Minoru Mochizuki is, without doubt, one of the most respected and influential masters of his generation. He founded the influential Yoseikan school of Budo, which contains elements of Aikido, Kenjutsu, Karate, Judo and Jujitsu. He trained with two of the greats of Japanese Budo, Jigaro Kano and Morihei Ueshiba. His son Hiroo would go on to become one of the foremost Karate Masters in the world.
A descendent of a samurai family, Mochizuki was born in Shizuoka, Japan on 7 April 1907. His grandfather was the last descendent of a samurai family stripped of its rank during the Meiji Restoration.
Mochizuki’s grandfather was an instructor of swordsmanship. His father, a farmer, was also an expert in Kenjutsu. The young Mochizuki began learning Judo and Kendo aged only five years old.
In 1921 Mochizuki moved to Tokyo with his family. The family’s new home was situated opposite a Kendo dojo.
Master Takebe, a student of Judo founder Jigaro Kano, ran a dojo in Tokyo that had an excellent reputation. Mochizuki and other local kids used to play in the area behind Master Takebe’s dojo. One day, curious to see what was going on in the dojo he went inside. Fascinated by the training he witnessed, he returned every day to watch the training. This did not go unnoticed. The instructor eventually invited him to take part in the training sessions. He remained a member of the club for two years until he and his family moved away.
In 1924 Mochizuki resumed his Judo training at the Kendokan dojo of Toku Sambo, located close to his new home. Sambo was a famous judoka and kendoka of the time. Described as a powerful and scary teacher he was from a noble family and had practised martial arts from an early age.
By 1926 Mochizuki had gained his Judo 1st Dan, from the home of Japanese Judo, the Kodokan, after only six months of training. He soon came to the attention of Judo great, Kyuzo Mifune, who invited him to become his personal student and assistant instructor. Training with Mifune was intense. Mochizuki never missed a training session. On top of his normal training, he also took part in special winter and summer training sessions.
Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo and the head of the Kodokan, wanted to preserve the traditional martial arts of Japan. He set up a special section of the Kodokan dedicated to learning traditional martial arts. Mochizuki was chosen by Kano to learn a variety of arts to be added to that syllabus of the Kodokan. He studied Aikijutsu with Morihei Ueshiba; Katori Shinto Ryu with you with Yazemon Hayashi; Kendo with Hakudo Nakayama; and Shindo-muso Jujitsu with Takaji Shimizu.
In 1930 Ueishiba asked Kano if Mochizuki could train with him as his permanent assistant. Mochizuki started training with Ueshiba and the following year assisted him in teaching Aikijutsu to the Japanese military. However, he had to return home to Shizuoka because of illness.
Mochizuki founded his influential Yoseikan dojo in the latter part of 1931. Like Kano had done at the Kodokan, he gathered instructors from other martial arts to teach at his dojo. This included Masaji Yamaguchi, a student of Kenwa Mabuni, who taught Mabuni’s version of Shito-ryu Karate. Mokokatsu Inoue was another teacher he taught Ryukyu Kobujutsu. To earn a black belt from the Yoseikan one had to be proficient in three martial arts and have knowledge of many others.
In 1933 Mochizuki was awarded the Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu Okuden Inka. This was a set of scrolls containing the secret techniques of Daito Ryu. This was an acknowledgement that he was an excepted master of the system. Two years later he achieved his 5th Dan in Judo.
Hiroo Mochizuki was born in 1936. When he was old enough he started studying Aikido, Judo, Karate and Kubodo and Motokatsu Inoue at the Yoseikan.
In the early part of the 20th century, Japan became very imperialistic. During the 1930s Japan began extending its territory into China. The puppet state of Manchukuo was set up in Mongolia and Manchuria. In 1938 Mochizuki became the director of the School for Mongols in Paou-to. Two years later he became the Under-Prefect for the Sei-Sui-Ga region. He used his spare time to learn some Chinese martial arts.
In 1945 Mochizuki returned to Japan following Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II. The country lay in ruins. Martial arts development and practice had all but stopped, as attempts began to rebuild the country.
Mochizuki began re-organising the Yoseikan dojo in 1950. It was around this time that Frenchmen Jim Alchiek and Claude Urvois arrived as students at the Yoseikan. They would go on to become pioneers of Aikido and Karate in Europe. They returned to France several years later and alongside Henri Plee founded the French Federation of Karate.
In 1951 Mochizuki was asked to be part of a Japanese cultural delegation UNESCO in Geneva, Switzerland. However, he was unable to take part in the actual visit due to the ship he was travelling on arriving late. The trip was not a complete waste, however. He gave a number of martial arts demonstrations in Switzerland, France and Tunisia before returning back to Japan. These demonstrations laid the foundations for an interest in the martial arts taught at the Yoseikan dojo.
Aged 49 years old, Mochizuki achieved his 5th Dans in Kendo and Jodo, in 1956. Three years later he achieved his 7th Dan in Judo. In July of 1956, he sent his son Hiroo to conduct a number of courses in France. Between 15-30 July Hiroo Mochizuki taught courses on Yosikan Karate in Toulon and Coullioure.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Mochizuki continued training and running his Yoseikan dojo. In 1977 he was awarded his 8th Dan in Judo. Two years later he was awarded his 10th Dan in Aikido. He received his grade from a member of the Japanese Royal Family.
In 1984 two American karate-ka visiting the Yoseikan dojo met Mochizuki, who was approaching his 80th birthday. They described him as “possibly the toughest old gentleman we met in our Odyssey through the martial world of Japan”.
In his later years, Mochizuki moved to France to be with his son Hiroo and his family. Minoru Mochizuki died on 30 May 2003 in Aix-en-Provence, France aged 96 years.
Mochizuki’s Yoseikan dojo had a very big influence on the development of European martial arts. Pioneers such as Jim Alchieck and Claude Urvois brought back what they had learnt at the Yoseikan and taught it to eager European students. Instructors such as his son Hiroo and Tetsuji Murakami spread their version of Shotokan Karate across Europe and North Africa. Without Mochizuki and his influential Yoseikan School, there is no telling what direction early European Karate would have taken.