Whilst Jon Marshall Shihan was in Shizuoka Japan in October 2017, he was lucky enough to conduct a rare interview with Washizu Terumi Sensei, the founder of the Gyokushin ryu style of Aikido. The interview lends insights into Washizu Terumi Sensei’s study of Aikido, how Gyokushin ryu came to be, and his vision for its future.
Washizu Sensei, can you tell me a little about how you came to study Aikido with Mochizuki Minoru Sensei?
Before studying Aikido at the age of 18, I commenced studying Judo at 15 years of age. I was fanatical about the practice of SHOGi (Japanese chess), so much so that my health deteriorated significantly when I was a teenager and I became weak and somewhat fragile.
My hometown is Shizuoka (about 1 hr by bullet train from Tokyo) and there was a famous Budo teacher by the name of Mochizuki Minoru, the founder of YOSEIKAN BUDO. I heard about this school and decided to dedicate myself to becoming strong and follow in his footsteps to be a Budo teacher.
Can you tell me more about Mochizuki Sensei’s training history?
Mochizuki Sensei’s life was devoted to the study of Budo. His teachers reads as a who is who of modern Japanese Martial arts. As a disciple of Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo, he was sent by Kano to the dojo of Morihei Ueshiba to learn the precessor of what became modern Aikido, Daito ryu Aikijujitsu. The training was severe, combat orientated and didn’t resemble modern Aikido at all. The Ueshiba dojo was known as Jigoku dojo or hell dojo.
In addition, one of his major influences and teachers was Kyuzo Mifune, 10th dan.
He also studied Karate under the founder of Shotokan and the man credited with bringing Karate from Okinawa to mainland Japan. In addition to empty hand arts, he also studied Katori Shinto ryu Kenjutsu as well as a variety of Okinawan kobudo.
His main goal was to create a system of Budo that utilised important fundamental concepts and principles and fuse them into one system, hence the name of his style, Yoseikan Budo.
What are the origins of the Gyokushin ryu? Others schools also claim to teach the techniques of this ryu. How legitimate are they?
The Gyokushin ryu was a school of Jujutsu that was established over 300 years ago. We tried to conduct research into it but there are no living survivors and no one authorised to teach it as there was no successor after Oshima Sanjuro Soke, the last known headmaster. The reason Mochizuki Sensei heard about it was that the dojo was near his sister’s house and he literally stumbled upon it. Oshima Sensei had no one to succeed him and asked Sensei to keep training in earnest and preserve the teachings of the ryu. Unfortunately Mochizuki Sensei was more interested in his Judo training and to his regret, ceased training under Oshima Sensei.
What is the meaning of the Gyokushin ryu and why did you select this name for your style of Aikido?
One of the main characteristics of the Yoseikan and Mochizuki Sensei’s technique are Sutemi waza. Sutemi waza is sometimes incorrectly thought of a sacrificing your position and falling to the ground to affect a throw. While it looks like this on the surface, the Chinese characters translate as “Spherical heart” or in Japanese we say “Tama no Kokoro” or the heart/mind of a ball. A ball rolls freely and naturally when pushed from any side. Once you can instill this concept mentally, nothing will disturb you. You will respond freely and naturally. This is the ultimate goal in all Martial arts.
The idea when doing Sutemi waza is the same, we aim to break our partner’s balance by maintaining our own and throwing our partner with little effort, leverage and gravity!
I founded the Gyokushin ryu style of Aikido to continue the teachings of Mochizuki Sensei and to pass these techniques on to the next generation.
Mochizuki Sensei was a very unusual teacher for a Japanese! Most schools have a rigid style of teaching. You never question the teacher and obey them 100%. Mochizuki Sensei encouraged all his students to always question him and what we were being taught. Effectiveness was of the utmost importance and the training was hard and strict in this regard.
His method of teaching was also unique. He encouraged all of us to find our own Budo and not slavishly copy what others were doing, in other words find your own truth. This is also the uniqueness of the Gyokushin ryu. We don’t have a set way of doing techniques and everyone’s way of learning them and performing them depends on how the student interprets them.
Obviously in the early stages a beginner knows nothing so the techniques are taught in a way that is easy to understand. As they advance, they begin to make their own techniques and concepts and eventually they are free to create their own movements. In Japanese we call this method of learning SHU HA RI
Sensei, Can you expand on the concepts of SHU HA RI for those unfamiliar with these concepts?
Certainly, SHU means to learn or obey. At this stage, the student will base his learning and observations on what the teacher and the senior students are doing. There is very little room for experimentation at this stage. The students is training hard to assimilate these unfamiliar movements into his very being and must adhere strictly to the basics.
HA means to break or move away. At this stage, the student has been training for a long period of time and is now experimenting and refining the techniques until they have become part of them. With constant repetition, they begin to bring life and meaning to the technique and their interpretation of the technique is of the utmost importance.
RI means to leave or depart. At this stage the student has made the technique their own and has become an integral part of them. It is at this time that the student typically leaves the teacher and commences his own school or style if they are so inclined.
Mochizuki Sensei was also quite different from most Budo teachers as he understood that there is a time that the seniors should move on to continue this evolution in their own training and this means having their own dojo or organisations. Most teachers don’t want their seniors to leave but this is a selfish desire. I myself am known as a “Sensei killer” (laughs) and didn’t listen to my Sensei in this regard! My goal was to be by his side and learn as much as I could, until his last breath!
What makes Gyokushin ryu Aikido different from other styles of Aikido?
I would say there are more similarities than differences. The techniques are similar, the way of learning and applying may be different. Again, it depends on the student’s interpretation. One main difference would be the focus of our school on Sutemi waza or sacrifice throws. These are a large part of our syllabus and don’t seem to be practised or should I say focused on in most schools.
We also practice Newaza or ground techniques which Mochizuki Sensei believed were very important. Most of his throws would end up on the ground with a submission. These are part of the Sutemi waza and important that students have a good understanding of how to move naturally on the ground Mochizuki Sensei was heavily influence by Mifune Sensei in this regard and considered groundwork to be essential for all Aikido practitioners.
What are your goals for the Gyokushin ryu for the future?
I am always surprised that when I travel abroad, how popular Martial arts are and how seriously people abroad take them. In Japan, sadly this is no longer the case as many people have little interest for traditional arts nowadays. Mochizuki Sensei’s Budo has spread far and wide all over the world and when he was alive he told me many times I must go overseas and teach. I didn’t start doing this till I was 67 years of age but now I am travelling abroad about twice a year. I am very pleased and honoured people want to learn from me and will continue to help and continue my teachers legacy as long as the body is willing and able to!
Thank you for your time Sensei!