The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA. The article below is reprinted with the kind permission of Tokimune Takeda Sensei, Headmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Budo and son of Sokaku Takeda Sensei.
Sokaku Dispatches Evil Bandits
In the region between Aizubange and Yanaizu there was a mountain pass with many bends and the road connecting the two was extremely steep and in bad repair. In the Autumn of 1876 Sokaku, who was carrying his kendo protective gear on his shoulder, climbed to the foot of the mountain pass on his travels for self-training. He stopped at a teahouse built at the entrance of the pass to take a rest when an old man of about 60 came out from an inner room of the teahouse. He asked, “Young swordsman! Are you going to cross the pass now?” Sokaku answered that it was his intention to do so before the sun set. The old man advised him in a kindly tone, “That’s impossible. The pass road is very steep and desolate and it will become dark if you attempt to cross now. It would be better to set out with the other travelers tomorrow morning. Recently, the road has been infested by three bandits who often menace travelers. Because of this, travelers often form groups to cross the pass. The bandits don’t attack groups, but when there are only two or three persons or women in the group, they have often been robbed and hurt. The bandits watch them from high positions. It is especially dangerous for those traveling alone. A great swordsman once went up along the pass in great eagerness to punish them, but he came back here injured and stripped almost naked. Another swordsman went up into the pass alone but was never seen again. There is a rumor that the three have expensive swords and that someone was killed and buried by them. It’s already nightfall so I think it would be best for you to cross with the other travelers tomorrow morning.”
Sokaku was not in a particular hurry, so if he had not heard of these notorious three bandits, he would have crossed the pass with the other travelers the next morning. However, having just heard the story from the old man, Sokaku disregarded his advice due to his natural sense of justice and spirit of adventure. The pass crossing the mountain was in bad condition and narrow. By the time he reached the summit, he had failed to find even a single bandit. At that point he began to descend. It was gradually becoming darker as the sun had set. Then, as he rounded a curve, he suddenly encountered the so-called three bandits who looked very strong as they carried mountain swords at their waists. One of the bandits was lying with his arms and legs spread out in a section of the road about nine feet wide. A second was on a stone at the head of the reclined bandit. The third was also sitting on a stone at the prone man’s feet. Both were smoking.
On the right was a cliff and the valley was on the left. Sokaku could not pass without disturbing them. The three had been watching from on high waiting for his approach and had set a trap for him. Certainly no one likes to initiate a fight, however, if he had withdrawn to avoid trouble, they would have chased after him as a coward and picked a quarrel. On the other hand, if he asked them to allow him to pass, they would have criticized him for having awakened them or something similar. Sokaku thought then that in any event a fight with them could not be avoided and understood immediately that the two swordsmen mentioned before had fallen into this trap. As they passed through, the two bandits on either side sitting on stones held them from both sides. As a result, they could not draw their swords to fight. Sokaku perceived the reason for their defeats and decided to use the following tactic. He intended to deal with the situation by taking quick countermeasures as called for.
Sokaku slowly approached them with this plan while the three watched his every move carefully and silently. He raised his right foot up high pretending to step over the prone man, but instead stomped on his side breaking his ribs using a killing-art called denko no satsu which he executed in a flash. He then delivered a single blow to the middle of the forehead of the man on the left with his left fist using a techniques called uto no satsu (sun and moon killing art) executed with the speed of an arrow. Then, at an unguarded moment, he executed a blow to the cheek of the man on the right with his iron-fan which he had quickly drawn with his right hand (kasumi no satsu: sword art for killing in the mist). The iron-fan that Sokaku used in the surprise attack against the three bandits was made of solid iron into a fan shape and weighed approximately 750 grams. The bandit struck in the cheek fell over on his back. Sokaku used ippondori to pin the bandit on the left who had drawn his broadsword intending to kill him on top of his prone accomplice on the right. He then broke the right arm of the man on the left with his iron fan. Sokaku next kicked the sides of the three men breaking their ribs and broke their feet with his iron fan. They wailed and begged him to help them, however, he kicked them one after the other down into the valley.
Holding his protective kendo gear on his shoulder, Sokaku finally descended the mountain pass where it was already dark and reached an inn to stay overnight. The inn-keeper knew he had just come down from the mountain and asked him if he had encountered the three notorious bandits. Sokaku thinking he would become involved in trouble if the villagers knew he had defeated them answered that he had heard of them but did not meet them.
“You’re very lucky, aren’t you?”, the inn-keeper remarked in the same manner as the old man in the teahouse at the foot of the mountain.
Sokaku stayed the night at the inn and the following morning visited friends in Yanaizu where he stayed for about five days. On his way back, he again stopped at the inn and stayed the night. The innkeeper said to him, “Two days after you were here, one of the three bandits was found dead downstream. They disappeared from the mountain pass so the villagers went to look for them, but they seem to have had a big quarrel. Also, the other two were found with broken arms and feet, moaning in pain. Their injuries are serious and it will take them two or three months to recover. Even if they heal, they will be deformed and can never again harass travelers. And so, we the people of the village are celebrating the fact that they will not attack us anymore and have prepared steamed rice and red beans.”
Sokaku was not a conceited man and echoed his agreement. His thinking was that it was true that the scoundrels had in the end to be punished by kami (deities). The next morning when he checked out of the inn to cross the mountain pass, he saw travelers in twos and threes walking pleasantly up and down the mountain.
When Sokaku arrived at the place where he fought with the three bandits, he clasped his hands in the direction of the valley to pray for the peace of their souls and continued over the pass.
Sokaku visited Master Chikanori Hoshina [aka Tanomo Saigo]. The Takeda family had for generations been servants of the kami of the branch shrine of the Ise Shrine [where the ancestors of the imperial family are enshrined] in Miike, Aizu.
On September 2, 1876, Sokaku’s elder brother Sokatsu who was a Shinto priest at the shrine died. Sokaku was taken there by his father Sokichi to succeed his late brother as the priest of the Takeda family. He began his duties as priest as an apprentice under Chikanori Hoshina, the head priest of Tsuzukobetsu Shrine in eastern Shirakawa County, in Fukushima Prefecture. This was around the autumn of 1876. Chikanori Hoshina’s former name was Tanomo Saigo and he was the chief counselor of the Aizu clan. After the defeat of the Aizu Castle, he entered the Hoshina family of his ancestors and assumed the name of Chikanori Hoshina.
Sokaku heard accounts of Chikanori’s hardships during the turbulent times of the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and was advised about the trends of the times. In those days, civil wars called the “Jinpuren Riots” in Kumamoto Prefecture and the “Hagi Riots” and other conflicts were raging. As a result, there was great social unrest at that time. In addition, people were focused on the uprising led by Takamori Saigo. Sokaku, who was full of youthful passion, had always respected Saigo and sympathized with Chikanori’s feelings in his support and felt encouraged by this. Sokaku flatly decided to abandon his practices as a Shinto priest in order to become a member of Saigo’s troops. Finally, he left the priest Chikanori for Kyushu.
On the way to Kyushu, Sokaku stopped at the dojo of Kenkichi Sakakibara, the Tokyo swordmaster, for a farewell visit on the pretext of traveling for self-training. It had been a long time since Sokaku had taken lessons from Kenkichi Sensei and trained with his disciples and this visit cheered him up a great deal. The students held a farewell party for Sokaku and gave him a large sum of money as a parting gift. At the same time, Kenkichi also handed him a letter together with a farewell gift. It was a letter of recommendation on behalf of Sokaku to Shunzo Masanao Momoi, headmaster of the Kyoshin Meichi-ryu, who lived in Sakai City, Osaka.
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