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Interview with Tokimune Takeda

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #71 (June 1986)

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

Profile of Tokimune Takeda Soke

Tokimune Takeda Sensei was born in Shimo Yubetsu Hokkaido in 1916. He received strict instruction in arts such as kenjutsu and Daito-ryu aikijujutsu from his father. After the war, he became a police officer and distinguished himself as a detective. Upon retirement, he became the director of the Yamada Suisan Company.

In 1954 he established the Daitokan Dojo and dedicated himself to teaching. He retired from business in 1976 and since then has taught Daito-ryu all over Japan. There are now some 60 affiliated dojos and clubs in various parts of the country.

Tokimune Takeda: Mr. Ueshiba practiced a great deal. This is well recorded in the “eimeiroku” (student enrollment book) kept by Sokaku Takeda. He studied extensively and was really enthusiastic. He was the favorite student of Sokaku. However, I was the one who was most scolded by Sokaku. Morihei Ueshiba was the second most scolded after me. Since I was his son, I wasn’t so bothered when Sokaku scolded me, but I imagine that Mr. Ueshiba must have been greatly affected since he wasn’t a family relation. As Sokaku grew older, he started having hearing difficulty. He started to shout in a loud voice because he couldn’t hear well. One of the reasons I accompanied my father was to act as his interpreter. Since he spoke with an Aizu accent, he couldn’t make himself understood even by talking in a loud voice. (Laughter) I began to accompany him when I was around 14 or 15 until I became about 20.

He spoke so loudly you could hear him even from outside the front door. And then his voice was not normal and just hearing it surprised people. He was very short, though. (Laughter) He was not the sort who would dress casually as we do nowadays. He always wore a “hakama” (pleated skirt) and kept himself neat. Since he was a product of an earlier age, his attitude was very different from ours.

Aiki News: When did Ueshiba Sensei meet Sokaku Sensei for the first time?

In 1915. I understand they met each other at Hisada Inn in the town of Engaru. I was very small at that time. It seems that Mr. Ueshiba came to Hokkaido to cultivate the land when he was in his twenties. 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. Then he studied Daito-ryu with my father from 1915 through 1919, about 5 years, and when my father began to travel around, he would accompany him. Since Sokaku Takeda traveled about instructing police, judges and that type of person, Mr. Ueshiba probably thought that the art was great and that he wouldn’t have to engage in any farming work if he mastered it. He was very devoted to the art 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 their instruction. He was in his thirties then. He taught judges at this young age. It was difficult to rise to that position in those days. One wasn’t employed by the police in those days unless a descendent of a samurai. They stuck to formality. It was a great thing to teach judges at such a young age.

You mentioned that Sokaku Sensei was teaching at the Hisada Inn in 1915…

Yes. My father stayed at the Hisada Inn and taught. 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 because unfortunately, Sokaku only traveled around to teach and didn’t establish any branch dojos. Although it has only been ten years since I began to teach seriously, whenever I go somewhere to teach and everything goes smoothly, I always make it a rule to have the group set up a branch dojo. I tell my students to go out and actively teach after they reach the level of about 2nd dan. At present, we have about 2,280 members in our organization. However, Sokaku Takeda was not that type of person. At that time, only Sokaku Takeda taught. Also, students had to sign their names in the “eimeiroku” each time they participated in a course. Daito-ryu was never allowed to be taught to outsiders. Since these are different times, I have removed the dangerous techniques from the art and am only teaching those that can be practiced by people in general in an easily understood manner.

Sokaku Takeda taught for a very long time and instructed about 30,000 students. His main students were police. In a given police department there are a maximum of about 100 personnel. Once a month they have a briefing-type meeting for their work. This brings together many police officers from the smaller substations. It was for such occasions that Sokaku was invited to teach. He directly taught a huge number of people.

At one particular such seminar, Sokaku did something very puzzling. He pointed out several individuals among the many policemen and told them to leave. Then he instructed the others. After the course was over, the police chief asked why he had required three or four officers to leave before the practice. Sokaku looked at him silently and then said:

“You don’t understand that? 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 met all of these people for the first time so the police chief was really surprised. Everyone would follow Sokaku because he could do such things. One of the most important things for judges 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 verify their acts but an ability to read faces is essential. Although I read books on the subject, it is not an easy one to master. There is no way I can tell a person to leave at the first meeting.

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 guard, he never did so himself. When he was visited by journalists, he never showed techniques for them. He was very strict about the art because it was applied to police tactics.

What sort of contact did Ueshiba Sensei have with Sokaku Sensei after their initial meeting at the inn?

We can tell by checking the eimeiroku. Sokaku only received those amounts of money recorded in the eimeiroku. I have all of those records. You can tell by looking at it. (Looking at the eimeiroku) Here it says, “Morihei Ueshiba, 10 Yen”. He didn’t want people later to claim they had paid him 50 or 100 Yen, so he had them write it in the book. He was not the usual budo man. It is sometimes said that he charged several hundred Yen for one technique, which is equivalent to several hundreds of dollars, but that is not true. He charged 10 Yen per person for the ten-day seminars he offered. His rate for police, however, was 5 Yen since it had to do with their work. People in general were charged 10 Yen.

What was the art called at that time?

“Aikijujutsu”, “Aiki” is also included in Daito-ryu. It after all deals with “go no sen” (self-defense). We don’t have techniques where the criminal grabs our hand and we then throw him. In reality when the police catch a criminal, they have to tie him up with a rope or apply handcuffs. So we never tell our partners to grab our hand or lapel during practice. These are self-defense techniques. For us “go no sen” is simply “Aiki” and “sensen” is “kiai”. Without “kiai” you cannot defeat your opponent. (Again looking at the eimeiroku) Mr. Ueshiba practiced quite a lot, didn’t he? This was the first time, here the second, and this the third. Here are the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th times… Here is the 8th seminar where Mr. Ueshiba participated as Sokaku’s assistant. He had 70 days practice as a student altogether. So he really did practice a lot. Here is yet another entry, the 9th time.

This is quite different from what has been written about the subject up until now isn’t it?

Yes. Mr. Ueshiba accompanied Sokaku a great deal. It was more important to travel with Sokaku than to study with him during the regular practice time. And what’s more, he also taught as Sokaku’s assistant.

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