“Preserving techniques that will be lost if we forget them,” Mori Shihan strives to recreate and record the techniques taught to Takuma Hisa by Sokaku Takeda. Leader of the Kansai-based Takumakai, Mori Sensei advocates analysis and organization of the Daito-ryu curriculum in order to rediscover its unique techniques.
Hakaru Mori Sensei
AJ: The passing of Daito-ryu Headmaster Tokimune Takeda last year in December has spurred various movements within the Daito-ryu. Could you tell us something about what sorts of policies will guide the activities of the Takumakai in the future?
Mori Sensei: The Takumakai has always given very careful consideration to both organization and technique. Our organization and operation are fairly flexible, and I feel this style has served us well so far. Unlike many martial arts organizations, the Takumakai is non-profit and is more of a “cultural transmission” organization. As such, it wouldn’t work well if we tried to institute strict membership fees or make and enforce complicated regulations. We maintain this soft organization because we want to continue our research and training without those kinds of restrictions hanging over our heads.
There are, of course, a number of different opinions among the Takumakai membership. Some favor establishing an organization that includes a board of directors, a board of governors, and a general assembly, that collects membership fees and sets strict rules and regulations. But for the time being I refuse to set up something like that. It isn’t that it would be difficult to do… I’m an attorney by profession, so I could probably work up a set of regulations and create the necessary structure in less than an hour. It’s just that I think it definitely wouldn’t be in our best interests.
Why is that?
Well, for example, if we set up a membership fee system here at the headquarters, then fees would have to be collected at all the branch dojos as well. But people doing martial arts trative skills to handle such procedures effectively, so there would be problems. Fee collection would get bogged down for whatever reason and the person in charge might end up paying the fees out of their own pocket.
People who are more focused on fee collection may start feeling that members who haven’t paid should be penalized in some way, and that would sour human relationships. I think a membership fee system would inevitably end up causing this sort of problems, SO in my opinion it’s better for us as a martial arts organization to avoid such a system. The decision to avoid binding ourselves with strict rules and regulations follows similar reasoning.
By the way, what I’m saying here only goes for the operation of our current headquarters. I’m not saying the branch dojos shouldn’t institute membership fees if that’s what they want to do. Also, we’ll probably have to rethink all of this if and when the Takumakai becomes incorporated at some point in the future. In the meantime, I’m trying to keep the organization as flexible as possible.
Given the tendency in the martial arts world to form rigid organizations, I think that you have the right idea.
It’s strange how the more a martial arts organization tries to lay down a rigid system, the more fragmented it becomes. I suppose that kind of inflexibility just doesn’t suit such groups. Of course, even if there’s a rigid organization things may still go well as long as there is a charismatic teacher who the students enjoy following, and while there is a feeling of solidarity among the students. Usually, though, it’s not the organization that holds things together, but rather that there’s a powerful teacher who people want to follow and that the art offers appealing techniques people can appreciate. The Takumakai is that way—we have Takuma Hisa Sensei, as well as a group of people who are really enthusiastic about the kind of martial arts we’re doing. Disrupt this atmosphere and the group will start to fall apart. That’s why I think it best for the Takumakai to continue with the flexible organization it has now.
That’s an unusual way for the head of an organization to think.
I’m trying to strengthen lateral relations as much as possible so that none of the branch dojos become isolated. We frequently hold study seminars and workshops, at which we also try to conduct much of our kyu and dan ranking. We’re really working hard at teaching, so everyone is quite enthusiastic.
Also, nobody gets upset if members go to watch practice at other dojos. It’s enough if they’re Takumakai members. If people participate in the joint study seminars that we hold periodically, they’ll realize that this way of doing things is an important pillar supporting us and probably the main reason we’ve continued on as we have without falling apart. Everyone’s goal is to learn and master this martial art as far as possible. We do what we do because we find it fascinating, and nobody in the organization is really interested in marketing themselves or gaining any laurels.
How about the technical direction of the art?
Well, we have the shoden hyakujuhachi kajo (basic 118 forms), the techniques of which we’ve always tried to practice according to [Tokimune Takeda] Headmaster’s way of doing them. But, we also have the techniques left to us by Hisa Takuma Sensei in the Soden. The 118 kajo shown in the Soden and the 118 kajo of Headmaster Tokimune’s shoden are technically different in many respects, even for basic techniques like ippon dori.
Within the Takumakai now there are three different opinions on what our technical orientation should be.
Daito-ryu Aikijutsu Soden
The Soden are contained in a series of “technical manuals” compiled by Takuma Hisa to record the techniques of Daito-ryu that he learned between 1933 and 1939 at the Asahi Newspaper dojo, first from Morihei Ueshiba and later from Sokaku Takeda. Volumes one through six contain techniques learned from Ueshiba and seven through nine contain techniques learned from Takeda. Volume ten is on secret arrest techniques for police and volume eleven is on women’s self-defense technique. A total of 547 techniques appear in the Soden, but according to Director Hakaru Mori there are hundreds more that remain unrecorded. A portion of the techniques from volumes ten and eleven appeared in a budo magazine published before the war called Shin Budo (New Budo) and these have been reprinted in Aiki News #85 through 90.
Some people think we should only follow the Headmaster’s way of doing the techniques, while other people favor the techniques that were taught at the Asahi Newspaper dojo. Still others see no problem with doing both, which I have to say is my personal inclination.
My basic feeling is that, in martial arts, getting caught up in a single way of training makes your training stereotyped, and this hampers your progress and development. After all, cultural development happens because of the stimulation produced by different cultures constantly coming in contact with one another. Also, I think that on a fundamental level these two technical approaches can’t really be that different. The thought and interpretation going on below the surface in each are more or less the same, so I see no reason why different ways of thinking and doing techniques can’t coexist. In fact, I think it’s better if they do. That’s why we preserve the Headmaster’s techniques in addition to practicing those that were taught at the Asahi Newspaper dojo. I want to preserve both, because I think it stimulates our training that much more.
How do you go about doing that?
For people in the upper kyu ranks we clearly explain which techniques come from the Headmaster and which come from Hisa Sensei. Beginners, on the other hand, don’t have the basis to understand such things. It’s not appropriate to make such distinctions with them, so we just tell them, “Put your doubts and confusion aside and just do it like this.” Of course, it gets difficult sometimes, for examole when even the first technique of ippon dori is so obviously different.
Can you explain these differences in ippon dori?
The Headmaster’s ippon dori comes from the period when people wore armor. This meant that thevulnerable. In the old form of ippon dori you raise your opponent’s arm and thrust your dagger into that open area. It was said that in order to accomplish this you must raise the opponent’s elbow and thrust underneath it, so I think that’s probably why the non-armored version of the technique has been changed to something like “raise the opponent’s elbow, execute an atemi to the armpit, then throw down and pin.”
That being the case, we feel it’s best to carefully and thoroughly consider the most logical way to move to throw the opponent given a variety of different attacks. We don’t want to lose the old way of doing it, however, so we still begin the technique by receiving the attack at the opponent’s elbow. Then, rather than pushing the opponent’s arm straight backwards, we push it only partially back and diagonally toward their face in order to control their arm and obstruct their vision, breaking their balance in the process. This way maintains the logic of the technique and puts us in a position to execute an atemi.
The Asahi Newspaper dojo version of the technique is different in that you receive the attack at the tegatana (handblade) rather than at the elbow
Ah, that’s probably the influence of Morihei Sensei.
Yes, I think so. But receiving the attack so directly on the side of the tegatana is illogical because of the sharp shock, so it’s better to deflect it slightly. First you receive and parry the attacking arm at the wrist with your tegatana. Only then do you seize the elbow and execute an atemi. Parrying the opponent’s arm first makes his side turn toward you slightly, exposing the vital points beneath his armpit.
This is the way of doing ippon dori that appears in Kannagara no Budo [a work by Takuma Hisa compiled in 1940 containing selected techniques from the Soden]. First the attack is received with the tegatana and an atemi is executed. In reality, though, these have to be accompanied by a breaking of the opponent’s balance. In other words, you have to start applying the technique from the very instant you receive the attack. In that sense the photographs don’t really convey the technique sufficiently.
Ippon dori has many other interpretations as well. In the one that seems most typical of the Takumakai, you receive the attack with the tegatana and execute an atemi, then seize the elbow with the atemi hand and manipulate it to make the opponent’s weight fall equally on both feet, which lets you pull him down to the front easily.
To elaborate, the traditional explanation of ippon dori says to “throw the opponent down into the vertex of a triangle,” the base of which is the line between the opponent’s two feet. To do so you first have to manipulate the opponent’s elbow in such a way that his center of gravity is over both feet equally. This prevents him from moving his feet easily. Having done that, you pull him down to the front into the vertex of the imaginary triangle.
I see. Is it the same for both the standing and seated versions of the technique?
It works for either. It doesn’t matter whether the opponent is kneeling or standing, they still can’t move, although this is easier to see in the standing version.
So, there are many ways to do even ippon dori. You can seize the elbow right away as in the Headmaster’s style; you can receive the attack with the tegatana; or you can receive the attack with the tegatana, then push forward to move or fix the opponent’s center of gravity. None of these should ever be discarded, so I hope to preserve them all.
I think this kind of analysis and research is very important. You mentioned to me once that there are quite a few techniques that do not appear in the Soden, techniques that you and your fellow students learned and that will disappear if you forget them.
Yes, and it’s very important to preserve those techniques—it’s something that has to be done—but unfortunately limiting circumstances such as the fact that I’m not a professional martial artist make it rather difficult.
(The full article is available for subscribers.)