Essays by Patrick Auge Sensei Shihan - Black Belt Essays - Other Essays

Essay Submitted To Patrick Augé Sensei, 8th Dan, Shihan
August 2011
By Rheaume Laliberté Yoseikan Aikido 4th Dan

This is a brief look at my budo journey since the last essay for a previous exam. I am, essentially, making a foray into the past.

I first got involved in martial arts in September 1967 in Rouyn-Noranda, under the guidance of my judo teacher, Gaby Pinto Sensei.

Pinto Sensei was a very good teacher. He taught us competitive judo. Until June 1970, I had the opportunity to learn a martial art where the values of respect and honour are both taught and practised.

Meeting Patrick Augé Sensei, an aikido teacher at Collège de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, in 1978 had a truly profound effect on my life. With his wife, Sugiyama Sensei, Augé Sensei taught us to approach life’s challenges with focus on the solution, not the problem. As I sit here writing, I realize I have been their student for 32 years now.

My journey led me to open a school in Gatineau in the province of Quebec, Canada, in September 2000.

Why open a school? Because that is where circumstances led me at the time. I felt I had a responsibility after gaining so much from my practice of budo; I had to do something to pass on to my future students a part of what I had received from my teachers.

This philosophy, at first foreign to me, became clearer as I began practising budo regularly. The benefits it has brought to my life are countless. Although understanding should come from experience, not words, I will do my best to explain the effect it has had on my life, on my journey.

First is personal discipline. Before taking up martial arts, I was not one for discipline. That changed by force of circumstance because my desire to continue to train hard helped me strengthen my will. I had to arrange my schedule around my training times and had to keep to what I had initially decided. I could not overindulge because I had to be at my best for training. Thus I stopped smoking and started paying more attention to my nutrition among other things.

In terms of confidence, teaching, passing on to my students as faithfully as possible what my teachers had taught me, made me realize that we should never be too confident. We must always question ourselves and ask: “am I doing the right thing?” in this and that situation, “should I have done this differently?” There is never a definite answer; nothing is ever set in stone. We must always keep seeking and learning.

As far as my perception of budo is concerned, over the years I have come to this: my initial impression was that the techniques were the be all and end all of budo. Little by little, the effect that this life was having on mine outside the dojo led me to make choices based on my priorities. I realized that my priorities had a lot more to do with continuing to benefit from the effects this discipline was having on my life in general. I did not want to be without it. My commitment to support my teachers became one of recognition of their genuineness, their sincere teachings, their commitment and their loyalty to the mission of their teacher, Master Minoru Mochizuki.

Some of my friends and family wonder why I continue this life, why I have been flying to Los Angeles in March for teaching camps for the past 12 years, why I have been attending the yoseicamp in August for 14 years, why I have been participating in the five yearly clinics that Augé Sensei gives in Canada and why, for the past few years, I have been participating in Shelby’s NC clinics. I will try to explain. I realize that those who have been practising for less than ten years have not experienced their commitment in the same way. There are things I have come to understand after more than 20 years of practice, and I know that my understanding will continue to grow.

Just like in an airplane, we must first put on our own oxygen mask before helping someone else, we must seize every opportunity that presents itself to us in order to grow. If I want to influence people in the ways of budo, through respect for my students and those who will follow, I have to be close to the source. For me, this source is Augé Sensei as well as his wife, Sugiyama Sensei.

Augé Sensei did not take the easy way. He left a privileged upbringing and went to live with Master Mochizuki for seven years. Having had the chance to go to Shizuoka three times for two-week stays, I not only got a glimpse of the kind of life he had chosen, but I also gained a better understanding of how seriously he took his preparation for what was to follow. My perception of the practice changed significantly—for the better—during these trips.

Sugiyama Sensei too does not mince words when speaking to a student. She says what needs to be said frankly, without reserve, for the student’s good. Of course, this is not always “marketing” as they say in Quebec, but if as teachers we only say things for “marketing” or simply say what the students want to hear, we miss the point of the teachings of budo and deprive our students of the wealth of knowledge we received. Through these experiences, Sugiyama Sensei serves as an example for what we should do as teachers when we say what we think should be taught to a particular student. This genuineness of her actions allows us to correct what needs to be corrected, not falling victim to our ego. This way, we pursue our vision and continue to advance in our mission. Over time, little by little, day by day, I have discovered the positive effect of these teachings, and that is why I believe that my place is here, in the continuing study of budo. In some ways, it has taken me some time to understand the full value of what Sensei had learned from the Master in the seven years he spent with him and the 22 years that followed, throughout which he spent his summers in Japan with the Master and the other Shihans.

To explain to those who do not understand, when I train physically during sessions and camps, I am outside my comfort zone. I also train mentally. I have to reset my sights. Like everyone there, I no longer do things automatically. I have to be there in body and mind so that I can absorb all that we are taught throughout this intensive week. This way, we can give our students a chance, who in our minds have the potential to one day be ready to continue the Master’s mission. Quality standards are not lowered, and those who are called upon to teach have the responsibility to explain it to their students and guide them in the right direction. In other words, they must understand that the greatest service they can do for their students is to give them the opportunity to face the challenges they encounter on their budo journey and, by extension, in life. They must understand that, when it comes down to survival or the battlefield, no one will be there to carry their load. They will have to rise up with courage. And, since we become good at what we practice, we become good at dealing with our obligations without taking the easy way out.

As teachers, we have a great responsibility. We must ensure that those who come after us develop the necessary qualities by preparing the right way. These qualities are humility, genuineness, honour, respect for those who have shown us the way and their predecessors, and respect for the art we practice and for those of our students, who are ready to do what needs to be done. We have to watch ourselves as much as possible because our mistakes will have repercussions on the generations that come after us. A lot of students are and will be teachable for their entire lives, but that is not the case for everyone.

As a teacher, I have a chance to observe students, their progress, their journeys, their problems, their failures and their successes. Based on my understanding, I have observed a few things.

First, martial arts are taught to help students become better people. Students come to practice with personal baggage and strong opinions that change with time and regular practice. This phenomenon is part of the learning process. However, not everyone accepts this change in their perception. For reasons more or less unknown, some play along and, after some time, have to face themselves and understand that they must make a choice because they cannot hide their true nature. They must leave because they did not develop the qualities they need in order to pass on anything but techniques. They find themselves limited and, realizing they cannot teach their students how to achieve quality standards, they want to lower these standards to give – first themselves and then their students -- the illusion that they are reaching the same levels as those who do what is required of them without taking shortcuts. They know—sometimes they do not know because they are looking through the distorted lenses of their emotions or their self-indulgence—that they will never be able to teach what they have accepted on the surface but refused deeper within themselves.

They see what needs to be done to succeed as an insurmountable wall. They realize that perhaps to learn they must humbly accept that they do not know. For some, this exercise is very difficult, if not impossible.

This wall can and, in some cases, does become the main obstacle to a student’s continuation on the budo path. This is mainly why not everyone achieves the levels they could or should attain. Some, for reasons external to them, shut down to being taught due to a lack of understanding, a refusal to see things as they are, and/or refuse to change the bad habits on which they have become dependent.

We can make an analogy between the technical and mental practice of budo and life’s situations. What we practise on the mat, whether or not we are aware of it, we also practise in our daily life.

I have noticed a difference between how we project ourselves and how others see us. Similarly, there is a difference between the technical positions we assume on the mat and the actual positions we take when we execute a technique. Just as we have to recognize unnecessary steps and eliminate them from a technique, we also have to recognize the unnecessary or needless suffering we experience in life.

There is also a difference between what we project of ourselves and what we think we project. We realize this by hearing people address us in a way we feel is inappropriate, not knowing that we attract this type of problem. When we practise budo, technically we believe we are doing well, that we have the right position. We then see, sometimes by seeing a photo of ourselves or simply by looking in the dojo mirror, that we do not have the position we thought we had. Since human beings are self-indulgent, they sometimes lack objectivity and do not see themselves as they are, but as they wish to be. Aware of this, we are lucky to have teachers who tell us the honest truth for our greater good. What would we do if we did not have our teacher to correct us? Does our ego prevent us from accepting what our teacher teaches us, by making us realize that we are not doing what we think we are doing, but rather something completely different?

In terms of balance, those who come to martial arts understand the importance of being balanced and working to achieve this balance.

I would think that human beings are born balanced and that external forces throw them off. They have to constantly keep in check to stay balanced. If they let their guard down, they become unbalanced and, if they make decisions in this state, there is a risk they will do something they will regret for a very long time. However, if they know they are off balance, they will react instinctively to reposition and will not make important decisions during this process; they will wait until their balance has returned and will make better decisions then.

In a broader sense, the solar system is balanced. It is supported by the gravitation of other planets. If the Earth comes closer to the sun, the temperature will rise and, before people get used to it, they will become unbalanced. With the Earth itself off balance, natural disasters will occur as a result.

We are the same way when there is external pressure on us that breaks our inner harmony; we have to train to stay in balance in spite of the external forces working against it.

I learned a lot from my teachers, Augé Sensei and Sugiyama Sensei. There are a few words that have stayed with me more than others, such as: We become good at what we practise. Success is proportional to effort. Be yourself. Be true. Quitting is not an option. We are the sum of our thoughts. We become what we think. Be positive, say “While I remember it” and not “before I forget.” Courage means saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said, and doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Flexibility is being able to do an “irimi senkai” physically and mentally when the situation calls for it. The most humble reach the highest heights. Those less skilled at the beginning develop the capacity to work hard to attain the same level as those more skilled. The danger facing the exceptionally gifted is that they have not had enough hardship in their life. Another meaningful expression: Never put yourself down. Value life and honour it.

I end by borrowing from Jean Gabin: [translation] “…with 60 years already gone by, I now know that we never know.”

Signed at Gatineau, on August 4, 2011.

Rheaume Laliberté