Minoru Mochizuki – The Master of the 20th Century

Mochizuki Minoru 01

Minoru Mochizuki sensei was a great Master of Martial Arts, an exceptional communicator, a witness of the transition from Bujutsu to Budō made by the innovators Jigorō Kanō and Morihei Ueshiba, and also an opponent of today’s growing corruption of classic Bujutsu and Budō in more commercial sports versions. Adriano Amari, who was lucky enough to meet him, offers us his memory of Mochizuki sensei


Minoru Mochizuki sensei was born on April 7, 1907, in Shizuoka. His was a family of martial artists and his father practised Kenjutsu and Jū Jutsu in his father-in-law’s famous Dōjō. When he moved to Tōkyō with his family at a very young age, he began practising Jūdō at the age of five, then Kendō and Jū Jutsu. In the latter art, in 1924 he was taken as a student by Oshima Sanjuro, Soke of the Gyokushin Ryū, an old Jū Jutsu style that specialises in joint dislocations, hip techniques and sutemi with a rich repertoire of Tai Sabaki. This particular practice will have several developments later.

In 1927 he was accepted as Uchi Denshi by Kyūzō Mifune sensei (director of the Kōdōkan, 10th Dan in Jūdō) and later noticed by the founder of the Jūdō himself, Jigorō Kanō sensei, who made him one of his most brilliant assistants and researchers. On Kanō’s initiative, Minoru Mochizuki entered a special section of the Kōdōkan, the Kobudō Kenkyukai. This institute was supposed to train the best Kōdōkan talents in the old martial arts, the Koryū Bujutsu. Minoru sensei studied Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū (classical Japanese fencing), Shindō Musō Ryū (Jō stick fencing) and resumed studying Kendō with one of the best experts of the time, Nakayama Hakudō, who also introduced him to Musō Shindō Ryū Iai. He was later sent by Jigorō Kanō sensei to train with Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikidō. Also held in high esteem by Ueshiba sensei himself, in 1931 Minoru Mochizuki sensei returned to the city of Shizuoka, where he reconnected with his family and opened his Dōjō, the Budō Yōseikan. A few years later, in 1936, his first son, Hiroo, was born.

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Minoru Mochizuki in France (c. 1951)

In 1938 Minoru Mochizuki sensei received an important government office and moved to Mongolia, where he held the position of Vice-prefect of the district. Once the war was over, he returned to Japan in 1946, and shortly afterwards he resumed teaching in his Dōjō.

In 1951 he was part of a cultural delegation from Japan invited to a UNESCO event in Geneva. Due to a mishap, he is forced to stay in Europe, where he gave lessons and demonstrations of Jūdō, Aikidō and Bujutsu. His work continued in the years to come, especially in France, thanks also to the fact that his son Hiroo moved to this country, where he would also promote Karate, in addition to his paternal martial arts, and subsequently established Yōseikan Budō.

Minoru Mochizuki sensei continued his teaching in Japan, where he reached the highest grades in the many disciplines he practised. He kept travelling to Europe, even if, from the eighties onwards, his age and health limited his movements.

In 2000 he received the delegation of the European Yōseikan Budō in Shizuoka. In 2001, due to his bad health, he moved permanently to Europe, to his son Hiroo in Aix-en-Provence, where he dedicated himself to transmitting his techniques to his son and his grandson Michihito, as well as the high grades of Yōseikan Budō International. In summer 2001, he passed on the succession as Soke of the Yōseikan to his son Hiroo before the international assembly of the school instructors.

Prostrated by his condition, he gradually withdrew from the world, until he died on May 30, 2003.

His Grades

In his long career, Minoru Mochizuki sensei received many awards in numerous martial arts. Here’s a complete list:

  • Tenth Dan of Aikidō, Meijin, grade Kokusai Budō Inn recognized by the Ueshiba family
  • Ninth Dan of Nihon Jū Jutsu
  • Eighth Dan of Jūdō Kokusai Budō Inn
  • Seventh Dan of Jūdō KōdōkanEighth Dan Hanshi of Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū
  • Seventh Dan of Iaidō, Kyoshi, Zen Nihon Iaidō Renmei
  • Fifth Dan of Kendō Zen Nihon Kendō Renmei
  • Fifth Dan of Shindō Musō Ryū Jō Jutsu

He also received the following traditional certifications:

  • From Morihei Ueshiba, Menkyo Kaiden and two Okuden rolls “Goshinyo no Te” and “Hiden Ogi no Koto”
  • From Sanjuro Oshima, Soke of Gyokushin Ryū, the “Shoden Kirigami Mokuroku”

The Teacher

Minoru Mochizuki sensei was a great Master of Martial Arts, an exceptional communicator, a witness of the transition from Bujutsu to Budō made by the innovators Jigorō Kanō and Morihei Ueshiba, and also an opponent of today’s growing corruption of classic Bujutsu and Budō in more commercial sports versions.

Minoru Mochizuki sensei was born in a still peasant and medieval Japan, a world where countryside and cities made of paper houses were the norm, where a still intact past was next to the new era, originating with “western” progress being first imposed, then adopted, and eventually becoming intrusive and corrupting. An attentive and gifted young man, he was an esteemed and favoured pupil of exceptional personalities, teachers universally known like Jigoro Kano, Morihei Ueshiba and Kyūzō Mifune, as well as of less known but not less important and valid masters like Hakudō Nakayama, Sanjuro Oshima, Ichiro Shiina, Toku Sanbo and Takaji Shimitsu.

Ueshiba Morihei - Mochizuki Minoru 1951
Morihei Ueshiba with Minoru Mochizuki (1951)

From Jigorō Kanō sensei he was commissioned to develop a martial art that, using the ethical and educational founding principles of Jūdō, would expand its technique by including the various aspects of Japanese historical disciplines such as the armed arts and the different forms of Jū Jutsu. Aikidō Yōseikan, Nihon Tai Jutsu and Yōseikan Budō would take shape from this effort.

It is difficult to remember such a character without falling into rhetoric and to avoid resorting to bombastic figures and labels such as “the last samurai”, or “the man with the most Dan in the world”. I want to talk here briefly about him, both as I remember him, in person, and for what I heard, the many things about him that they told me. Words of his son, my sensei, Hiroo Mochizuki, and of other seniors from the Yoseikan, or even other people from other Martial Arts who had known him.

At a later stage, I reserve to articulate other very interesting insights, giving them their proper space.

My meeting with him

I was fortunate to meet him in person in the mid-1980s when Minoru sensei attended the Yōseikan Budō summer seminars organized by his son Hiroo. It was the year 1986.

Non avevo mai visto prima il Maestro Minoru Mochizuki, sia perché mi muovevo solo I had never seen Minoru Mochizuki sensei before, both because I was only moving within the Yōseikan Budō, and because the old teacher, no longer in good health, had rarefied his travels in Europe. He was already an old man and suffered the consequences of some disease that had weakened him. Nonetheless, I was able to notice right away how his figure still dominated the tatami and to appreciate how the Master offered his teaching with didactic effectiveness and clarity.

Mochizuki Minoru - Adriano Amari
Minoru Mochizuki with Adriano Amari and his assistant, Stefano Cutrona (front) – 1986

I vividly remember that first encounter, I saw him as he descended from his son’s legendary Volkswagen van. A lively old man in his eighties, but with some obvious ailments that strained his movement. He looked like someone who expects to be heard and possessed an indisputable aura of charisma and authority.

I immediately realized that Minoru Mochizuki sensei seemed to be living two different lives. In the normal one, he was an old man who walked in small continuous steps, suffered from the heat and often stopped to take breaks. On the tatami, he was a dragon-master who went around with big steps, dominating the situation and the bystanders. His teaching was linear, the techniques were concepts and the concepts materialized in techniques. Minoru Mochizuki sensei showed a “shape”, a possibility, and explained the relative technique by demonstrating its intrinsic simplicity. Made by him, after his demonstration, the action seemed as easy as breathing.

His experience was universal, appropriate to the vastness of his studies and the extraordinary competence of his old masters. He preferred to insist on some specific fields: projections, often from the group of sutemi (sacrifice techniques), combinations of ground fighting with a preference for strangulation, levers and immobilizations where Uke was stuck prone to the ground. The techniques with the weapons were particular, above all fencing principles with the sword and the stick. Since I had seen him, at first, as an elderly person outside the Dōjō, I was more impressed by the ability with which he moved on the tatami: in the projections, executed with movement and sense of time, which made the throw an almost impalpable and sudden moment; in the fight on the ground, where he immobilized giants nailing them to the ground; in fencing, where he beat the agonists with the competition sword as if he knew their thoughts before their action. We followed him as he wandered among us athletes checking our performances, explaining to each person how to make them better, offering subtle and ingenious technical solutions.

It was on that occasion that, at some point, he called us and he wanted to tell us that he greatly appreciated our practice and was proud of the achievements of Yōseikan Budō made by his son Hiroo.

Mochizuki Minoru - Mochizuki Hiroo 1987 Francia
Yoseikan Budo Summer Camp 1987 (France): Minoru and Hiroo Mochizuki sensei

“Evolution is the duty of every teacher”, he stressed. “In my school, I made it possible to access the various teachings of my teachers, but separately, faithful to the system with which they transmitted them to me. My son took the next step and united them, creating a logical and natural system”.

In that same year, at the end of the seminar, which lasted two weeks, individual competitions were scheduled at an international level, a real individual world tournament. It was one of the first competitions ever within the Yōseikan Budō, after the World Championships, organized in Parma and triumphantly won by the Italian national team. There was a significant turnout of athletes from all over the world, attracted not only by the exceptional seminar itself but also by the concomitance with this competitive event, by its inherent challenges.

During a break between competitions, Minoru Mochizuki sensei presented a demonstration, performing his version of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū 11 Iai Kata. The harmony of his movements and the projection of his martial spirit in the action caused the view to be together frightening and magnificent. Young people, competitors, athletes at their maximum physical capacity, watching that presentation they all realized that speed and strength were not everything, and that through the process of studying and ageing different characteristics and talents took over.

Mochizuki Minoru - 1986
Yōseikan Budō World Championship (Parma – 1986): Mochizuki sensei demonstrates Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū Iai kata

Minoru Mochizuki sensei and Europe

The historical role of Minoru Mochizuki sensei for us Europeans is particularly significant. He was our “Gateway to the Orient”. Through him, and other masters that he sent directly or indirectly to Europe, the European West has got to know Japanese martial arts in their entirety. It is true that, in Jūdō and some traditional Jū Jutsu style, some Japanese masters had already come to Europe, but their teaching had been neither as profound nor as global as what Minoru sensei was able to offer. Thanks to Minoru sensei, French Jūdō experienced enormous growth in terms of quality and quantity; thanks to Minoru sensei, Europe appreciated Aikidō, Kendō, Kobujutsu and Iai. Furthermore, Minoru acted as a liaison for many other teachers, both directly promoting their arrival in Europe, and making it possible for Europeans to know their existence and to be able to take advantage of their teachings. Thanks to the Yōseikan and Minoru sensei it happened that his son Hiroo moved to Europe, where he introduced Karate and helped its development, sending numerous masters where required.

This action indirectly triggered other arrivals, because it was to compete with the Aikidō of the Yōseikan group that Aikikai sent Abe, Tada and Tamura to Europe, and to compete with the Wadō Ryū, the Shōtōkai and the Shitō Ryū, always promoted in Europe by the Yōseikan Dōjō, which the JKA dispatched Kase, Shirai and Enoeda sensei. Thanks to Minoru sensei, interest in traditional Bujutsu schools developed, and Sugino Yoshio sensei, Hatakeyama sensei and Tenshin Shōden Katōri Shintō Ryū came to Europe. In parallel, others, looking for different approaches, approached Tokimune Takeda to learn about Daitō Ryū or Shimitsu for Shindō Musō Ryū. Furthermore, it was thanks to Minoru sensei’s son, Hiroo Mochizuki sensei, that Karate masters arrived in various places in Europe, including Murakami.

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Looking at Minoru Mochizuki, examining his stare and appearance, one could see reflected the image of the budōka who were his great Masters. Each of us still felt the presence of those incredible people, whose deeds seem to be part of a legend. His was the memory of the witness, his technique a constant reminder of those giants, but anyone could see his hand as an adapter, interpreter and innovator. Tempered by Kano’s structural didactic approach, Minoru sensei’s teaching was clear, objective, experimental, aimed at finding ways to develop. The “modern” idea of ​​the father of the Jūdō recognized education as the purpose of martial arts; individuals had to get to know each other and self-promote, to be reborn renewed by comparison with the others. Consequently, the principle of the objectivity of the technique, established by Jigorō Kanō sensei, for Minoru Mochizuki sensei constituted a precise imperative: only if the single technical specification was applicable in any case and everywhere, constituting the “best use of energy“, then it could enter in the technical heritage of the Yōseikan school.

Minoru Mochizuki sensei often stressed this concept: in a technique, the important point was effectiveness. Anyone, performing it correctly, had to obtain the same effects. In his curiosity, he examined every technique he saw, controlled its criteria and effectiveness, adapted it to his experience trying to make it useful for everyone.

Starting from the “Great Teaching of Kano“, other influences to his teaching came from Ō Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, from the Gyokushin Ryū of Oshima sensei, from the Kendō of Nakayama sensei, from the Katori Shintō Ryū of Shiina sensei.

From Ueshiba and Mifune sensei, Minoru sensei had taken the idea of circular movement, while the later teaching of Gyokushin had projected the same movement into a spatial, three-dimensional concept, where the centre of the action was floating between the two beings in motion. From the art of the sword, Minoru sensei had drawn elegance, simplicity, direct and ruthless action, an action that, at the same time, was designed to be inescapable and safe.

Mochizuki Minoru 2001 Le Saintes Maries de la Mer
Yoseikan Budo Summer Camp 2001 (France): Kenjutsu explanations about Kiriotoshi by Minoru Mochizuki sensei

Minoru sensei spoke with great respect of Ō Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, saying that his vision of the Universe had produced a new way of conceiving Budō, making it not only the way of of the self, but the real place of everything. Mochizuki sensei said that only with maturity he came to understand the breadth of Morihei Ueshiba’s vision, and said that true understanding was something difficult and personal, which every student must find for himself, and this will only happen when the time is right. Aikidō Yōseikan contains techniques from all of Ueshiba sensei’s career to allow the student to go the same way, to grasp the experiences that have given Ueshiba his magnificent vision.

Mochizuki Minoru sensei told us this and many other stories. Faithful to traditional teaching, he loved to break the practice with the narration of episodes from the life of his teachers, their sayings.

When his time came, he simply murmured “Thanks”! He was a special person, a person who had a rich and unrepeatable life, such as to make him an exemplary icon.

What is it that distinguishes one individual from another? What are the characteristics, such as to make us assert praise, appreciation, or disapproval? Minoru Mochizuki is the master’s prototype, incarnation and model. His own tutors and mentors immediately sensed in him the rare ability of the natural teacher, and always considered this ability, forging him for this task.

Minoru Mochizuki sensei’s work has always been this, passing on and spreading the teaching of its masters, the great innovators who, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tried to promulgate Budō as a form of education, understanding and personal development. Today his legacy continues in the hands of his heirs, his son Hiroo sensei, Alain Floquet sensei and Aikibudō, Roland Hernaez and Nihon Tai Jutsu, the Seifukai group, Budō Yōseikan, Terumi Washizu and Gyokushin Ryū and others. Thanks to them all his legacy is still alive and useful for everyone.

Copyright Adriano Amari ©2020 
Translation by Simone Chierchini
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