Reminiscences of Minoru Mochizuki (Part 1)

Minoru Mochizuki in France c. 1951

“Sokaku Takeda: An Intimate Glimpse”

I conducted an interview with the famous Minoru Mochizuki at his Yoseikan Dojo in Shizuoka in 1985. During the time he spent with the Aiki News staff, he shared a series of fascinating anecdotes that riveted our attention.

In one section of the interview, Mochizuki describes the visit of the legendary Sokaku Takeda to Morihei Ueshiba’s Mejiro Dojo in May 1930. Mochizuki describes Sokaku’s behavior and conversation in detail. This is one of the few existing first-hand accounts of Sokaku that paint such a vivid picture of this jujutsu master. – Stanley Pranin

Kisshomaru Sensei’s words

It is natural for a man to thrist after strength. The other day I had some business at the Hombu Dojo and went there taking several of my students. There we listened to a talk given by Koetsu (Kisshomaru Ueshiba) Sensei. He made the following remark during his speech: “Nowadays, the streets are well protected by the police and I have almost never seen any violence. Therefore, we should disregard such notions as who is stronger or who are losers.” I thought that what he said was quite reasonable. However, on the way home my students asked me: “Sensei, did he really mean that? He may not be reading the news.” Actually, many incidents appear on the third page of the newspaper. In the old days there was a saying that, “Three years spent developing an army is all for the purpose of using it for a single day.” Although there are many soldiers, they are to be used only for emergency situations and are not usually needed. In other ways, this saying signifies that “bu” or martial arts serve as a precaution. We must of course go beyond fighting. But if young people overemphasize this idea and believe that armed forces are no longer needed because there is no need to attack anyone, this attitude presents a problem. Most of the time youngsters come to the dojo wanting to become strong.

I came to study under Ueshiba Sensei for the same reason. If Ueshiba Sensei were a weak-looking man who appeared as if he would fall if I swept his leg from underneath him I wouldn’t have followed him. I was very vigorous then because at the time I used to appear in championship judo tournaments. But he grabbed hold of me and flung me around as if I were insignificant. Ueshiba Sensei was great and I was surprised. After all, I thirsted after strength in those days. So I don’t think we should deny the existence of this type of desire. We should take a hard look at reality. Budo are not sports. They are traditional martial arts and an instrument of war. We must be prepared for emergencies, in a spiritual sense, I mean. Budo cultivates this spirit.

“You were saying that budo and sports are the same. Since I am rather ignorant I wonder if the word ‘sport’ is translated into Japanese as ‘budo’.

The government representative had difficulty in answering and stammered:

“Well, uh, sports are sports…”

The man continued: “Well, budo does not mean sports then.” “If you take the meaning of budo in a modern sense it can mean ‘sport’.”

“You mean the result of the modernization of budo is their conversion into sports? What then does modernization mean?”

It is my belief that modernization refers to westernization, Europeanization or Americanization, mightn’t one think so? Anyway, the man continued:

“If things we create in Japan are Europeanized or Americanized it is tantamount to saying that they are not created in Japan at all”.

The ministry man kept repeating something to the effect that sports are sports.

Then the questioner said: “If sports are sports as you say, then there is no reason we should call budo ‘sports’, is there?”

The functionary was verbally defeated in this manner. Soon the time was up and the spokesman ended the question-and-answer period saying it was regrettable that there was no more time. Then the questioner suddenly turned around and said, “Served him right!” The man was already over 50 years old. I too was thinking of asking the ministry man about the difference between sports and budo.

Along similar lines, I have also been criticized in a judo newspaper. The article read: “Although Mochizuki Sensei is a budo man, his way of thinking about the martial arts is old-fashioned. If we change our way of thinking, judo will become a sport, not a budo.” The author of the piece was a spokesman for the Kodokan.

Kano and Cubertin

In 1924 when the Olympics were held in Los Angeles, Jigoro Kano Sensei who participated in the organization of the event was asked directly by Coubertin (Pierre de (l863-l937), French educator largely responsible for reviving the Olympic Games) to permit judo to become an Olympic event since Kano’s creation had become world-famous. Kano Sensei responded as follows: “Although we have adopted the form of a sport and have competitions, that is not our real purpose. The sport aspect of judo is nothing but a means and our real purpose is daily practice itself.”

We must use the power of the body in the most reasonable way and through judo you and your partner build fine bodies through practice. This was the gist of Kano Sensei’s explanation and it was also around the time when the live-and-let-live philosophy which was similiar to his way of thinking began to draw attention.

Darwin’s theory

By contrast, even Darwin, the author of the theory of evolution or the “survival of the fittest,” when he went to Brazil and witnessed the so-called practice of “native hunting” was appalled at seeing this application of his theory. It was a time when navies would seek out any native man or woman, force them on to their ships and take them to the United States. After seeing this, he sent a letter to a friend deploring the situation: “What an ugly practice! Europeans and Americans are allowing this to continue. God never forgives those who attempt to prosper by tormenting the weak. What a shameful thing this is! I will never again set foot on this land.” This letter has actually been preserved. Although the theory of evolution is understood as the law of the survival of the fittest, the truth is otherwise. The intent of his theory is to justify acts of invasion. However, in the world of animals, the number of fierce animals like tigers and lions is decreasing while the numbers of their prey are increasing. ln present-day Africa, fierce animals cannot live without protection. Therefore, Darwin’s theory of the law of the survival of the fittest should be modified. I think this is already starting to be the case.

For example, there is a saying in China that “defeat means victory.” It seems strange that the defeated become victors but it is so. The Han race in China are basically agricultural people. Farmers don’t have time for war because their enemy is not man but nature. They don’t respect you just because you are strong. They hate people who kill most of all. Even 60 and 70 year old women can engage in farming work while four and five year olds do such things as delivering food. Agricultural people work as family units. So the larger the family the more crops they will have. On the other hand, hunting peoples must contend with live animals and they must fight to obtain them. Here, those who have stamina and are quick are needed. Affairs are run by a select few. If they go hunting in too large numbers the animals will flee.

Are Budo sports?

The Ministry of Education issues various decrees on the subject of budo becoming sports. The other day I attended a study meeting held at the Budokan. There was a representative of the Ministry of Education who declared the following: “You have earnestly practiced budo for many years but the times have changed. I would like you to consider budo as sports from now on.” Everyone at the meeting listened to him patiently. But about 15 minutes before he finished his lecture he said he would consent to a question-and-answer period and would like us to raise our hands if we had any questions. I immediately raised my hand. The person sitting in front of me raised his hand at the same time too. When the Ministry of Education representative pointed at me the man sitting in front of me thought that he had been called and immediately stood up and asked the following question:

Take the case of the Mongolians who are all hunting peoples. Farming work is not possible because the land is too dry and seeds will not sprout. There is no rain and winters are long. However, hardy weeds grow little by little. When you think of Mongolian fields you probably imagine land lush with tuffy grass. I lived there for 8 years. It surely looks like an endless grassy plain but when you actually get there you find only sparse weeds. So they let sheep eat the weeds and when they grow they are slaughtered for food. So the Mongolians are completely a meat-eating people. They are all right as long as weeds for the sheep grow but every few years there are famines. It is during such times that they attack agricultural peoples.

Agricultural people don’t like martial arts very much. But they began to practice various arts for defense out of necessity. This was how the character “bu” meaning “stopping the weapon” came into being. The Great Wall of China is the very symbol of bu. Although Ueshiba Sensei said budo is love, I think it impossible to understand this statement as meaning to love our friends but not our enemies. This love is somewhat different from the Christian way of nonresistant love. In Japan, when we say “harmony” we use the character “wa.” It implies emotion plus reason. We stress reason. The character “bu” was created in China because the Chinese had to stop invaders from intruding. When I use the character “bu” I like to respect its original meaning. I think that if one chooses the way of nonresistance it can no longer be considered bu. I think in that case it is better not to use the term “budo”. There is another name for that. I don’t think it is necessary to distort the original sense of the character “bu.”

Like O-Sensei’s son

Returning to the subject of the Founder, I was like a son to Ueshiba Sensei and I often proposed various things to him. No one sat cross-legged in front of Ueshiba Sensei but at the time I was practicing judo and couldn’t sit properly. I would immediately excuse myself and sit cross-legged and start to talk with Sensei. If I didn’t go to see Sensei he himself came to see me very often. So I was one of his favorites and there was a time when he asked me to succeed him as head of Hombu Dojo.

In discussing the ken or sword of O-Sensei one must keep in mind that Sokaku Takeda had practiced Yagyu-ryu and also Kyoshin Meichi-ryu. There was a Kyoshin Meichi-ryu master called Shunzo Momoi. Sokaku Takeda had a close relationship with this sensei. I think that perhaps he also studied with Momoi. I have a reason for my guess.

In about May of 1930 when I was an uchideshi at the Ueshiba dojo, Ueshiba Sensei said to me one day that he had to go out to conduct a little business although Sokaku Takeda Sensei might come that day. There was some kind of meeting of the Omoto religion and he had to participate in it with all of his family. So he asked me to take charge of the house during his absence and deal with Sokaku as I saw fit. I don’ t think that Ueshiba Sensei tried to avoid Sokaku Takeda Sensei, but on that day several army officers came to the dojo at around 9 o’clock in the morning. They came to the dojo to see the techniques of Ueshiba Sensei. After about a one-hour demonstration, Sensei went out at around 10:00 am. Then these army officials held a meeting in one of the rooms of the dojo. They told me to stay away and wouldn’t let me hear what was going on in the meeting.

Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943)

Sokaku Takeda appears

At about 12:30, when I was feeling unbearably hungry, they came out of the room and told me the meeting was over and I saw them off. Then I gobbled down my lunch. After I had finished I heard someone shouting at the front door, “Is Ueshiba in?” I wondered what in the world the man was doing asking whether or not Ueshiba Sensei was in. I went to the front door and found a small old man. I thought that he must be Sokaku Takeda.

When I immediately assumed a seated position out of respect and asked if he was Sokaku Takeda Sensei he replied in the affirmative and asked who I was. I was told never mention the fact that I was an uchideshi so I said I was a neighbor who was asked by Sensei to watch after the house because he had to go out for the religious event. When I said that Sokaku Takeda looked at my face and said, “You practice Kano Judo.” When I said that he was right he shot back, “That is not budo or bujutsu!” Then he came into the house and asked me what one of the rooms was for. He pointed at the room with his stick. He told me to open the door and when I did so he looked carefully around inside.

Then pointing out another room he asked what it was for. When I replied it was the dojo, he said, “Dojo? Aha! Open it!” When I opened the dojo, I don’t know why but there was a bamboo sword case lying there. Seeing this Sokaku kicked the case with his leg. Then he asked me who was practicing such a stupid art and I mentioned that a Yagyu-ryu teacher was coming to the dojo for instruction. Sokaku laughed sardonically.

Next he had me open the bathroom, the kitchen, Ueshiba Sensei’s room, his wife’s room, the closets, in other words, all of the rooms. Then he sat down in the tokonoma (alcove) with his stick. It was nearly summer so the brazier was of course not prepared. He pulled it towards himself. It was quite large. Then he took the pair of tongs and put them in front of him. I was watching him thinking how cautious he was.

Testing for poison

When I said I would make him tea he said he would do it himself. Sokaku went into the kitchen and ladled out water for himself using a dipper and then placed it in the flames of the fire. He put the tea leaves into the dipper and toasted them. I guess he was concerned that the tea might be poisoned. When it was ready he told me to drink it first. He said that it was proper etiquette that when you make tea you drink it first. It is the opposite of what we usually do. Then he asked me if there was any snack. When I suggested that I would go and buy some, he opened up the cabinet himself and said he had found some. Then he took a bowl out and told me to eat one of them. When I said, “Oh, no. After you, Sensei,” he shouted, “Eat it!” I then understood that this was a test for poison. I took one of them and ate it. He watched me for a while to see if it had any ill effect on me. After I swallowed the cake, he took the one next to it and ate it. I was really surprised.

After that Sokaku asked me how long I had been practicing the jujutsu of Kano Sensei. When I replied five or six years he said, “That’s not jujutsu. Judo is of no use.” I explained that it was not jujutsu but judo and he retorted: “Not jujutsu but judo? What are you talking about! They’re the same!” When I insisted that they were different he shouted that they were the same. I thought to myself what a frightful old man he was. I decided not to oppose him too much since he was Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher and just said, “Oh, I see.” Later he said that the Mizuno mansion must be somewhere in the area. There was a ranking retainer by the name of Jurozaiemon Mizuno who had been known to flaunt his power during the Tokugawa Period. The site where the present woman’s medical college is located used to be the Mizuno field. So I answered that there was a place where the Mizuno mansion once stood. He next asked me if a Mr. Araki was still running a dojo. I found out that he was talking about things that occurred during the Ansei period (1854-1860). The dojo had already disappeared by the Meiji Period but he was asking if it still existed. I thought that he must be getting on in years.

Sakakibara vs Momoi

Returning to the original subject, I thought then that he must have been a student of Mr. Momoi since he asked the following: “Do you know the story of Kenkichi Sakakibara and Shunzo Momoi cutting through the famous Myochi helmet with their swords before the Emperor? When I responded that I had read about it he said: “You did? Well, Momoi was quite a skilled swordsman. There was no difference in skill between him and Sakakibara. But the reason Sakakibara could cut the helmet whereas Momoi couldn’t was that they used different weapons. It had nothing to do with a difference in skill.” According to Sokaku, the reason Shunzo Momoi couldn’t cut the helmet was because he used a normal sword while Kenkichi Sakakibara used a “dotanuki” sword which was about 35 ½ inches (90.9 centimeters) long and had the shape of a halberd. In this way Sokaku insisted on taking sides with Shunzo Momoi. Then he made the following comment: “By the time I was 16 or 17 I was able to best Shunzo Momoi Sensei in two out of three matches .” But if you think of it, Shunzo Momoi Sensei must have been quite old then. Anyway, Sokaku bragged about it so I didn’t think he was a student of Kenkichi Sakakibara but of Shunzo Momoi.

Since Sokaku wore false teeth he made a clacking sound when he talked and I couldn’t hear his words clearly. So I moved closer to him little by little as I acknowledged what he was saying. At a certain point he shouted at me. “Move back. When you face me stay at least 3 feet away!” What a character I thought!

I even heard from Ueshiba Sensei that Sokaku Sensei wouldn’t let him lay out his bedding in the middle of the room when he slept. The next morning Ueshiba Sensei always found him sleeping on the opposite side of the room. He would always pull the bedding to the other side of the room in the middle of the night.

O-Sensei patronized by military

When I was at the dojo Ueshiba Sensei was unknown in the martial arts world. There was an Omoto headquarters in Kyoto and he taught a little there. A Vice-Admiral Seikyo Asano happened to be an Omoto believer. He witnessed a demonstration by Ueshiba Sensei and found him to be terrific. He then tried training himself and was very impressed. He suggested that Ueshiba Sensei come to Tokyo to teach. This Admiral Asano spoke highly of Ueshiba’s art to Admiral (Isamu) Takeshita, one of his contemporaries, and to other higher-ups of the navy. The navy decided to partronize the art and had Ueshiba Sensei teach at the naval academy.

Since Admiral Takeshita was practicing judo he was on friendly terms with Jigoro Kano Sensei. He suggested that Kano Sensei go to see Ueshiba Sensei’s art sometime. The latter did and was very impressed with Ueshiba Sensei after seeing his demonstration and talking with him. Kano Sensei told Ueshiba Sensei that he would send one of his students and asked him to teach his art. They reached an agreement to this effect. At that time, I had already practiced arts such as shinaiuchi (bamboo sword art), Katori Shinto-ryu and Naginata. So Kano Sensei thought I would be the most appropriate one to learn this jujutsu in addition to other martial arts. In those days what Ueshiba Sensei was teaching was called Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, not aikido.

Mochizuki and his chaperon

Since I was too vigorous in those days and very often went further than was proper, Kano Sensei also sent a man named Jiro Takeda, a 5th dan, as my companion out of concern that I might behave inappropriately at the Ueshiba dojo. Mr. Takeda was at the time 43 or 44. I was supposed to learn the art seriously and Mr. Takeda was to be a sort of a buffer for me. So the two of us entered the Ueshiba Dojo.

At that time the dojo was located in Mejiro on the Yamanote line in Tokyo. It was an ordinary house, not a dojo. However, at the time they had already started the construction of a l00-mat dojo in Ushigome where the present Hombu Dojo is located. When it was completed O-Sensei gathered together young people as students. I met Mr. Hajime (Kazuya) Iwata from Aichi Prefecture there. I also met people like Tsutomu Yukawa. Yukawa was thinking of becoming a judoka but happened to come to Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo through a connection and was told not to do judo as it was uninteresting. But he himself was itching to practice judo so he asked me to teach him. We used to practice judo at night. He was big and quite strong. But I didn’t have much difficulty with him since at the time I was strong enough to participate in the All-Japan Judo Competition. There was also an ex-sumo wrestler who asked me to teach him judo as well. Yukawa and this man were about the same level. I used to go to bed after training these two at night.

[The second part of this interview which took place on April 22, 1985 in the Yoseikan Dojo in Shizuoka, Japan will appear in our next issue. Minoru Mochizuki Sensei may be contacted at the Yoseikan Dojo, 846-4 Mukoshikiji, Shizuoka City, JAPAN, Tel. 0542-59-0663. Translated and edited by Ikuko Kimura and Stanley Pranin.]


  1. Xander Alex says:

    Great story. I would love to read more.

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