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Sokaku Takeda: Bodyguard in Hokkaido

by Tokimune Takeda

Aiki News #70 (March 1986)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

The article below was reprinted with the kind permission of Tokimune Takeda Sensei, Headmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Budo and the son of Sokaku Takeda Sensei.

Since I receive many inquiries concerning this subject, I would like to describe what really happened. Why did Sokaku Takeda, a famous martial art expert, choose to live in a backward region like Hokkaido instead of in the center of the country? It is quite natural for a question like this to be raised. About 1868, the colonial troop system was introduced with the object of developing Hokkaido and the traditional clan system was abolished. Thus, some samurai, having lost their jobs, established themselves in Hokkaido and were eager to develop the land. This northernmost island was a most suitable place for those who dreamt of making their fortunes overnight or for criminals to hide. Since people of all kinds and backgrounds descended upon Hokkaido searching for a new life similar to what we see in western movies, the number of criminals also increased. There were many crimes including rioting and jail breaks by bands of prisoners. Gamblers and villainous types overran the land and tormented the good, hard working citizens residing there.

Near anarchy prevailed in Hokkaido at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868) because of the weakness of the police. The number of gamblers increased to the point that it could not be ignored. Such types provoked quarrels with men of budo and extorted sake or money from them. When those who don’t train stand in authority, there is no way to handle them other than to please them. In this regard there is not much difference between now and the old days.

Sokaku Takeda vs. the “Mo” gamblers

This is a portion of the Sokaku Takeda biography published by Isamu Takeshita, the navy admiral, who studied Daito-ryu at the beginning of the Showa period (1925- ). Also, this is the true account of the incident, part of which was published in the book “Aikido” by Tsuruyama, a researcher.

At that time in Hokkaido there were incidents involving people who would disrupt court proceedings wielding dangerous weapons and demand that suspects under investigation be released immediately. The situation was becoming extremely dangerous.

On July 6, 1904, Sokaku Takeda entered wild Hakodate City in Hokkaido at the request of the municipal court. Sokaku stayed at the home of Kishiro Yokoyama, a notary public in Hakodate. Public prosecutors Shigemori Fujita, Hachiro Hasegawa and Bansho Kimura were teaching (Daito-ryu) to employees of the court and policemen in Hakodate at that time.

About ten days after his arrival in Hokkaido, he went to a public bath in the town since he liked taking morning baths. Three gambler types were in the bath and were talking and laughing with each other as they pointed at Sokaku. Sokaku knew by intuition that they could provoke him into a quarrel, so he watched them carefully. They somehow found out who the man was who was newly-appointed as the court guardsman. They found Sokaku to be a small man, less than 5 feet tall (151.5 cm) and weighing only about 115 pounds (52.5 kg). They were waiting for an unguarded moment of Sokaku who was quite unarmed wondering how such a small man like him could possibly be a bodyguard. Sokaku exited the public bath house and walked for a while. However, five or six gamblers came to attack him all at once. He struck their faces with his wet towel. Striking an opponent with a wet towel using the “kokyu” method of Aiki was as powerful as hitting one with a young bamboo stick and they were scattered one after another. Since the ruffians were used to fighting, they persistently attacked Sokaku swishing their knives with their hands. But Sokaku dealt with them severely and broke arms and ribs and the group finally beat a hasty retreat.

Sokaku went back to Mr. Yokoyama’s house who explained that the “Mo” band had thousands of violent members and that he was sure that they would come back to exact revenge. Thinking he didn’t want to trouble his host, Sokaku moved to the second floor of an inn nearby and began to polish his cherished sword while waiting for nightfall.

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