Born in Tokyo in 1945, Katsuyuki Kondo, Sensei first learned Daito-ryu while still a child from Tsunejiro Hosono of the Shineikan dojo. He began studying under Tokimune Takeda Soke in 1961 and under Kotaro Yoshida in Hitachi in 1963. He became a direct student of Tokimune Takeda in March 1966, and was appointed soke kyoju dairi in November 1974 and soke dairi as well as menkyo kaiden in May 1988. At the national branch managers’ meeting in September 1994 he was made headquarters’ chief and executive division chief for Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. He is also a researcher of Tesshu Yamaoka.
The following text is an edited compilation of two interviews of Katsuyuki Kondo conducted in 1988 and 1992. Both of these talks took place before the death of Headmaster Tokimune Takeda in 1993, so there are a number of references to the state of his health at the time, as well as discussions of the future directions for the organization.
Would you describe Daito-ryu aikijujutsu?
It would be difficult to explain its entire history, so I will just summarize. About eight hundred years ago there was a man named Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, who resided in a mansion known as “Daito.” He is considered to be the founder of Daito-ryu. His art was then transmitted through the Minamoto family line and then to their descendants, the Takeda family in Kai [present-day Yamanashi Prefecture]. After that it was handed down through the Takeda family as a gotenjutsu [martial art for use inside the palace]. In addition to this line, during the reign of the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Ietsuna [1641-1680; shogun 1651-1680], Masayuki Hoshina of the Aizu clan, the fourth son of Hidetada, entered Edo castle as an instructor to the shogunal family and completed development of an art that came to be known as oshikiuchi. The Daito-ryu of the Takeda family and the oshikiuchi of Lord Masayuki Hoshina were transmitted separately. Then, in the Meiji period, Sokaku Takeda Sensei perfected Daito-ryu by combining the school of the Takeda family with the tradition of the Aizu clan. Thus, Sokaku Takeda Sensei is the father of modern Daito-ryu and should not be omitted from the history of the art.
I understand that Sokaku was not interested in studies as a boy and was illiterate.
Although it is said that Sokaku Sensei was totally illiterate, I understand that he actually could read. It seems that when he was a child he had a reason for declaring that he would never write. I have heard that whenever there was an election, he would practice writing the Chinese characters of the name of the person he was going to vote for and then go to the polls.
“I don’t think there is any difference (between Daito-ryu and Aikido). In Daito-ryu, too, practice begins and ends with courtesy (rei). And its final goal is the spirit of love and harmony.”
Sokaku Takeda Sensei taught for many years all over Japan. Was this also a means of training himself?
Exactly. Teaching can be a way to train oneself. Teaching is learning and studying. Sokaku Sensei taught mainly former members of the samurai caste, those working as police, military officers, and judges. He visited only such people for his own training and there surely were occasions when he found himself in life or death circumstances.
Sokaku Sensei traveled all over, from Hokkaido in the north all the way to Okinawa in the south. It is also remarkable that he taught not only in police departments of one particular region, but throughout the entire country. I believe that if his technique was fake or ineffective, he would have been considered useless because police departments could easily exchange such information. The case would have been the same with the military . He also taught at many military establishments. It is sometimes said that Sokaku Sensei’s relationship with the military was limited and only through the Omoto religion and the connection with Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. In fact, however, Sokaku Takeda Sensei had direct connections to the military. This is clear from the enrollment books he kept.
I believe that a person of ordinary ability could not have done that in those days. To my knowledge, Sokaku Sensei started traveling for self-training in his teens and continued for more than sixty-five years until his death in 1943 in Aomori where he was teaching at age eighty-three. He was a great martial artist who trained all of his life.
Despite the fact that Sokaku Sensei used to teach Daito-ryu at police departments, we do not hear much about the art of Daito-ryu in modern police departments.
I believe this is due to the fact that Sokaku Sensei taught only periodically and also because he did not give individual training. He was in the process of training himself while teaching in various places. He was a true martial artist in this sense. Although I have heard recently that there is a place, perhaps Sendai, in the Tohoku region where Daito-ryu is still taught, I believe that realistically such places are few and far between. Since the art was taught in those places starting in the Meiji period, I think Daito-ryu should have been transmitted up to the present. But, instruction was halted prematurely. We have to take into consideration the fact that the structure of the police force changed dramatically following the war. Sokaku Sensei also taught judges, prison officers, and public prosecutors, but no dojo has survived today. I think things changed considerably after the war.
Sokaku Takeda Sensei was quite a unique martial artist in the sense that he traveled around Japan for many years instructing only persons of high social standing. What is more, he recorded all of this.
I believe you are referring to the enrollment books and payments received ledgers he kept. As you pointed out, even from the early 1900s, Sokaku Takeda Sensei taught people such as the police and military officers, judges, and other influential persons in whatever town he happened to visit. Before that, the art belonged exclusively to the Aizu clan and was never allowed to be shown to outsiders. Sokaku Sensei was the first to teach it outside of the clan. In those days, teaching at a military institution or a police department was considered to be a sign of great status. This is because the military and police considered themselves to be the descendants of samurai. I think that while such a social hierarchy still remained during the Meiji period, it was quite difficult to have all these important people sign their names and affix their registered seals.
What are the main differences between Daito-ryu and aikido?
I don’t think there is any difference. In Daito-ryu, too, practice begins and ends with courtesy (rei). And its final goal is the spirit of love and harmony.
How about technically?
I do not think that there is much difference technically, either. However, we have what we call ikkajo, which consists of thirty different techniques, ten of which are seated, five hanza handachi, ten standing techniques (tachiai) and five rear-attack techniques (ushirodori). Each of these thirty techniques has its own name. In Daito-ryu, the first technique you learn is called ippondori, a difficult technique where you receive, barehanded, the frontal attack of your opponent.
In the traditional martial arts, a secret technique is usually taught at the very beginning. In Daito-ryu, too, we teach a difficult technique first. This ippondori, I believe, has become ikkyo in aikido and also is related to techniques like shomenuchi ikkyo, katatedori ikkyo, ryotedori ikkyo, and so on. Ikkajo consists of thirty techniques, but only the ippondori technique became ikkyo in aikido. There are twenty-nine other techniques such as gyaku udedori, kurumadaoshi, koshiguruma, and so on. Nikajo also has thirty techniques and only one of them is called nikyo in aikido. And the case is the same for sankyo. Yonkajo includes fifteen techniques and one of them is called yonkyo in aikido. Gokajo has thirteen techniques and one of them is gokyo in aikido. It includes tasudori (techniques against group attacks), tachidori (techniques against a sword), jodori, kasadori, emonodori (techniques against various weapons) and so on, all of which were practiced in the old days.
So we have 118 different techniques, classified as the ikkyo through gokyo series in Daito-ryu. These make up the hiden mokuroku and only five of those techniques were included in aikido. I would like this to be clear, to avoid any misunderstanding.
The difference between aikido and Daito-ryu in the eyes of the general public is that in techniques of Daito-ryu you must break the balance of your opponent the instant you touch him. This is because there is aiki in the technique, which we use to break the balance of the opponent. This is a major characteristic of Daito-ryu. Another characteristic is its use of atemi. This atemi is also a part of aiki in Daito-ryu. Although it is often said that Daito-ryu looks unrefined or is lacking in magnificence, Daito-ryu also has a component called aiki no jutsu (fifty-three techniques) and they are truly wonderful. The aiki no jutsu techniques come after the 118 hiden mokuroku, and they are followed by the hiden ogi, the hiogi, the kaishaku soden, and finally the kaiden techniques.
Since various names are used to refer to Daito-ryu, I believe there is some confusion. For example, terms such as Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, Daito-ryu jujutsu, aikijutsu, aikijujutsu, aikibudo and so on are used. Would you clarify the use of these terms?
I understand that some people use the terms aikijutsu, aikijujutsu, or aikibudo in running their dojos. However, none of them has anything to do with Daito-ryu. All of the Daito-ryu schools recognized by the headmaster can be checked with him. We have and continue to use both terms, Daito-ryu jujutsu and Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, depending on the techniques taught. The present headmaster Tokimune Takeda Sensei calls the art Daito-ryu aikibudo since Daito-ryu is a composite art and should be practiced as a “Do” or “Path.”
Sokaku Takeda is a fascinating figure and is surrounded by controversy. Would you summarize his importance to twentieth-century Japanese martial arts?
I consider Sokaku Takeda Sensei to have been a master without peer. I believe that without Sokaku Sensei, aikido would not exist now. In other words, Sokaku Takeda Sensei of Daito-ryu should occupy a position of importance in the history of aikido. According to one book I read recently, Daito-ryu didn’t have much of an influence on aikido and Morihei Ueshiba Sensei only studied the art for a short period. This is not true, since Morihei Sensei actually studied the art for a long time, from 1915 to 1937. He also received instructor certification in the art, that is, the kyoju dairi license and also the goshinyo no te scroll, which was the highest level of Daito-ryu scroll awarded in those days. You cannot really say that twenty years of practice is a short period of time; twenty years out of one’s life is quite a long time. Although the Omoto religion was also related to the remarkable progress of Morihei Sensei in aikido, I am sure that it is no exaggeration to say that without Sokaku Takeda Sensei, aikido as we know it today would not have come into being.
“We have 118 different techniques, classified as the ikkyo through gokyo series in Daito-ryu. These make up the hiden mokuroku and only five of those techniques were included in aikido.”
How do you view the relationship between Sokaku Takeda Sensei and Morihei Ueshiba Sensei?
This is just my personal opinion, but Morihei Sensei studied Daito-ryu for over twenty years and served Sokaku Takeda Sensei as his master. Sokaku Sensei looked after Morihei Sensei as his student in various ways. There are many stories about this aspect of their relationship, illustrating the courtesy of a student towards his master and the affection of a master towards his student. This relationship continued for a period of time, and at a certain point Morihei Sensei began to seek his own path and eventually created modern aikido. Morihei Sensei was a great person, and I believe that anybody who can be called great always exceeds his master. I do not know that Morihei Ueshiba Sensei exceeded his master, Sokaku Takeda Sensei, in terms of technical ability, but I think that realistically speaking, Morihei Sensei far exceeded Sokaku Sensei in terms of number of students and also the extent of his reputation.
Would you give us some background information regarding Tokimune Takeda Sensei, the present headmaster of Daito-ryu?
The headmaster was born on October 7, 1916. He was brought up very strictly, in a way best described as preparation for succeeding his father. He spent his childhood in Shirataki, where it is extremely cold in the winter. His training began with swinging a wooden sword against a clump of trees in the mountains. On snowy days in the depths of winter, when the temperature was in the low twenties, Sokaku Sensei would send Tokimune Sensei outside alone with a saw, and then lock the door. I’m sure his mother must have found it painful to watch. Since it was extremely cold outside, Tokimune Sensei had no choice but to move around, and quite naturally, he would saw down trees with the saw he carried. If he didn’t he would have frozen to death. By sawing he could warm himself up and at the same time train his arms, legs, and hips. Sokaku Sensei had him do this for many years. He was a very severe father. In those days they used an implement which looked like a large nunchaku for hulling rice and Sokaku Sensei had Tokimune Sensei use that tool. He had to hull the rice since there would be no way to hide the fact if he merely loafed around. Tokimune Sensei endured such training as a boy.
“Although the Omoto religion was also related to the remarkable progress of Morihei Sensei in aikido, I am sure that it is no exaggeration to say that without Sokaku Takeda Sensei, aikido as we know it today would not have come into being.”
By the time he was about fifteen years old, Tokimune Sensei was already a skilled martial artist. It is said that Sokaku Sensei told him that no one was capable of defeating him at that time. I heard from one of Sokaku Sensei’s sons and his niece in Sapporo that he seemed to have trained the fifteen-year-old Tokimune Sensei to the point that none of his other students could handle him. Tokimune Sensei was trained in that way in order to become head of the art.
Sokaku Sensei used to travel around to train, quite often leaving his wife and children behind, and I believe that the family had an extremely difficult time supporting itself. Tokimune Sensei was raised this way, and left Shirataki having already experienced much of life before becoming a police officer. After he entered the police force, he distinguished himself using Daito-ryu techniques. Following his marriage, he became involved in the management of a large fishing company called Yamada Fisheries. In 1953, at the request of many supporters in Abashiri, a part of the Yamada Fisheries’ warehouse was made into a temporary dojo, the antecedent of the present Daitokan. Then in 1956, the present Daitokan dojo was built.
Tokimune Sensei never missed his early morning training sessions. Although he is now seventy-three years old [in 1988], the size of his wrists is twice that of an ordinary person’s. He is quite a gentle person, who always sets himself aside and praises other people. When he describes other advanced students of Sokaku Sensei, he says things like such and such a teacher is the best in Japan technically or such and such a teacher has the best personality in the co untry. He never criticizes others. It has been nearly thirty years since I began studying under Tokimune Sensei, but there is still a world of difference between us in terms of real ability. Although I never knew Sokaku Sensei directly, I believe that Tokimune Sensei is in no way inferior to him in terms of character or technical ability.
How did Tokimune Sensei come to succeed Sokaku Takeda Sensei?
I believe that it came about naturally, even though he was Sokaku Sensei’s third son. Sokaku Sensei created a separate family register after his second marriage and registered Tokimune Sensei as his first son. Therefore, he succeeded to the Takeda house as his first son. Traditionally, in Daito-ryu succession to the headmaster position has been according to the family blood line. For that reason, Tokimune Sensei was educated to become the headmaster from boyhood and succeeded his father in 1943 when Sokaku Sensei passed away.
I understand that you began training at a young age and have had three Daito-ryu teachers. Would you tell us a little bit about how you got started and your training background?
The first teacher I studied under was Tsunejiro Hosono Sensei, one of the advanced students of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. He was living in Edogawa, Tokyo and his dojo was called the Shineikan. When Tokimune Takeda Sensei came to the Shineikan dojo he taught me as a student of Hosono Sensei. That was the first time I met the headmaster. At that time I didn’t know even the meaning of the term “headmaster” and I just remembered having met someone great. However, Tokimune Sensei later said to me that he remembered me clearly from among the many students present. He said, “Mr. Kondo, you were sitting in such and such a position from the left, weren’t you?” He even described my physique. I was really surprised. I didn’t think I was that conspicuous then.
“I do not know that Morihei Ueshiba Sensei exceeded his master, Sokaku Takeda Sensei, in terms of technical ability, but I think that realistically speaking, Morihei Sensei far exceeded Sokaku Sensei in terms of number of students and also the extent of his reputation.”
Around 1963, before Hosono Sensei passed away I went to see him in the hospital. He said to me, “After practicing under Sokaku Takeda Sensei, I studied under Kotaro Yoshida Sensei. Kondo, you must study under him now.” So I went to visit Yoshida Sensei. At that time he was living in a place called Namekawa in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. I was still a student so I went to Sensei’s house by taxi from Hitachi station every Saturday afternoon. Yoshida Sensei was paralyzed on his left side, although he had no difficulty speaking. I signed my name in his enrollment book and trained, not in his house, but in his garden. Sensei would sit in his room and teach from there. When I didn’t understand something, he would demonstrate with his right hand. However, since he could not use his left hand, he couldn’t execute a complete technique. So I had to do it by myself. In the beginning I trained alone, but I found it inconvenient and decided to train there with one of my fellow students, Yoshimi Tomabechi.
When I was training under Hosono Sensei I paid on a monthly basis but Yoshida Sensei charged for each technique. For example, after we learned the kotegaeshi technique, we needed to pay for the next technique. When the time came to move to the next technique, Sensei would tell us. There were no students other than Tomabechi and myself. I think it was a very unusual practice method. Sensei taught us very conscientiously.
How much did he charge for one technique?
I don’t remember at all. I was a university student and didn’t have much money and so I don’t think it was that expensive. It was quite a trip to Hitachi though. We would go over to Sensei’s house on Saturday night and practice a little. Then we would spend the night at an inn and practice on Sunday, beginning in the early morning, and then return by train in the evening. Naturally, I had to study after that. I spent my weekends that way.
There were many names written in Yoshida Sensei’s enrollment books. For example, the name of Masutatsu Oyama Sensei of Kyokushin karate appears. However, it is not certain whether Oyama Sensei actually studied with him or just talked to him. Yoshida Sensei had been awarded another scroll that was not from the Daito-ryu school. Among his personal techniques were the tessenjutsu (iron-fan techniques). Daito-ryu also includes tessenjutsu in the emonodori techniques, but they are not separate techniques. I believe the fact that Yoshida Sensei had his own tessenjutsu scroll was proof that he conducted thorough research into the use of this weapon after having studied with Sokaku Sensei.
Yoshida Sensei taught us how to use the iron fan and move our wrists, and he emphasized that this was important in the beginning stage of our training. Using the iron fan you can break a sword with just the movement of the wrist. Sensei was quite strict about how we moved our wrists. I still have the iron fan Yoshida Sensei gave me for practice.
How long did you train with him?
I guess it was about two years. I started the “Daito-ryu Aikido Club” at Chiba Kogyo University in 1964 and invited Yoshida Sensei to become an adviser. Naturally, since Sensei could not be physically present, I was only borrowing his name. Although I never received any rank from Kotaro Yoshida Sensei, I was given a shikishi [a square piece of stiff paper or board used for writing poems] on which he had written “Aikibudo.” He said when he presented it to me that I was receiving it as his last student and that he would teach me everything. However, I don’t think he meant everything including all of the menkyo kaiden techniques or anything like that. I only studied under him for a short period and I don’t think I learned very advanced techniques from Yoshida Sensei. But I still have this shikishi with “Aikibudo” written on it.
How was it that you began to train under Tokimune Takeda?
I learned from Yoshida Sensei that the headmaster of Daito-ryu was living in Abashiri City in Hokkaido, so later I decided to train there and wrote Tokimune Sensei a letter. I went up to Abashiri in 1966 and stayed there for about ten days. It was the first time I was taught seriously by the headmaster. Since he was working for a company then, I practiced with him from four to seven o’clock in the morning and then during lunch time for a short while. Then again starting at six o’clock in the evening I practiced with members of the dojo. After the members left the dojo, the headmaster again conducted a special class until midnight! At that time there was a man named Shimpachi Suzuki who was a certified instructor of Daito-ryu living in the Daitokan dojo. I practiced with Suzuki Sensei and the headmaster, just the three of us. I trained there for a full ten days. By the time I returned to the inn it was already about midnight and I was almost crawling. The training was that severe. When I was not training, I just felt like a dead man. At night I could not sleep because of the pain in my body. The headmaster was at that time around fifty years old. His wrists were as thick as logs.
What I felt when I trained there was how little ability I had. In those days I had started the aikido club in the university and was teaching there. I was only in my twenties and I expect I was also very conceited. That was the kind of person I was and I actually cried in the headmaster’s dojo. Before then my techniques used to work on anyone, both at the university and in the dojo. However, they didn’t work at all on either the headmaster or Suzuki Sensei. I realized my weakness and really cried, I was so mortified. It’s still true now, but I felt that there was a world of difference between my ability and the headmaster’s ability. Therefore, I am embarrassed to call myself soke kyoju dairi [certified instructor representing the headmaster] or soke dairi. Although I have been practicing Daito-ryu for over thirty years, my technique is still powerless against the headmaster. Objectively speaking, I really believe my ability is far inferior to his. The headmaster has been practicing for more than sixty years and his practice h as not been at all haphazard. Even now, he swings a thick log every morning. Although he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed a few years ago, he began rehabilitation on his own, ignoring the doctor’s advice to the contrary and overcame his paralysis. He trained that hard, and as a result he hasn’t lost his physical power.
I believe that you actually briefly met and trained with Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. Would you tell us about that experience and your impressions of the founder of aikido?
I think it was around 1967 when I met Morihei Ueshiba Sensei at the old Hombu dojo. This was through the introduction of Headmaster Tokimune Takeda and I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to train with Morihei Sensei. He was doing jodori techniques. Morihei Sensei talked to me in a friendly way and told me to grab the end of the jo he had in his hands. The moment I touched the jo I was thrown. It was a beautiful throw. Since I was putting a lot of power into my grip on the jo, all of that power was directed back at me and I was thrown quite a distance. Then I talked to Morihei Sensei about various things.
Did Ueshiba Sensei talk about Sokaku Takeda Sensei then?
Naturally, he talked about Takeda Sensei but not in detail. He said something like he had studied Daito-ryu, too. I thought that Morihei Sensei was a great teacher.
I believe that you have practiced with several other advanced students of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Would you tell us about these experiences?
Since I have already talked about the headmaster, Tokimune Takeda Sensei, Tsunejiro Hosono Sensei and Kotaro Yoshida Sensei earlier, I won’t mention them again now. I received instruction many times from Takuma Hisa Sensei between 1970 and 1973, and in 1972 he gave me copies of the eleven volumes of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Soden. I studied under Kodo Horikawa Sensei twice at the Daitokan in Abashiri and twice at my dojo for a total of four times. I studied under Kakuyoshi Yamamoto for two days in 1972 when the 17th Annual Daito-ryu Demonstration was held in Abashiri in conjunction with the memorial service on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Also, I had many chances to meet Nihei Yoshimoto Sensei and he talked to me about Sokaku Sensei. It must have been twenty years ago, but I once talked with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei in the company of Tokimune Takeda Sensei. I have been fortunate in being able to meet all of these advanced students of Sokaku Sensei even though I am still young.
Also, I have heard about Sokaku Sensei many times from Kenji Tomiki Sensei and Minoru Mochizuki Sensei. Once I received instruction from Tomiki Sensei at my dojo and I participated in a demonstration he sponsored. I also am on good terms with Aikido Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei and other Aikikai instructors, the head of the Yoshinkan, Gozo Shioda Sensei, and his instructors.
Sensei, you have a very unique teaching system. Most of the employees of the company you operate practice Daito-ryu and your dojo is also on the premises. How did this system come about?
“Budo and life are one and the same,” is my motto. Although it goes without saying that human beings are a combination of body and spirit, one must be nourished in the spiritual sense as well, just like babies, who are given life by their parents, need milk and food in order to grow. Physically, you can tell that someone is thin or fat, but spiritually, you cannot tell just by looking at someone what kind of person he is. I believe that through training you become able to tell the spiritual level of another person just by looking at him. Physically speaking, it is better to be slim than overweight. However, spiritually speaking, it is better to be fat than thin.
“I think it was around 1967 when I met Morihei Ueshiba Sensei at the old Hombu dojo. This was through the introduction of Headmaster Tokimune Takeda and I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to train with Morihei Sensei. He was doing jodori techniques. Morihei Sensei talked to me in a friendly way and told me to grab the end of the jo he had in his hands. The moment I touched the jo I was thrown. It was a beautiful throw.”
To put it in plain language, let’s suppose that here in front of us there is an animal and a man. The Chinese characters for “human being” (ningen) are a combination of the characters for “between” and “human,” so ningen refers to the average person, who is neither a fully realized human (hito), nor a mere animal. Thus, one who is ningen is in the in-between state, aspiring to become the ideal, spiritually awakened human. The higher one’s spiritual level, the closer one is to becoming a human being. Those who have reached the level of hito become worthy of being called tatsujin (master). These are the ones who have become spiritually awakened.
On the other hand, the lower one’s spiritual level is, the closer one is to being an animal, acting in a barbarous way without self-control. So, for example, in comparing martial arts training to mountain climbing, we can say that they both constitute starting points for ascending the mountain. There are other starting points such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement and other martial arts. They all involve training the spirit in order to reach the top of the mountain, that is, to achieve spiritual awakening, regardless of the point of departure. In the martial arts, we use physical techniques for spiritual training. However, if one is content solely with training the spirit, there are other ways to train. In the martial arts, being strong is an absolute condition. I think that it is important to be strong and at the same time to develop one’s spirituality.
In this sense, I believe that we can call the dojo the backstage of life. It is a place where one can steal the good points of one’s seniors and juniors and also where one can repeat something over again, even after making a mistake.
The next thing I want to mention is the way in which one can realize the results of one’s training. I don’t think there is an opportunity to use martial techniques in the real world. In Japan, we have the best police force in the world. Therefore, the only part of our training we can use in the real world is the spiritual side. In other words, in society, at home, in school and on our jobs are the places where we realize the value of martial arts training. It is in society where we can engage in real martial arts training. The dojo is the backstage and life is the main stage for realizing the true value of the martial arts. One’s training in the martial arts is worthless unless you can realize their true value. That is the reason I have adopted the motto, “Budo and life are one and the same.”
Being young and inexperienced as I am, it is very awkward to say this, but I expanded my private business into a company in 1982 in order to better express the true results of my martial arts training and also to train myself in the real world through my work. I gathered together those who shared my ideas from among my students, as well as those I considered suitable in order to establish the present company. With this goal in mind, we constructed the dojo in the same building in order to unify it with the company. So, we do not separate work for the company and training in martial arts. This is our way of doing things based on the motto, “Budo and life are one and the same.”
What direction do you think Daito-ryu should take in the future?
You might call it a very traditional method of instruction, but during his travels for self-training, Sokaku Takeda Sensei taught more than thirty thousand students all over the country, many of whom later became well-known. The present Headmaster Tokimune Takeda Sensei created an organization for the art, something that Sokaku Sensei never tried to do. He also established branches throughout Japan as well as in foreign countries. I believe that we, his students, should stand solidly behind Tokimune Sensei and endeavor to further develop the branches he has established. Tokimune Sensei has directed me to instruct at all branch dojos in Japan and abroad to promote their growth and I would like to exert myself to the fullest in this task.
“In the martial arts, being strong is an absolute condition. I think that it is important to be strong and at the same time to develop one’s spirituality.”
Sensei, besides your training in Daito-ryu, you have been studying the life and works of Tesshu Yamaoka [1836-1888], who was a master of Zen and the sword. You also have a wonderful collection of his calligraphy. Would you tell us something about him?
I first encountered Tesshu Yamaoka Sensei when I was in high school. I happened to find, in a secondhand bookshop, a book titled My Master, written by a student of Tesshu Sensei named Ogura. I was fascinated and finished reading the book in one night. I discovered for the first time that there was a man named Tesshu Yamaoka who had been involved in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate. From that time on I became wholly devoted to Tesshu Sensei. I began to study him and collected books about him.
If I had to describe him in a single sentence I would say that he was a man who exerted himself on behalf of others. I believe he was not thinking of the times he was living in, but rather five hundred years into the future. So I believe the name of Tesshu Sensei will still be widely known even four hundred years from now. Tesshu Sensei is supposed to have penned between one and three million pieces of calligraphy, and he used them all for others. For example, in the last days of the Tokugawa government, there was an active anti-Buddhist movement, and many temples, images and statues were destroyed. Tesshu rebuilt those temples. He was always putting others first and spending money on them and so he was not well-off. Although he was the son of the rich Ono family, who were direct retainers of the Shogun, he married into the Yamaoka family, a family of foot soldiers, who were samurai of the lowest rank. Tesshu Sensei never took advantage of anything or anyone. It seems that he underwent very severe training in his youth. He continued to train sincerely and thoroughly.
When he was at the Kobusho dojo at the age of twenty-one, he is recorded as having demonstrated how kendo should be practiced by thrusting through a one-inch-thick piece of elm-wood paneling with his wooden sword to vent his anger at the half-hearted practice he saw. It is also said that he smashed the wrist bone of a practice partner with his kote (wrist) technique even though the latter was wearing a protector. Thus, in his younger days, he relied heavily on his physical stamina and power.
However, after achieving enlightenment on March 30, 1880, his practice was transformed. He is reported to have become invincible and his sword became alive with ki and full of spirit. I believe that he became spiritually awakened, yet he continued to value his modesty.
People say that Tesshu Sensei’s sword was very slow in his later years. Sasaburo Takano, a well-known kendo master reported:
When I asked Yamaoka Sensei to practice with me, I could strike him whenever I wanted. However, he would occasionally thrust at me. He didn’t hit me, but stopped his sword about an inch from my throat. I felt then that he had already passed his prime. But, when I took off my face guard after practice I felt a coolness around my throat as if there were a windhole in it. My throat still felt cool even after I arrived home. It was then that I understood for the first time the greatness and genius of Yamaoka Sensei.
When Tesshu Sensei reached the age of forty-five, he changed and so did his calligraphy. He had attained spiritual enlightenment. However, he still had a sexual appetite, which he rid himself of when he was forty-nine. Then again, his calligraphy changed and so did his sword. His calligraphic pieces penned after age forty-nine are considered to be divine art. He is regarded as the last true swordmaster. He was also creator of the Muto-ryu sword school, the last sword school. Tesshu achieved expertise in three areas: the sword, Zen, and calligraphy. He united all three paths and burned out his life at age fifty-three, while sitting cross-legged in zazen, in front of his students. He died of stomach cancer.
Historically speaking, the bloodless surrender of Edo Castle in the last days of the Tokugawa government was credited to the efforts of Kaishu Katsu and Takamori Saigo. However, the fact is that this was really achieved through the efforts of Tesshu Sensei and Takamori Sensei. I understand that Tesshu Sensei always used to encourage people to give credit to others. I believe that the bloodless surrender of the castle was made possible through the application of all of his power, even though he was only thirty-three at the time.
I can speak endlessly about Tesshu Sensei. Although I can understand theoretically that he achieved mastery in three paths since their goals are one, I believe it must have been quite difficult. I do not think of Tesshu Sensei and Daito-ryu as separate things. Learning from the martial arts and from life are the same. “Budo and life are one and the same.” For my part, I will keep practicing Daito-ryu diligently and do my best not to soil the name of the Takeda family art.
This is part 1 of a two part interview. Part two will be published in the very near future.