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Interview with Tokimune Takeda (Part 2)

by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

Would you tell us something about the seminars Sokaku conducted after he began his teaching career?

He would teach for periods of ten days at a time, that is, one course lasted for ten days. It was not possible to spread the art systematically because, unfortunately, Sokaku spent his time traveling to teach and never established any branch dojos. Sokaku Takeda was not that type of person; at that time he was only interested in teaching. Students had to sign their names in the enrollment book each time they participated in a course. He never allowed Daito-ryu to be taught to people who were not his students.

There is a famous story about Sokaku’s encounter early in his teaching career with a foreigner named Charles Parry who taught English in Japan during the Meiji period. I believe this man’s name appears in one of the enrollment books.

That’s right. At that time, Sokaku was teaching at the Second Army Division in Sendai. Mr. Parry came to teach English at the Sendai Second High School. A foreigner who came to Japan with Mr. Parry also studied with Sokaku Takeda. My father knew words like “shoulder.” He also could say “pin” for “osae.” So he knew a little bit of English!

When did Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, meet Sokaku for the first time?

In 1915. I understand they met each other at the Hisada Inn in the town of Engaru in northern Hokkaido. It seems that Mr. Ueshiba came to Hokkaido to cultivate the land when he was in his thirties. He gathered together the second and third children of families—not the eldest sons—and they settled in Hokkaido. He was still young so I imagine it must have been quite difficult for him.

Mr. Ueshiba studied Daito-ryu with my father from 1915 through 1919, about five years. He trained extensively and was enthusiastic. He was Sokaku’s favorite student. However, I was the one who was scolded most frequently by Sokaku. After me, it was Morihei Ueshiba whom he scolded most often. Since I was Sokaku’s son I wasn’t so bothered when he scolded me, but I imagine that Mr. Ueshiba must have been greatly affected since he wasn’t a member of the family.

[Looking at accounting ledgers] Mr. Ueshiba really practiced quite a lot. This was the first time, here the second, and this the third. Here are the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh times… Here is the eighth seminar where Mr. Ueshiba participated as Sokaku’s assistant. All together, he had seventy days practice as a student. Here is yet another entry, the ninth time.

This is quite different from earlier accounts of the connection between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda, isn’t it?

Yes. Mr. Ueshiba also accompanied Sokaku a great deal. Traveling with Sokaku was more significant than just studying with him during the regular practice sessions. And what’s more, Mr. Ueshiba also taught as Sokaku’s assistant.

So Ueshiba Sensei appears as Sokaku Sensei’s assistant starting from this eighth seminar…

That’s right. He started accompanying him from that time. Since Sokaku went to various places to instruct the police, judges, and that sort of person, Mr. Ueshiba probably thought that the art was wonderful and that he wouldn’t have to continue farming if he mastered it. He was very devoted to Daito-ryu and also quite talkative. When Sokaku was teaching a group of judges and public prosecutors in Hakodate, Mr. Ueshiba happened to be his companion and assisted in teaching them. He was in his thirties then, and he was able to teach judges at this young age. Usually, it was quite difficult to rise to that position in those days. An instructor wasn’t employed by the police unless he was descended from a samurai family. It was quite formal. So, it was a great thing to teach judges while so young. Morihei Ueshiba was a splendid person even at such a young age.

Did Ueshiba Sensei become a certified instructor in Daito-ryu at that time?

Actually, it was much later. He went back to Honshu [the largest of Japan’s four major islands] before receiving it. It is recorded right here that he received his certification in Ayabe. If I remember correctly, my mother and I went to Ayabe, near Kyoto, when I was six years old. We stayed in Mr. Ueshiba’s home, which was known as the Ueshiba Juku, for a long time. I would watch the training even though I was small. At that time there were forty students.

Oh, here it is… This is the record of our stay there. We were there for about five or six months. Here, it says that the students of the Ueshiba Juku received instruction in Daito-ryu jujutsu under Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Many of the students were Omoto believers.

Here, for example, is Masaharu Taniguchi of Seicho no Ie. Vice Admiral Seikyo Asano also studied Daito-ryu. These sorts of people also learned the art. Look at this, here is the name “Morihei Ueshiba.” It is clearly written that the training ran from April 28 to September 15, 1922, quite a long time. Mr. Ueshiba was also teaching as an assistant then. Sokaku didn’t like the Omoto religion very much so it seems he [sarcastically] referred to the house as Morihei Ueshiba’s “villa.”

So Sokaku taught daily from April 28 to September 15?

That’s right. He taught together with Ueshiba. This is Morihei Ueshiba Sensei’s kyoju dairi (assistant instructor) certificate. It is in his own handwriting and says:

  1. When accepting students for instruction in Daito-ryu aikijujutsu be careful to choose persons of good conduct.
  2. When instructing students, have them write their address, name, age, location of their dojo, and the terms of their instruction in an enrollment book and have them stamp it with their seal by way of authentification.
  3. When instructing students, an initial payment of three yen should be made to Takeda Dai-Sensei as an enrollment fee.

September 15, 1922

Everyone wrote the same words when receiving their assistant instructor’s certificate. It is the same as setting up what we call today a branch dojo. Mr. Ueshiba practiced a great deal, more than anyone else.

Did Sokaku go to Ayabe on Ueshiba Sensei’s invitation?

Actually, there were a number of people from the navy training in Mr. Ueshiba’s dojo. All of the navy members had experience in sumo wrestling and were quite strong. Since Ueshiba would have had difficulty in handling such individuals he asked Sokaku Takeda Sensei to come. These men were huge, while Mr. Ueshiba was smaller than me. I would imagine that he wasn’t able to pin them because he wasn’t using precise techniques. After all, it would be difficult using only aiki.

Could you tell us something about the relationship between your father and Morihei Ueshiba after Sokaku’s stay in Ayabe in 1922?

Since Ueshiba Sensei was one of Sokaku Takeda’s best pupils and studied under him for a long time, I always used to visit him first whenever I went Tokyo, although I haven’t been there since his death. I guess Sokaku Takeda loved Morihei Ueshiba best of all his students. Sokaku was terribly worried when Ueshiba was arrested in Osaka. He asked Yukiyoshi Sagawa and me to go see how he was managing. At that time, Ueshiba was under house arrest in Tanabe. When Sokaku heard that Ueshiba was all right, he was relieved. He was always concerned about Morihei. Sokaku trusted him a great deal, and would call out his name whenever he had a problem. Ueshiba was a diligent student.

Sokaku is known to have taught thousands of police officers. Would you talk about this aspect of his teaching career?

Sokaku Takeda taught for a very long time and instructed about thirty thousand individuals. His main students were police and he was truly exceptional because among them were many judo and kendo experts. Sokaku was a strict person and his manner of teaching the sword was strict. Everyone was powerless against him. So, although Sokaku allowed his partner to wear a face protector when demonstrating the sword, he never did so himself.

When he was visited by journalists he never showed them any techniques. He was very strict about the art because it was applied to police tactics. The police were the strongest in judo, kendo and everything else, because they were concerned with these sorts of things as part of their jobs.

In a given police department there is usually a maximum of about one hundred personnel. Once a month they hold a briefing-type meeting, which brings together many police officers from the smaller substations. It was on such occasions that Sokaku was invited to teach. He directly taught a huge number of people.

I remember one incident in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture when Sokaku Takeda was teaching there. One day, Mr. Shuzo Shibuya asked Sokaku to go with him to a restaurant. My father asked me to go in his place since he had a cold and wanted to stay in bed. So, I went along without any idea of what was going to happen. There I met a police instructor, who asked me when Sokaku Takeda Sensei had received his hanshi certificate. When I replied he didn’t have one, the man then asked when he was awarded the kyoshi rating. I said that he didn’t have a kyoshi certificate either. Then he asked about a renshi rank. Again I answered in the negative. When he finally asked whether or not he had a dan rank and I answered that he did not, he became angry. “Where do you think this is? In Urawa we have a master kendo instructor, Takano Hanshi!”

Martial arts were flourishing in Urawa, and a man without a hanshi or kyoshi rating was teaching there. What’s more, Sokaku Takeda didn’t even have a kyu rank!

Mr. Shibuya looked so threatening that I found myself shrinking. If you think of it, it was natural for him to become so angry. Sokaku was teaching the sword in the area where Takano Sensei lived and was instructing the police. Then Mr. Shibuya asked me what sort of things we practiced in Daito-ryu and proceeded to choke me. I immediately strangled him with one hand. That finished things! He apologized on his knees. Afterwards, he changed his attitude completely and said he would talk to the Chief of Police the next day.

Sokaku taught the Urawa police when he was nearly eighty years old. The budo experts were taken aback too. Sokaku pulled out one of the policemen and pinned his right hand with his left hand. The man could no longer move. Sokaku made the man bow to the people present and said, “Okay, now greet these gentlemen!” Sokaku was able to get all of these judo and kendo experts to bow down with one hand. Finally he said to the people, “Now, do you understand?”

It seems that the man he selected first was a sixth dan instructor of judo at the police school. Sokaku used to say, “When you go out to teach, you should pull out the strongest man. When you apply your techniques to the strongest person everyone will be convinced and will want to study with you.” But how can you know who is the strongest among two hundred people? He just looked around and selected the right individuals one after the other. That’s aiki!

There must be many stories concerning Sokaku’s experiences teaching police.

Yes, at one particular police seminar, Sokaku did something very puzzling. He pointed out several individuals among the many attending policemen and told them to leave. Then, he taught the others. After the course was over, the police chief asked why he had required those particular three or four officers to leave before the practice began. Sokaku looked at him quietly and then said, “You don’t know? One of them is a heavy drinker and has been causing you problems, hasn’t he? How can I teach a person like that? One of the others is a woman chaser, isn’t he? That’s why I didn’t teach him. Then the other one has been disobeying you and you have been having a hard time handling him, haven’t you? I can’t teach people like that!”

Sokaku was meeting all of these people for the first time, so the police chief was quite surprised. People followed Sokaku because he could do such things. One of the most important skills for a judge is to be able to judge people and Sokaku was able to do that. It is impossible to imitate him. I began to understand the importance of judging a person’s character when I became a detective. We read people’s characters by their faces. Of course, we also pay attention to their actions, but an ability to read faces is essential. Although I have read books on the subject it is not an easy one to master. There is no way I am able to order a person to leave at the first meeting.

There was another surprising incident involving the police. Once when my father went to Osaka he told me to “put some people in order through aiki.” I didn’t know what he meant by that and asked one of the people in the dojo. He told me how surprised he was when Sokaku identified the ranks of those he met for the first time and had them sit according to their positions from the highest to the lowest. The man thought that this was something no ordinary person could do and started studying with Sokaku in earnest.

These anecdotes are fascinating and give us a real glimpse of Sokaku’s character.

There was another story that happened at an inn in Sendai. A woman, who was about forty, was staying there and I was talking to her with other guests present. She claimed to be the daughter of a samurai and said she was accomplished in naginata and the tea ceremony, and such things. We were impressed and listened to her intently.

Suddenly, my father, who was upstairs, ran down to us, making a terrible ruckus. Sokaku, who had difficulty hearing, noticed us from the second floor and came running. This incident surprised even me. How could he hear us when he was hard of hearing? We weren’t talking at all loudly and he was upstairs.

He sat down right between the woman and me, pointed at her and said, “This woman is insane! You mustn’t be with her. Come with me!” He stood up and went back up to the second floor. How could I stand up and follow him? We had been talking seriously. Normally, Sokaku would make no sound when he walked but this time, he scrambled down the stairs and made a lot of noise. I was really in trouble!

I apologized to the woman and explained that my father was nearly eighty years old and often did strange things. However, the woman and other guests were angry and wouldn’t listen to me. I thought that the situation had gotten quite out of hand and apologized to her sincerely. Then I went upstairs. The moment I touched the door, I heard my father shout in a thunderous voice, “Don’t you understand that you mustn’t associate with that insane woman!” He was truly angry and said, “I can read the minds of normal people. But insane people’s thoughts occur arbitrarily and I can’t read their minds. Why are you spending time with a woman like that?”

I didn’t know what to do. Even if I told him that the woman wasn’t insane, he wouldn’t listen a nd would call me a fool, insisting that she was insane. Then about two days later the owner of the inn told me that the woman’s husband had come to fetch her. I met him and told him what had happened. He looked at me silently, then asked how old my father was. When I replied that he was eighty years old, he asked if my father had really called his wife insane. I confirmed this and asked his pardon.

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