“I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51!”
Back in April 1979, I met a slight old man who had suffered a stroke and spoke in a halting, somewhat slurred voice. I am embarrassed to say that I have only a vague recollection of the circumstances of my introduction to the old gentleman. I think I was told that he was an important person in the early history of aikido. I didn’t know anything about him really when I went to visit him at his home in Nakano Ward in Tokyo. The man’s name was Takuma Hisa.
I must say he was a charming person, and he kept attempting to speak to me in English. I appreciated this because my Japanese was not very strong at that time, but it made the conversation tediously slow. Little by little, I was able to piece together that he had been a student of Morihei Ueshiba first, and then Sokaku Takeda, at the Asahi News dojo in Osaka. Having learned this, I began to sense that perhaps this man might have played some important role in the early evolution of aikido. Toward the end of our conversation, he began to sing me a song. I remember the introductory words very well: “You came, you came, you really came…” He really like me, but I don’t exactly know why because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to ask very intelligent questions at this early stage of my research. Perhaps it was simply the fact that I was a foreigner, a journalist of sorts, and had shown interest in an aspect of his younger years that was very important to him at this final stage of his life.
After our first meaning, he began to write me regularly in broken English. He sent me the newsletters that he was publishing, and one of them mentioned my name and the fact that I had visited him at his home. Soon after this, something dramatic happened.
In our conversation, Hisa Sensei mentioned an old film of Morihei Ueshiba that was shot before the war. I knew of the existence of this film and desperately wanted to see it. A friend of mine did some research and located a film from the prewar period that might possibly be the footage I was looking for. I went to a film archive facility in Tokyo where a special viewing had been arranged for me. As the projectionist prepared the film, I became very nervous in anticipation. Then the first image flashed on the screen with the title “Budo.” I felt my heart sink because there was no mention of anything related to “Aiki”. Resigned, I thought that, still it would be interesting to see this prewar “talkie” film because it might contain footage of some important martial artist. Then it happened.
I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51! I immediately felt tears well up in my eyes, which was very embarrassing. Fortunately, the room was dark and the fellow showing the film did not notice anything.
Then another man, much larger and very powerful looking appeared on the screen. He was obviously the leader of the group. He sat down in seiza and opened a scroll and began reading in a loud voice. This was Takuma Hisa, the little old disabled man I had met only a few weeks before!
I was an emotional wreck but so very happy at that moment. And then the action started! My God, Morihei put on a fantastic display. Strong, but elegant technique, applied with a palpable, dynamic energy. And the finale was breathtaking!
In any event, I called Hisa Sensei and told him about my discovery. He was overjoyed because he had never seen this film made way back in 1935. 44 years had elapsed! I really felt that I had to arrange a showing for him. So I contacted Shigemi Yonekawa — the man who is Morihei Ueshiba’s uke in the Noma Dojo photos — whom I had recently interviewed and who appears prominently in the 1935 film. We set up a date to travel to Hisa Sensei’s home for the private showing. Yonekawa Sensei, a very reserved man by nature, was obviously most pleased.
Fortunately, I had lugged over to Japan a heavy old 16mm movie projector when I moved there in 1977. Armed with my projector, I met Yonekawa Sensei at Tsuchiura Station on the Joban Line and we rode the train down to Tokyo, and then out to Nakano to Hisa Sensei’s house. Neither Hisa nor Yonekawa had seen each other since before the war. I was so happy to see the two of them united after so many years. I could kick myself now for not taking photos and recording the conversation, but I was young and green as a researcher, and had my hands full as the projectionist.
I finally got everything to work including the sound, and the film started. Hisa Sensei immediately started to cry tears of joy! I became emotional too, but once again, the darkened room came to my rescue. Sensei started giving a commentary on the film in a slow, but animated voice. It was altogether an unforgettable moment, and one of the highlights of my research career in Japan.
After the film showing, the steady stream of letters and documents from Hisa Sensei continued. Then one day a package showed up at my door. It contained four boxes of microfilm. I opened the boxes and — not having access to a microfilm viewer — pulled out a strip and held it up to the light. The package was from Hisa Sensei and the microfilm contained image after image of jujutsu techniques. I could tell that neither Morihei nor Hisa were in the photos, and I really had no basis to evaluate what these photos were or their importance.
Much later, I Iearned that Hisa Sensei had sent me the entire “Soden” collection of the Takumakai, the Daito-ryu organization set up around him after the war. There are over a thousand images documenting the techniques taught by both Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda at the Asahi News dojo over a period of six years from 1933-1939. A true treasure whose significance I was only able to appreciate many years later.
I saw Hisa Sensei only one time after that at the 1980 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration. He passed away in October of the same year. Only later after researching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and Sokaku Takeda was I able to appreciate Takuma Hisa Sensei’s important place in aikido history.
Forgive the rather lengthy introduction to today’s historical photo. Here you see the dynamic Takuma Hisa executing a Daito-ryu projection technique sometime in the late 1930s in Osaka. The imprint of Morihei’s instruction is readily apparent in this beautiful photo.
Scans of postcards received from Takuma Hisa Sensei