The martial arts are more than a defensive mechanism for you, aren’t they?
Well said! It all began when I was 13, at a Taekwondo dojo. I just wasn’t so taken with its technical limitations and competition rules. I actually quit two years later. But soon, I discovered Yoseikan Budo in 1995, when I was 15.
And how did that work out for you?
I think it was perfect. It had what I wanted, plus it boasted a creative environment – so it had what I needed. My first teacher had a mixed background in karate and judo. Most students also came from a melting pot of martial arts backgrounds, like boxing, capoeira, jujitsu, and aikido.
Many schools of martial arts tell you to leave experiences at the door. Not this one. There, we integrated it all! Efficiency was the one aspect scrutinised, and the only restrictions placed were on injury-inducing moves. I could apply my Taekwondo skills, and build on them with relatively novel skills from boxing, and grappling.
What’s most memorable, is the fun I had while doing it!
But aside from fun, did it have a deeper meaning?
Yes and No.
Yoseikan Budo, to me, is three simple things;
A martial art
That’s it, really. I can tell what it isn’t.
OK, then tell us what it isn’t’.
It’s not a simple transaction of learning a combat sport. You’re not there for some take-home tricks & acrobatics. You’re there to develop a certain frame of mind. It’s not easy to explain.
Really, it’s a way of thinking. Imagine a school of the body. What can you learn about yourself, where in the body are you efficient and confident? Where can you improve it? This is what you learn in Yoseikan Budo. That’s where it all starts, awareness. Once you develop your footing and preparation, that’s when you learn the moves.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere…
Yes, and an obvious one. If you learn the techniques without the mindset before – then your techniques will be useless.
This sounds like a modern-old-fashioned martial art.
It’s adaptable and constantly evolves to encourage cross-training and new skills. Some techniques remain the same for a millennium– because they work. How you choose to make them work, is up to you.
The martial art is a constantly evolving creation. It’s as if training is like a process in a laboratory, constantly refining and retooling for the modern world.
Unlike traditional arts, which remain static, Yoseikan Budo is always undergoing modification. It also adds new improvements, and rids itself of less-useful aspects.
Is there a master?
A man by the name of Hiroo Mochizuki, based in France. Whenever I’m in Europe, I make sure to pay a visit to a seminar held by him, or even with his sons Mitchi and Kyoshi. He's 85 now, but his spirit of observation, innovation, and adaptation is omnipresent!
What kind of innovations and adaptations are applied to Yoseikan Budo, for example?
Yoseikan Budo as we practice it today can be summarized like this:
Personalization and Development by several world-wide experts
Body is used the same way for a strike as for a throw, etc.. so every discipline becomes complementary of the other
Improved efficiency for every movement in any direction
Core of our pedagogy: opposed to other sportive and martial disciplines, this body form is not reserved to an elite. Such mastery of body is taught from day one.
Does this translate well to children?
Children don’t learn to induce harm. Technicians of the World Yoseikan Federation (WYF), with educational, physical-education, and psychology backgrounds have developed this rigorously – to attain 3 goals.
Optimal physical development
Body coordination, reflexes, agility
Cooperation with others
Teamwork, role-playing, leadership
Respect, self-control, analysis
So, in truth, it’s geared just for them. They won’t learn dangerous martial techniques, rather the foundation skills. Those acquired skills will naturally complement their improvement as they progress into the adult class.
We understand it combines many techniques. But in effect, does multidisciplinary training fare better than a specialisation?
Here’s where I get a bit philosophical. Flexibility and adaptation are infinitely more valuable than rigidity, and a one-dimensional vision. That’s true beyond martial arts. Think of life, health, and self-defence!
So ‘diverse’ skills are better?
In a big way! Striking arts like kickboxing use the extensor muscles, whereas grappling relies on muscular traction. Training both ways leads to a more balanced physical condition. We also encourage train both guards symmetrically, to reduce left or right-side-specific problems due to overcompensation. Balance yourself out!
A yin-yang of sorts?
Martial arts and combat sports are like tools or different colours in a vast palette. I think specialisation is great. That’s until you face a reckoning situation for your skills. That’s when a well-rounded individual will overcome a challenge. Specialised people tend to avoid leaving their comfort zone – with a specific fighting distance, full contact, striking, grappling.
Well-rounded people search for discomfort and confront it!
There is a lot of chaos in life though, what’s the secret?
I think that just like in life, there are people who try to get everything under control. Others meanwhile embrace change. But like everything, either control or flexibility needs commitment.
So, what’s more effective - combat sports or traditional arts - in daily life?
It might contradict my entire testimony, but honestly speaking, full-contact training methods of combat sports are usually far superior to those used in many traditional arts.
I always ask myself these 3 things:
Does it work against a resisting and trained opponent?
Does it work under pressure?
Does it work with full contact work?
And how much does it adhere to these questions?
There is a problem in traditional arts, and the martial world in-general.
It’s the lack of questioning, and false interpretation of Bunkai, the analysis and extracting fighting techniques and applications for real life, due to a lack of sparring.
And it isn’t about the art, but the people. That’s how nowadays, a combat sport like boxing or Olympic wrestling’s far more effective than a martial art for self-defence. A martial art trained properly, including full-contact sparring will serve its original purpose. Otherwise, it’s just for show and exhibition.
But, the main goal of professional sports competitions or street fights is winning. It has nothing to do with health. In Yoseikan Budo, health comes first. Efficiency is second. For us, joining tournaments and full-contact work is an effective tool to reach health and efficiency, not the other way around.
We’ve all heard of MMA – does it share some things in common with Yoseikan Budo?
MMA is young. It started with Vale Tudo and catch-wrestling, with no-holds-barred matches before it went mainstream with the first UFC tournaments in the 1990s. It’s an exciting sport, with a global fanbase. Nowadays, the training methods are very efficient for its purpose. Although many people still believe so, it’s not just the act of training in different things and putting it all together, as it was in its beginnings. Now, for being good at MMA, you have to train in MMA. In that regard, it’s similar to the sportive development of Yoseikan Budo, without the weapons part. And without the martial part, of course.
But does Yoseikan Budo enjoy the same competitive fanfare as MMA?
Yoseikan Budo started experimenting with cross-training as early as 1931, when Master Minoru Mochizuki opened his first dojo in Shizuoka, Japan. There were different departments and he encouraged his students to join as many classes as possible, from competitive old school Judo to Karate and traditional arts like Aikijujutsu and Katori Shinto Ryu Kobudo, in order to fully understand the real concept of Japanese Budo, the way of the Samurai Warrior.
Certainly, it’s more than recreational sports or glittery trophies.
Master Minoru was one of the main competitive judokas at the Kodokan and he also was the first of his native Japan to teach Aikido in Europe, after arriving in France in 1951. While he stayed there, he sparred with Savate - French kickboxing, English boxing, fencing, and wrestling champions, who gave him more than his fair share of trouble.
So it was a ‘wake up’ moment for him?
A sobering one for that matter. It completely changed his vision of what he was teaching, and after returning to his Dojo in Japan, he started the work of integrating all his knowledge of different martial arts into one system of Sogo Budo, or Total Budo. But faced difficulties in integrating, for example, karate strikes and judo throws. The body form and stances were too different.
Right, and his son then carried on the mantle…
Exactly, it wasn’t until his son Hiroo moved to France in the 60s and continued his legacy; and due to his medical studies, biomechanical knowledge and experimenting with western combat systems and pedagogy that he was able to integrate everything into the Yoseikan method during the 1970s.
So, going back to MMA, they share a fundamental difference in thinking.
There are many Yoseikan Budo practitioners from around the world who joined MMA tournaments and other competitions with good results, including myself. Anyway, the main goal when training Yoseikan Budo is not winning MMA fights, although it’s possible.
I’d like to dive a little into your experience in combat sports now.
Before earning my 1st Dan in Yoseikan Budo, I joined many light-contact tournaments when I was a teenager. They were mostly opens and striking multi-style tournaments. It wasn’t until I started training kickboxing and Muay Thai with a 5-time Kickboxing and Muay Thai world champion in Spain that I competed in amateur full-contact matches. At that time, I was training 6 days a week in Yoseikan Budo, Kick Boxing/Thai Boxing/English boxing, Aikijujitsu and a bit of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The pure striking rules did bore me a little, however. Although Thai boxing has a form of grappling and allows for the use of elbows and knees, it has many limitations too. Chinese Sanda seems more interesting and open for throws. Still, all are fantastic sports and are of course, very fun.
But I was used to cross-training since I started training Yoseikan Budo long ago, so all those styles seemed overly-specific forme.
Did that form conflict with your coach?
My kickboxing coach was not too happy that I was training in something else. He said I could be a much better kickboxer if I stayed with him. But at the same time, before encouraging me to join more amateur matches, he told me that at 26 years old, I should not expect to reach much on a professional level at that age.
So you were discouraged from competing?
No, certainly not, but I was told prior to competing under the gym’s banner, that I should not expect to reach much on a professional level at my age. Indeed, I found the competitive life a bit short and limited.
At the same time, I was surprised to see that many MMA fighters being 35 or 40 years old were still competing. Of course, it’s hard to master several skills during your 20’s. So I always found MMA a bit more interesting than kickboxing or judo tournaments. It was a paradox that MMA was so young as a sport, but at the same time required more mature fighters.
But in spite of that, how did it go?
My first professional fight under MMA rules was in Taiwan. I was teaching Yoseikan in Taipei and we were approached by some promoters who were looking for fighters, both locals and foreigners. I thought “why not? If we do well, this can be a good promotion for our gym”
That was 2008. MMA was still an early sport and almost unknown in Taiwan. Only a previous generation of fighters joined the first-ever MMA tournament on the island, which was more like early style vs style matches. People were still testing what worked most and how within the cage. Between 2008 and 2009, I joined 4 fights under professional rules against local champions.
My first fight was against a 7 times judo champion. He put me in a lot of trouble since his grappling skills were far superior to mine. On the other hand, I overcame those via striking. The rules were quite undefined, with no points system. That fight ended in a draw.
After that self-revealing first match, I started focusing on improving my grappling skills and trained in some wrestling, while I put all my casual gi and no-gi BJJ skills together with sensei Carlos Toyota, a direct student of Osvaldo Alvez, who gave me a blue belt in 2013.
As for my other MMA fights, I eventually travelled to Thailand and Japan for training with different masters and experienced fighters.
So this travel took considerable time from your schedule?
Actually, yes. The competitive scene became quite demanding due to full-time training schedules, plus the expenses from receiving professional coaching. There were also slim possibilities of making a decent living, which further stifled my interest. So I stopped accepting offers for fighting in professional MMA tournaments.
I eventually continued joining local Muay Thai and BJJ tournaments just for kicks. Well, that and teaching Yoseikan Budo in Taiwan, among other jobs.
But is that still the situation, or have things changed?
It’s moved up. Remember, that was back way before the debut of big MMA leagues that dominate Asia today. But that’s another story. I do think that the level of MMA fighters in Asia is quite high now. There are also many good fighters.
It has become commonplace almost everywhere. What about in Shanghai?
To my surprise, there are many gyms here in Shanghai teaching commercial boxing. Although I have noticed that many don’t necessarily train fighters, as they would rather hire world champions. This is where I make a huge difference. Whilst there is nothing wrong with it – I focus on a different experience. What some try to do, is make a beginner sweat and lose weight, teaching the basic techniques, albeit under a veteran fighter’s wing. It’s another world.
So, some places will go for ‘this or that’ famous boxing coach… and then hire another Jujitsu coach. They call their place an MMA gym, due to having different teachers coaching different things. In one of those gyms, I asked the owner why they call it an MMA gym, when they don’t teach a single MMA class. Long story short - this owner and other people sincerely asked me who would be interested in learning a comprehensive method, since it sounds complicated to do. Again, I’m not one to judge.
So I want to clarify that somehow through my answers of your questions. It’s all about what I said about people needing limits and corners in order to feel comfortable. Other people need open fields to fully express themselves. I find it hard to explain such things to many people, cause now boxing is popular due to a few easy trends, and the word MMA is used by gym owners to attract customers, but nobody knows or cares what they really teach.
Once again, it’s best to patiently learn a mindset. No amount of money will help you to suddenly make the best gym – or the greatest fighter, for that matter.
But to be a good, or ‘complete’ martial artist– is competition necessary?
But becoming a complete martial artist won’t help you to become a world champion. A good competitor needs talent, hard work, drive, a little ego, and a lot of ambition. If that’s your game, I recommend focusing on those. For me, competitive life was just a means of learning more about myself. I wasn’t too interested in proving anything to anyone but myself or getting into the show business aspect.
And is there life after competitive sports?
As I learned, becoming a full-time successful competitor is a relatively short chapter of life. Of course, you can always practice combat sports for recreational purposes or for cardio.
But training in martial arts lays a path for life and its evolving stages. As for the competitive and physical aspects –they make up just a few elements of it.
Is there a one-stop martial art, for every situation?
Unfortunately, I had some heavy experience in real fights, either due to helping a friend in trouble or through my role as a door manager and security.
My personal experience against multiple attackers is that English boxing (after a few years of previous bare hand and wrist conditioning) is one of the most reliable empty-handed tools you can use in the street. Kicking techniques and grappling are very risky against multiple attackers and street scenarios, as you need to look out for sucker punches, broken glass on concrete floors, and other objects. 1v1 duels are rare outside the cinema or club. Either way, I don’t recommend trying it!
Other martial arts are however highly-effective in their specific contexts. For example, instead of breaking the nose by elbowing an unruly client in the face, use Aikido and Jujutsu to cool the intoxicated customer at the night club. It’ll save your working place from losing its reputation, and a potential VIP customer.
But this extends to beyond the realm of dangerous jobs, right?
Of course, it’s giving you a series of tools and techniques. And while you can effectively resolve situations in multiple ways, extreme violence is not always the best choice. Actually, several years in training martial arts are not needed for submitting an opponent – as a gun can do a much better job. Training in martial arts mainly teaches you the self-control and capability to handle a situation successfully while inflicting minimal damage. In real life, it’s easier said than done.
So, a martial art, that deflects and discourages from fighting?
In fact, the roots of Aikijujutsu come from an ancient art called Oshikiuchi, used inside the Emperor’s palace in feudal Japan, where it was forbidden to use weapons or draw blood. It is from there that Yoseikan Budo refers to many of its old techniques from Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu for self-defense.
This form of Jujutsu was also extensively used by mercenary Samurai hired as security in tea houses and brothels in order to pacify trouble some wealthy clients or high-ranking officers without hurting them. Today’s Aikido looks similar, albeit with markedly different goals and intentions. That’s why nowadays many people see the arts derived from Aiki as ineffective.
But ultimately, you’re not suggesting weapons are the answer either, right?
Of course, weapons are always a huge advantage in such situations, but always need to consider the legal consequences. The best choice for resolving a fight for sure is to avoid fighting.
Sometimes fighting’s unavoidable though, like in your job as a night club bouncer?
Considerably. I mean, I’m not a huge guy, weighing at over 100kg – the typical gym junkie who stands in front of the door. That’s why some customers and even my boss, in the beginning, questioned my ability to perform my job. I was recommended by my grappling coach who quit the job due to family obligations.
So just how rough were the beginnings?
Initially, I would get provoked by different drunk people who thought they could ‘kick my ass’ easily. It wasn’t until I smoothly resolved my first problem with an aggressive client, who to my credit was much bigger than me, that earned the respect from my manager and regular customers.
After 4 years there, I decided to move to Shanghai. It was hard to quit this job as my boss didn’t want to find someone else! I trained a young and strong local guy before quitting. He took over my position, so they already had someone to protect the dancers, bartenders and decent customers from trouble makers.
Sounds like a happy ending there, but had things ever escalated?
I can proudly say that I only had to throw a single punch in my 4 years working there.
Most of the situations were resolved with a hint of psychology, negotiation, and only sometimes, the physical part, as I always chose to use control techniques from Yoseikan. Again, the aim was to overcome a resisting opponent by inflicting minimal damage. That sounds easy, but in practice, it isn’t.
Is there a method within Yoseikan Budo that works universally?
Not quite. There isn’t a technique that works with absolutely everyone. You need to be wise, anticipate, and analyse nonverbal clues like body language quickly. That how you prevent an escalation of a situation.
How can the training in traditional weapons like the Japanese sword and Chinese / Okinawan tools such as tonfa, sai, sticks be beneficial nowadays?
Apart from cultural enticement, weapons training can greatly improve your spatial skills. Police forces from many countries still use traditional weapons, with some slightly modified, like the tonfa for defensive and apprehension purposes. Also, many empty-handed techniques originally come from weapons, especially the sword and cane. Coordination is marginally more difficult using weapons. That is until it becomes a natural extension of your body. However, principles and footwork are the same as for empty-handed techniques. This is particularly true in Japanese martial arts. The sword is the soul but also the technical core of the Budoka.
Nonetheless to say that Yoseikan Budo also has a competitive form with foam sticks: it allows full-contact work, it’s safe and allows you to try some traditional techniques safely!
So in essence, it’s a step-by-step?
In Yoseikan Budo, the same biomechanical movements are used for throwing a punch, a kick, a throw or for manipulating a weapon. Every movement you learn is the foundation for the rest. You don’t need to step back: every step you make will help you advance during your journey.
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