking bones and dislocating joints. All easy enough to do with his normal techniques. His teaching was tough and it could be used in a real fight, but you could avoid seriously injuring an attacker, even by accident. And Sensei still sometimes took in an injured person and worked on them.
One night after class when Sensei had already gone up to his room for the evening, some of us were still in the dojo, including myself and the three Canadians who created Aikido Mochizuki to carry on their training after their separation from Patrick Augé. They were Roger Roy, Michel Martin and Bruno Perreault. They were in Shizuoka for a few weeks, three powerful guys who’d been training in Yoseikan since the late seventies or so. I’d trained with them in Alabama and Canada a number of times. That night in the dojo, Roger was doing some general sparring with a young man named Mochizuki who probably was relatively unrelated to Mochizuki sensei. They say if you throw a rock in Shizuoka, either a Mochizuki or an Unno will shout “Itte!!” This guy was young and the sparring was playful and friendly, but when Roger threw a mae geri, the young Mochizuki blocked it with his hand. A look of shock crossed his face and when he drew back his hand, his little finger was sticking out ninety degrees, backward. He was in a lot of pain. Someone led him up the steep stairs to Sensei’s room and the rest of us stood around in the dojo waiting to see what happened. After a few minutes, the guy who had helped young Mochizuki came back down and said, “Sensei wants to know if anyone has a pocket knife.” Everyone looked at one another with shock but someone got a pocket knife and gave it to the guy. He went back up the stairs with it. When young Mochizuki came down the stairs, his finger was wrapped in a bloody gauze but it was straight again! We all looked at one another, rather freaked out, but I never heard what had actually happened in Sensei’s room. Michel said he never heard, either. But I always wondered what Sensei actually did with that knife.
Mochizuki sensei was a very well rounded martial artist and his Yoseikan Aikido is known for being a rather pragmatic form of Aikido. How was this apparent in his teaching?
First, Mochizuki sensei taught techniques on a system of te hodoki, hand escapes, which released uke’s grip rather than throwing him with his own grip as many teachers of daito ryu lineage do. Mochizuki sensei taught us to break that connection immediately but to simultaneously seize the attacker and set up a technique, then throw him or hold him trapped. Mochizuki sensei taught kihon waza as techniques of practical self-defense, responding to an attack initiated by aite. Techniques were usually taught first from same-side single-handed grasp, then cross-side single-hand grasp, then two hands on one hand, then two hands on two hands, then a series of rear attacks, each answered with a specific te hodoki for that attack, leading to the new technique. From that much experience in a technique, it’s pretty easy to move up to striking attacks and more with some fluency. And then the technique is practiced in free randori, and polished through practice and tested again in randori until it comes easily and quickly when appropriate. Randori at the Yoseikan was spontaneous and fast, but the defenders used a wide range of techniques throughout the evening. No one had a preference for any particular technique and no one just used the same technique repeatedly. It was always interesting to see what someone would do next and they did the techniques full-on in the black belt groups. Kuro obi aikido (black belt aikido) was the subtitle of Mochizuki sensei’s classic book, Nihon Den Jujutsu Japanese Tradition Jujutsu. That randori was where it was made.
Further, all Mochizuki sensei’s techniques were built on tai sabaki, five precise body shifting methods that can be combined smoothly to create any technique as appropriate to the moment, to travel smoothly, change direction suddenly, weave between attackers, yield to an attack, enter on it, pass behind it, or to go all the way around the attacker’s body. Each technique was built on the footwork that made it possible. The techniques were somewhat complicated, but the important thing was really to master each specific tai sabaki. The tai sabaki are very small and precisely tailored because they’re crucial. They are shown in Tai Sabaki No Kata, but their real meaning is shown in Ken Tai Ichi No Kata. Not just the "techniques" comes from sword training. The tai sabaki come from sword training and it has to be precise, beginning from stillness. Too much or too little movement and you can’t coordinate with the attacker’s movement and you end at a bad distance to counter. So Sensei wanted to see crisp tai sabaki. They have to be formed precisely. The movements are small, long stepping at most. Timed with the attacker’s movement, especially when the attacker is mentally, physically and spiritually focused on controlling the defender, the tai sabaki alone can overcome the attacker’s orientation to the world and split his mind, body and spirit momentarily, leaving him open to any technique. The five tai sabaki methods allow us to avoid the attack, take the defender out of the attacker’s vision, lead and redirect the attacker’s moving body, and place the defender in the attacker’s weak spot just as the energy of the attack is depleted. The tai sabaki are like the basic steps of military close order drill maneuvers, allowing an army or any unit within it to move quickly with order and precise discipline to push the enemy or to flank his troops, to get behind his lines and attack his weak spots. Mochizuki sensei’s tai sabaki also reflect Kano’s step by step way of studying and learning. Sensei tended to show everything in a non-dramatic and mundane style, one, two, three, four. Like that, I think, because he didn’t want to show a personal style for people to follow. But when you followed his steps and trained realistically, then learned to apply the technique in randori, you found that the resulting technique is smooth and flowing, fast and devastatingly decisive. Many problems are rooted in a loose understanding of tai sabaki and their imprecise use in building the technique. But refining them to automatic precision is the key to good Yoseikan technique.
I think Sensei’s pragmatic attitudes came from Jigoro Kano sensei, with his strong motivation to cultivate erudite but indomitable individuals to uplift human society. Kano’s jujutsu training was motivated from his exposure to bullies throughout his early education and his purpose in teaching self-defense was so that scholars could progress without worrying about bullies. Every technique had to work because the alternative was losing in real life to a bully. Winning meant putting a permanent stop to that bully’s power. This had always been the spirit of jujutsu. But Kano added a higher brain and made jujutsu into a method of physically teaching Reason and Physics. This method developed people like Toku Sampo and Kyuzo Mifune, who dominated the kodokan and the thousands of powerful men who passed before them. Their influence was major in Mochizuki sensei’s character by the time he became uchi deshi to Morihei Ueshiba. I think that ingrained ethic of strength in Mochizuki sensei was behind OSensei’s telling him something like “I always have to change my techniques because of you.”
Just for a little more perspective on this, Sensei shared an anecdote about Toku Sampo’s cutting one of his school kendo teachers with a sword when he was a boy. The teacher insisted that each student attack him with the sword and he was mightily perturbed when Sampo refused. But Sampo was a serious boy with a sword and when the teacher forced him to attack, Sampo cut his head. So when I say “that kind of person,” you see… Mochizuki sensei at twenty-three, with experience in katori shinto ryu as well, would have been a handful for anyone and he kept it as faithfully real for OSensei as he could.
And he was also responsible to Kano sensei who was teaching in the step by step method, presenting the ideal of each technique in a series of smaller moves, from posture to posture, adding up to the final technique. How to achieve that ideal was a matter for rational consideration, informed by the laws of physics. Still, when Kano saw Ueshiba demonstrating daito ryu aiki-jujutsu, he declared it to be his “ideal of budo” and soon sent twenty-three-year-old Minoru Mochizuki to learn it, analyze it, break it down, and master it, and prepare to teach it at the Kodokan. And that’s why Mochizuki sensei taught in step by step fashion. But the randori was cultivated smoothness, each aikido technique a military strategy and counterattack for instant success. This was Mochizuki sensei’s approach to katsu hayahi (day of instant victory), a term that’s popular in aikido circles but which I never heard Mochizuki sensei use.
I may have given an improper impression that Mochizuki sensei didn’t teach te no uchi methods. He didn’t teach it in the very basics, where he used te hodoki. But we did practice te no uchi escapes and reversals in suwari waza. We did tons of that, just as you see OSensei, Kodo Horikawa sensei, Seigo Okamoto sensei or others performing, but again it was step by step. We didn’t throw people on contact or with one hand or any of that kind of thing. It was technique and Mochizuki sensei had his particular sets. For example, sitting face to face in seiza, grabbed two hands on two, Sensei might bring his palms together and press gassho hands toward the attacker’s throat, then suddenly take one hand down beside the attacker’s knee while taking the other hand up to the side of the attacker’s head, pushing him over while leading him with the low hand into tenchi nage. We could do all techniques from suwari waza as well. We practiced each one to a throw and a pin. But none of those techniques threw uke with his own grasp.
Aikido randori at the Yoseikan dojo were challenging. Essentially, if your technique wasn’t so icy that uke would slip and slide in your presence, uke would resist and continue attacking. You would likely go to the ground pretty quickly and grapple to a choke or joint lock. If uke won, you would get up and he would attack you again. If you could tap uke out, you would just get up and face the next attacker and either throw him on contact or go to the ground and fight to submission again and again. But these were friendly fights. Earnest, but not UFC style competitions. More like judo, but with no prize for winning. No points, even. Just exhaustion. We were out there tumbling to make us round. The attack could be karate, judo, jujutsu, bokken, bo, tanbo, knife or even pistol or wooden juken rifle. It was not competition, just challenge on a steep grade. It developed smooth aikido with emphasis on immediate control of aite in a strong hold.
"Aikido randori at the Yoseikan dojo were challenging. Essentially, if your technique wasn’t so icy that uke would slip and slide in your presence, uke would resist and continue attacking. You would likely go to the ground pretty quickly and grapple to a choke or joint lock."
The incredible thing is that it was all incredibly fun! Laughter was often heard in that dojo even though the air was basically stern and somber. Unexpected and surprising things would happen in all those confrontations of so many people from around the world attacking with so much power in so many arts in aikido randori. Such amazement would arise that you could only laugh. It was a great place to be and I always felt lucky to see such things. An example was when Murai sensei showed up. He lived outside Shizuoka City and didn’t always attend classes at the hombu. But he came around now and then and it was always a thrill. He was Mochizuki sensei’s longest-standing student, since the 1950s, still doing hour-long sutemi randori in his early seventies. Murai sensei had been an old-timer when Akira Tezuka, Terumi Washizu and Hiroaki Kenmotsu entered the dojo and he had trained them all extensively in aikido and sword. He was also Demizu sensei’s teacher. All these people were great to train with, all very smooth and precise, able in aikido, judo and karate as well as sword and kobudo. And speaking of unexpected and surprising, Murai sensei had also trained a good bit with Ueshiba OSensei when OSensei came to visit in Shizuoka. Murai sensei would sometimes do fure aiki, throwing with aite’s own grip. He did quite a number of those techniques on me and that was always so surprising I had to laugh. And Murai sensei was always smiling. He liked to surprise people and make them laugh. But when he faced you with a bokken, it felt like a tengu had come for you.
I also liked to train with Washizu sensei, whose smooth techniques were irresistible and decisive. He always paid full attention when Mochizuki sensei spoke and he was often the one who demonstrated what Sensei had said. Washizu sensei was also in my corner the day I made shodan under kodokan judges. Washizu sensei was pretty much always smiling and in aikido randori, he always looked like he had some surprise for you. He stood very relaxed and tall but he moved like a cat. As the attack began, he was sinking his weight to pounce and when he did sutemi waza with o soto irimi senkai, it was like watching a cheetah take down an antelope. He seemed to have the greatest affinity of all Sensei’s major students for sutemi waza but all his techniques were smooth and gentle but completely decisive. He would often roll out of a sutemi waza into a mount position on uke, with a full choke already in place and he could stand and step away with fluid ease. I never heard of his getting into any kind of confrontation with anyone. In fact, I never heard of it from anyone at the dojo.
|Group photo in front of the Kamiza. 1990|
When I was living at the dojo, the Gracies were training and fighting in California, getting a lot of attention in the martial arts world, taking on all comers, arts and styles in submission fights with a purse of $50,000 for anyone who could beat them. The fighters’ release form gave the Gracies all rights to the videos of the fights. They never had to pay anyone and they made a lot of money selling the videos through ads in Black Belt and other magazines. So the Gracies got a lot of funding and also got thousands of students across the world. This was before the first UFC fights and the Gracies were just becoming really influential. I was finding magazines at the dojo opened to photo sequences of some of the unusual sutemi waza the Gracies were doing then, all ending with uke in submission. The people training at the yoseikan had a need-to-know attitude and several of them seemed to be investigating those unusual sutemi waza. Mochizuki sensei would have been investigating those techniques very actively himself if he’d been younger. I note that thirty years later, I don’t see any mention of such techniques in the Gracie work. But the people training at the Yoseikan paid attention when the Gracies were researching that approach. Whenever anyone showed up at the dojo and applied some unusual technique or variation of a standard, Sensei would have him give some general perspectives on that technique and then everyone would try it and look for counters for it. That was the spirit there. Things had to work against determined fighters and research was the only way to find out for oneself. We worked hard and pumped a lot of sweat but we weren’t trying to knock each other out or break each other’s bones.
"Whenever anyone showed up at the dojo and applied some unusual technique or variation of a standard, Sensei would have him give some general perspectives on that technique and then everyone would try it and look for counters for it. So that was the spirit there."
Living and training in Shizuoka, you had the opportunity to train on a regular basis with the “pillars” of Yoseikan Budo: Murai, Washizu, Tezuka, etc. Can you tell us more about this experience?
As I said earlier, Murai sensei wasn’t always there. The daily and year-round operations of the dojo were carried out by Tezuka, Washizu, Kenmotsu and Akahori sensei along with various others. Akahori sensei taught the judo classes on the weekends and sometimes did aikido afterward. He was around quite a bit. He added up the monthly payments for classes and for room rents. Most of the aikido classes were run by Tezuka, Washizu and Kenmotsu sensei, at Mochizuki sensei’s direction.
Also, a number of other people were there pretty frequently but seldom led the teaching. Many of them got the okuden certificate from Mochizuki sensei at the same time as all the others. And these would include teachers in other countries who returned like comets with long orbits, such as Shoji Sugiyama in Italy. That also included Patrick Augé, who spent many years with all those people while Mochizuki sensei refined his synthesis of arts that I guess was actually his recreation of gyokushin ryu jujutsu as gyokushin ryu aiki-jujutsu. It was a uniquely spherical art and my fourteen years of experience with Patrick prepared me to fit in well and train as hard as I could in Mochizuki sensei’s dojo. Patrick’s teaching truly reflected what was happening in the Yoseikan hombu in Shizuoka in the 1990s. He’d been associated with Mochizuki sensei’s constantly evolving blend of karate, judo, jujutsu, aikido, and sword since the late 60s, after some years training with Hiroo Mochizuki sensei in France. Patrick understood Minoru Mochizuki sensei’s system thoroughly and received the okuden certificate from Mochizuki sensei on the day Murai, Tezuka, Washizu, Kenmotsu and some fifteen other old-timers received it. All those twenty and many others have to be included as pillars of the Yoseikan because they stood up. And when they walked into the dojo, they were respected. And it was Mochizuki sensei that had made them what they were—or, he had cultivated the best he could in each of them both as a person and as a martial artist. He was a giant of a man perhaps not on the level of Jigoro Kano, but certainly after Kano’s own heart, an educator devoted to cultivating masterful people to go out and uplift humanity. And ultimately it was all those people who were his tools of teaching. He used all those fine teachers to do his throwing for him, for the most part.
To be continued...
|Washizu Terumi's Okuden Menkyo. Other recipients are indicated on the left |
To be continued...