Interview with Tokimune Takeda, Part 1 by Stanley Pranin

The following text is a compilation of several interviews conducted with Tokimune Takeda between 1985 and 1987 in Abashiri, Hokkaido and Tokyo. The third son and successor of Sokaku Takeda, Tokimune Takeda began training in the martial arts under his father in 1925. He completed the Hokkaido Police Officer Training Course in 1946, and in 1947, a police course in stick handling techniques. While a member of the police force, Tokimune received several awards for outstanding service in arresting criminals. He joined the Yamada Fishery Co., Ltd., in December 1951 and worked there until his retirement in 1976. Tokimune established the Daitokan dojo in Abashiri, Hokkaido in 1953, and organized the Daito-ryu techniques, incorporating into them elements of Ono-ha Itto-ryu to create his own Daito-ryu aikibudo. He received the Cultural Social Education Award from Abashiri City on November 3, 1987. Read the second part of the article here.

Now that the role of Daito-ryu in the development of aikido is better understood I think it likely that more aikido people will become interested in the history of the art. I would like to begin by asking you some questions about your father, Sokaku Takeda. Can it be said that he created the art of Daito-ryu?

Tokimune Takeda (1916-1993)

No, the art’s origins lie in an art called tegoi. There is a story about this art in the Kojiki. When the goddess Amaterasu Omikami went to her fellow god Takeminakata no Mikoto to order him to return her country to her, he and the god Takemikazuchi no Mikoto fought a match. This match was conducted using tegoi, which can be considered to be the origin of present-day sumo. In ancient times, sumo matches were held at shrine festivals. Emperor Seiwa created the two Imperial Guard corps of Ukon and Sakon, and made sumo into a martial art. Later, during the Kamakura period, sumo became the most popular martial art. Therefore, it can be said that Emperor Seiwa is the founder of Daito-ryu. When the youngest grandson of Emperor Seiwa, Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, went to Oshu in the northeastern district of Japan, he studied human anatomy through dissection, and this was the origin of Daito-ryu. He stayed at a place known as Daito, and called himself Saburo of Daito. This is the source of the name. Daito-ryu was then passed down through generations of the Takeda family, as we are also descendants of the Emperor Seiwa.

The record of this story is kept at the Ise Shrine. Although these documents are not shown to anyone except Shinto priests, I was permitted to see them since the Takeda family is descended from a family of priests. When I went there to check what my father had told me, I found these documents.

The name Soemon Takeda appears in the genealogy of the Takeda family you have shown us. I believe he was Sokaku’s grandfather?

That’s right. He was the father of Sokaku’s father Sokichi. At the time of the Aizu war, soldiers from all over the country came to attack the clan since it was considered to be an enemy of the Emperor. Thus, I think if someone hadn’t asked a temple to keep these documents, they would have been lost.

Would you give us some background on the Aizu clan?

The Aizu clan was originally responsible for guarding Kyoto. A group of samurai called the Shinsengumi was active just prior to the Meiji Restoration. The crest of the Shinsengumi was the same as the crest of the Aizu clan and they were descended in a direct line from Aizu clan members. It was a violent group that assassinated Imperial supporters belonging to the Satsuma and Tosa clans. They even killed top leaders. Because of the Shisengumi’s relationship to the Aizu clan, when the Satsuma and Tosa clans came into power they attacked and defeated the lord of the Aizu clan in the Boshin Civil War. Once the clan had been beaten, it was unable to recover. During that war, the Aizu were still using heated cannon balls while the Imperial army used imported cannons. The Aizu were no match for the Imperial forces. The Aizu clan, which was supposed to have been guarding the Emperor, had become the Emperor’s enemy. At one point, the lord of the Aizu clan was arrested and was about to be killed, although in fact he was not. The Aizu castle was put to the torch and completely destroyed. There are not many people who have records of the genealogy of the Aizu clan.

I’m sure your father must have told you many stories about his experiences as a boy.

Yes, he did. Once, during the time of the Aizu war when my father was nine years old, all of the adults from his household had fled to the mountains. Sokaku and his sister were left behind in the house because the adults believed that the children would be safe there. When the soldiers of the Imperial army came to the house, they grabbed a duck that Sokaku had been carefully tending and killed it. Seeing this, Sokaku shouted, “Imperial troops are thieves!” When the captain heard Sokaku, he came to him and explained that members of the Imperial army were not thieves, because they were all soldiers of the Emperor. But Sokaku continued to insist that they were thieves, and so the captain had to calm him down by giving him some money. I understand that some of the local people who witnessed this scene later masked their faces and came to the house to frighten Sokaku and steal the money he had received. In the old days, they used paper-covered lamp stands, and it was quite dark at night. After darkness fell, they broke into Sokaku’s house wearing their masks. But, Sokaku got angry and threw the rice bowl from which he was eating straight at one of the masks. I understand that the mask he hit broke in two. He really had a heroic temper, even at the age of nine.

I also heard that Sokaku used to walk some seven miles in the middle of the night to see the cannons firing. The old cannon balls were quite different from modern ones. They didn’t explode, but were heated, red balls of flame that could easily be seen in the dark. Every night Sokaku would make some rice balls and set out to watch the fighting because he was interested in seeing the guns being shot at the castle. Since it was a battlefield, many people were carrying spears and other weapons. Sokaku saw people kill each other this way when he was very young. He loved battlefields. Because he was a child he didn’t have to worry about being killed and he used to run around wherever he pleased. But there were guards everywhere and they often caught him when he made a sound. Since he was only a little boy, he was threatened and sent home. But he always went back!

He told me many other stories about himself. He talked about how he went around testing his skills and how he studied under top masters. He even told me the habits of these teachers, as well as the characteristics of their arts. I think these stories were quite valuable to me.

Would you tell us something about Sokaku’s education?

He was not a very academic type. In fact, Sokaku Takeda couldn’t write! When he had to write something, he had someone do it for him. His father Sokichi believed that for the future, children would need to be able to write, and so he opened his temple to the public during the Edo period, establishing a private temple elementary school. He also taught Sokaku. But his son was a strange child who was always causing a commotion by disappearing suddenly or creating trouble for other people. In the end, Sokaku’s father expelled his own son from the school. Sokaku defied his father, and declared that he would not write himself but have others write for him. When his father, Sokichi, retorted angrily, “Who would want to write for you!” Sokaku insisted that he would have people write for him. And that is exactly what he did. What’s more, he had judges and public prosecutors do so.

You know it was quite unusual for police to sign their names to anything. I was a police detective and I know the situation well. It was quite extraordinary that Sokaku was able to make the police and descendants of samurai sign their names and stamp their seals in his enrollment books. Even in my day the police would never give out name cards, because they would be in big trouble if someone misused them. But even in the Meiji period, Sokaku required his students to sign their names.

Did Sokaku Takeda Sensei have any brothers and sisters?

He had one elder brother and one younger brother. He also had a sister.

Can you tell us something about Sokaku’s martial arts background?

Sokaku studied the traditional Ono-ha Itto-ryu sword of the Aizu clan from a teacher named Toma Shibuya. Most of the records and documents of the Aizu clan were burned at the time of the Aizu war. Only the few documents that were kept in a temple survived.

Kenjutsu was popular and jujutsu was merely a supplemental art in those days. In other words, since the samurai always carried their swords, they never needed to think about throwing someone with their hands. Therefore, at the time of the Meiji Restoration, sword arts were more popular than jujutsu. Jujutsu was just beginning to be practiced then. Oshikiuchi, the palace art, was an exception, of course.

What is the importance of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu in the later development of Daito-ryu?

The sword style incorporated into Daito-ryu is Ono-ha Itto-ryu. This art is the source of Sokaku’s sword. Sokaku learned just about everything. There was very little he did not know. Swordsmen in the old days were not merely experts in swordsmanship. Training during the latter part of the Tokugawa [1603-1868] and Meiji eras [1868-1912] required “ten thousand men.” In other words, you had to put on your men ten thousand times and then spend three years traveling around to various dojos for training. You put on your men and participated in sword matches. Each school had its own individual forms, but regardless of style, everyone used the men.

Modern-day kendo derived largely from Ono-ha Itto-ryu, due to the popularity it shared with the Hokushin Itto-ryu. Sasaburo Takano of the former, and Takaharu Naito and Shusaku Chiba of the latter, are well known. Until about 1910 there was no particular classification of forms, so the faculty of the Advanced Teacher Training School (Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko) and the Butokukai created kata (forms) to facilitate instruction. The kendo kata as they are practiced today were established at that time. At the Daitokan we no longer practice using men, because we practice only kata.

When we use swords, we talk about receiving. You receive the attack as soon as the opponent draws his sword. You’ve got to have that kind of speed. The aiki sword doesn’t work unless your arms and legs are working together effectively. Since Sokaku had practiced kenjutsu, he was able to turn his wrists easily. In order to cut your opponent, you need to set the blade of your sword in a specific position; you need to turn your sword this way [gesturing]. You receive your opponent’s sword with the back of your sword and then you turn your sword to cut him. This is not how you hit your opponent with a bokken. Since a real sword has a sharp blade, you need to receive your opponent’s blade with the back of your sword. You should not receive it with your blade because if you do so using a real sword, the blade will be nicked. But if you receive your opponent’s sword with the back of your sword and then go to cut him with your blade, the cutting edge will never be nicked. Therefore, you must be able to easily turn your wrists to be able to perform these sword techniques, and this twisting of the wrists is the essence of Daito-ryu techniques.

You know it was quite unusual for police to sign their names to anything. I was a police detective and I know the situation well. It was quite extraordinary that Sokaku was able to make the police and descendants of samurai sign their names and stamp their seals in his enrollment books. Even in my day the police would never give out name cards, because they would be in big trouble if someone misused them. But even in the Meiji period, Sokaku required his students to sign their names.

Would it be correct, then, to say that Daito-ryu is based on sword movements?

Yes. Sokaku’s techniques are based on the sword. In learning Daito-ryu, it is absolutely essential to study the sword. The first short sword technique in the Ono-ha Itto-ryu is the same as the first technique in Daito-ryu, where you pin your opponent, then thrust at and cut him. This technique was only used during the Sengoku Jidai [Age of the Warring States, 1467-1568], but Sokaku taught it as an important technique.

Sokaku always carried a short knife wrapped in a towel. He never showed it to anyone, but I understand that once someone saw him drop it. The technique using this knife was a secret technique of Shingen Takeda. When an enemy comes to attack you with his sword, you use this knife in this way [demonstrates]. I now get your vitals. This is ippondori in Daito-ryu.

I understand Sokaku also studied martial arts from teachers outside of the Aizu clan?

Yes. Sokaku was a student of Kenkichi Sakakibara and studied Jikishinkage-ryu. Sakakibara’s sword was of the so-called hard-style. His techniques have also been transmitted as part of the Daito-ryu curriculum. When Sokaku was a live-in student, there were scores of students training at the Sakakibara dojo. All of them suffered concussions as a result of being struck on the head by their teacher’s sword. When he thrust at them, they went flying.

I understand that they had very little to eat, so they made a thin rice gruel and sucked it up through a bamboo tube. That was all they had for breakfast. They were starving. These were the conditions when Sokaku was living there. I think he studied there for about two-and-a-half years. There was also a man named Jirokichi Yamada at the Sakakibara dojo, who later taught sword at Hitotsubashi University. Sokaku once demonstrated at Hitotsubashi University because of his connection with Mr. Yamada.

I believe Sakakibara was instrumental in introducing Sokaku to Shunzo Momonoi of the Kyoshin Meichi-ryu sword school.

As you know, the so-called Southwestern Rebellion took place in 1877. Sokaku intended to support Takamori Saigo, who was rumored to be raising an army. But Sokaku’s brother Sokatsu, who was a Shinto priest, died suddenly and he was obliged to return to Fukushima to the shrine of Chikanori Hoshina to replace his brother as an apprentice priest.

Later, however, Sokaku decided to go to Kyushu in order to support Saigo, and he visited Sakakibara in Edo [Tokyo] on the way. Sakakibara Sensei wrote a letter and asked Sokaku to deliver it to Shunzo Momonoi in Osaka. Sakakibara had learned of Sokaku’s plan to join Saigo’s army for warrior training (musha shugyo) and asked Momonoi to prevent him from doing so. Since Sokaku could not read, he put the letter into his kimono and carried it to Momonoi in Osaka. Then he began to practice there.

What was Sokaku’s training like at the Momonoi dojo?

Sokaku was treated like a guest at Momonoi’s dojo because of his introduction from Sakakibara. Shunzo Momonoi had become a police instructor on Sakakibara Sensei’s recommendation. At first it was Sakakibara who taught the police, but he recommended Momonoi for the job, because he felt that Momonoi was better educated than he was. In the end, Sokaku was unable to support Saigo and join his army because of Momonoi’s intervention.

Sokaku always carried a short knife wrapped in a towel. He never showed it to anyone, but I understand that once someone saw him drop it. The technique using this knife was a secret technique of Shingen Takeda. When an enemy comes to attack you with his sword, you use this knife in this way [demonstrates]. I now get your vitals. This is ippondori in Daito-ryu.

Would you tell us something about Sokaku’s years of itinerant martial arts training beginning in the late 1870s?

There were no trains in those days so Sokaku traveled on foot. He would never know in advance what special techniques each dojo he visited might have. He told me he would stand outside and call in to someone, but would never enter the place. Even when he returned to his own home as an old man, he would stand in front of the entrance and call me, shouting, “Sozaburo!” without even coming into the house.

In those days people trained for three years after having participated in ten thousand matches. They say that after such training a swordsman could then begin to understand how to grip a bamboo sword. If they practiced a little more, they would say, “I have practiced a little.” This meant in those days that a person was a grandmaster. That was one of the martial artists’ code words. You could tell how many years of training a person had done by the way he gripped a bamboo sword, and others would say, “Ah! This one has worn his men ten thousand times and has done three years of training around the country.” This was the way it was at the beginning of the Meiji era. There was no dan-ranking system then.

Was Sokaku’s home town legally in Fukushima Prefecture?

No, it’s here at my current address. He branched off from the main family in Aizu and formally changed his address to Hokkaido.

Sensei, you once described a famous incident that occurred in 1882 in Fukushima where Sokaku was attacked by a group of construction workers and miraculously escaped death. Are there documents remaining in Fukushima Prefecture about this event?

I went to Fukushima but could find no documents. When that incident occurred, Sokaku had wounds all over his body. He was even stabbed in the back with a pick. He was rescued after he lost consciousness. According to Sokaku, it was dark and he could see a fire in the distance. He said that he felt good when he followed the fire with his eyes. Then, he gradually regained consciousness and heard his uncle, Shinjuro Kurokochi, calling his name. Sokaku was saved because his uncle was at the scene. [Looking at the enrollment book]. This uncle was a former Aizu clansman. I think that together with several other government officials he was responsible for saving Sokaku.

When was the term aikijujutsu first used in Sokaku’s enrollment books?

I think that aiki was taught as a self-defense art beginning a long time ago, during the Tokugawa period. Among the Daito-ryu jujutsu techniques is a particular type of aiki technique that we call hanza handachi. Techniques that were studied for use in the palace are called oshikiuchi. In the old days when people passed into the obanbeya of Edo castle, all of their swords were taken away. Everyone—except for those nobles of a certain rank, who were allowed to keep their short swords—had to surrender all of their weapons. They had to walk on their knees in front of the family of the Shogun. The hanza handachi techniques of the Daito-ryu were used during that period in response to any situation that might arise.

Then hanza handachi must be an important part of the Daito-ryu curriculum.

Yes, that’s true. Knee-walking (shikko) is a basic skill in Daito-ryu. Hanza handachi techniques are based on knee-walking as well and are used against sudden attacks while seated. Techniques begun from a seated position and finished while standing exist only in Daito-ryu. Other classical martial arts do have techniques for controlling seated opponents, but only in Daito-ryu do you learn to throw your enemy in five directions in the process of standing from a seated position. We use the term goho, which means five directions, and thus the technique is called gohonage. In gohonage, you throw your enemy in five directions—front, back, right and left and center—that is, wherever you have just been. This sort of technique is unique to Daito-ryu. There are also five-directional throws associated with ikkajo, nikajo, and sankajo.

Did the aikido term shihonage come from Daito-ryu?

That’s right, and so did kotegaeshi.

How about kokyunage?

We call that technique aikinage.

And koshinage?

It is called koshiguruma.

What about tenchinage?

It is one of the aikinage techniques.

Would you talk about some of the basic Daito-ryu techniques like ippondori?

Ippondori is referred to as kogusoku in Ono-ha Itto-ryu, and a kodachi (short sword) is used. You thrust up from below when you are attacked by an opponent with a sword. In Daito-ryu, as an opponent swiftly attacks by grabbing you by the chest, you hold him down. The technique applies in situations where the enemy thrusts at you and you control him.

What is different from other schools is that you hold the opponent down using the knee. Then you grab the opponent’s hair in order to cut off his head. This is true Daito-ryu technique. You may wonder, “What meaning does this have in this day and age?” But this is basic to Daito-ryu. If you hold an opponent down with your knee, both of your hands are free. Then you can cut his throat. You must remain alert until then. Even situations with multiple attackers can be handled with your free arms because one attacker has been pinned under your knee. This is the essence of Daito-ryu. If you hold an opponent down with your entire weight concentrated on your knee, the enemy cannot rise. Each and every technique is lethal. None of the techniques give the opponent any openings.

I think that aiki was taught as a self-defense art beginning a long time ago, during the Tokugawa period. Among the Daito-ryu jujutsu techniques is a particular type of aiki technique that we call hanza handachi. Techniques that were studied for use in the palace are called oshikiuchi. In the old days when people passed into the obanbeya of Edo castle, all of their swords were taken away. Everyone—except for those nobles of a certain rank, who were allowed to keep their short swords—had to surrender all of their weapons. They had to walk on their knees in front of the family of the Shogun. The hanza handachi techniques of the Daito-ryu were used during that period in response to any situation that might arise.

Daito-ryu teaching methods are completely different from those of other schools. Our techniques use real swords for serious combat. When Daito-ryu was used in the police department, the police gradually stopped practicing in this way, and they began to just gently hold the opponent down. Even during the Meiji era, people no longer controlled their enemies in order to stab them and cut off their heads. However, the essence of Daito-ryu is to keep alert until you have cut the enemy’s throat. Thrusts must be made immediately. We strictly teach students of Daito-ryu these things. So practice is violent, and a little different from other kinds of practices or from just practicing softly with aiki.

Could you explain in a little more detail about the concept of aiki?

Aiki is to pull when you are pushed, and to push when you are pulled. It is the spirit of slowness and speed, of harmonizing your movement with your opponent’s ki. Its opposite, kiai, is to push to the limit, while aiki never resists.

Aiki applies to self-defense when an opponent attacks first, and we use the term to refer to self-defense for people in general. These two must not be confused. Thus, the police do not use the word aiki. They use jujutsu. They fight with kiai, using a sen sen attack. Attacking is kiai. Aiki, on the other hand, is go no sen. policemen are permitted to attack first. This is why the police studied Daito-ryu, though these days the mixture of judo, kendo, aikido, and other arts used by the police is usually referred to as taihojutsu or arrest techniques.

Read the second part of the article here.

2 comments