The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA. It was originally published in Aiki News 80 which appeared in April 1989 and was reprinted with the kind permission of Tokimune Takeda Sensei, Headmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Budo and the son of Sokaku Takeda Sensei.
Confused Fight in the Darkness
In the spring of 1875, Sokaku Takeda returned home for a visit from the fencing school of Kenkichi Sakakibara. This incident occurred while he was back in his hometown. At that time the decree abolishing the wearing of swords had entered effect and it was popular to carry one’s favorite sword inside a cane.
Sokaku, who was second son born into his family, was given a fine sword bearing the name of the swordsmith Kotetsu Nagafune of Bizen as a present upon his adoption [Sokaku was adopted for a time into the Kurokochi family on his mother’s side]. His maternal grandfather, Dengoro Kurokochi (a sword master) used the sword regularly. Sokaku always carried the sword in a cane. After he had returned home, he arrived at a bridge on an errand in the village of Inawashiro at about seven in the evening when it was dark. Suddenly, two ruffians jumped out from the right bank and attacked him brandishing naked blades. He could not see their faces due to the darkness. Sokaku was very surprised at what happened, as he could not think of anything he had done to have incurred a grudge. He dodged their attack and fell to the ground. He drew his favorite Kotetsu sword and executed cuts to the left and right which were sure to cut the legs of the two attackers. He cut once more to make sure no one was there and then rolled in that direction. When he stood up because he heard no sound, two or three men jumped out from the left bank and attacked him. He avoided the attack and cut from below from a prone position.
This time, when he stood up again, more than ten men jumped out from both sides wielding naked blades. Sokaku moved backward to the center of the bridge. Then more than ten others from yet another group closed in on him from the rear approach to the bridge flailing their swords and shouting loudly. Sokaku was about to be attacked from both sides. At the center of the bridge, the ruffians fought wildly in the darkness. He could not figure out what was happening and thought he would be killed. So he jumped into the river from the bridge and escaped from danger. Though it was spring, the river was cold. Sokaku swam downstream for a while in the direction of the light of a house near the river. He emerged from the river and washed the blood off his sword so his clothes would not be stained. When he arrived at the house, he found a couple of about 60 years old. They said, “Did you fall into the cold-river water?”, and treated him to a cup of hot water and kindly dried his wet clothes.
Sokaku related the incident on the bridge. The old man said, “There are two powerful groups of gamblers in this district. They are always quarreling over their territories. There was a rumor that there would be a big fight soon. I guess it happened tonight.” Finally Sokaku realized that he had become embroiled in a quarrel. He remembered he had cut the legs of four or five men. He thought that he had better leave the house. He would be in trouble if they learned about him. In the fight Sokaku surely cut the legs of four or five persons, but the cutting quality of the Kotetsu blade was so high that there was no knicked edge.
Sokaku left the following oral instruction: “Real fighting and training in a dojo are quite different. The mental attitude and way of using the sword are different in these situations. In a real fight a quick-witted person can win. Especially when in the darkness, lie on the ground and you can see the movements of the enemy’s legs with your mind’s eye from below. Before you move yourself you must strike in the direction you are heading to make sure there is no person or thing.”
Daily routine after fight on the bridge
On March 3, 1928 when Sokaku Takeda was 70 years old, he gave Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu lessons to more than ten people in Shibetsu at the military dojo in Hokkaido. This group included Yasutami Shimura who was the president of Shibetsu Yasutami Shimposha.
Sokaku showed some extraordinary feats to entertain the students during the training. This is what he did. He attached rolled letter paper to the forehead of one of his students who was holding the edge of the paper. Then Sokaku drew his favorite sword [a short sword] bearing the name of the swordsmith Masaie which he carried with him all the time, and executed a single strike. He cut the paper on the forehead over a distance of about 2 inches, but there was no sword mark on the man’s forehead. Then Sokaku called on a huge man named Shoji who was a fifth dan in Judo and said, “You can twist or lower my arm any way you want.” He offered his extended arm to the man. Everyone present was astonished.
A highly skilled judo expert with a large frame, Shoji tried to twist and raise Sokaku’s outstretched arm in various ways, but he could not move it at all. Finally, Shoji stood on the insteps of Sokaku while holding and hanging on his arm. Though he applied great force, he could not lower Sokaku’s arm at all. Shoji was helpless against Sokaku’s muscular arm. Sokaku was a small man, but his arms, which had been trained through the sword since childhood, were hard as the root of a tree. Everyone was surprised at the strength of his arms.
On that occasion, Sokaku talked to his students about his sword training. One of the stories he told was about the above-mentioned “confused fight in the darkness on the bridge”. Later a police sergeant named Sato of the Shibetsu Police Station heard about this story somewhere and came to visit Sokaku. He said to him, “I want to know about the incident in detail even though it happened more than 50 years ago and the statute of limitations has already expired. That’s why I came here.” Thus Sokaku talked in great detail about his experience when he was training as a young man. The following became clear. This incident took place because of territorial quarrels among the two opposing groups of gamblers. Among the victims injured in the fight on the bridge, the assaulter who inflicted injuries to the upper bodies of the men involved was identified, but the one who seriously wounded the men who had their legs cut with consummate skill had not been discovered. This had been treated as a mystery up until that time.
Sokaku was surprised to see that the truth about the incident that occurred more than 50 years earlier [in Inawashiro in Fukushima Prefecture] had been found out. He then made the comment that one’s sins always catch up to him in the end.
Sokaku’s Travels for Self-Training by Headmaster Tokimune Takeda
In 1868 the new government had just been formed and the administration had not yet exerted its control over the Tohoku region. Roads, in particular, were in bad condition and it was necessary to pay a toll each time one crossed a bridge since each town or village had to repair the roads. Thus travelers had difficulty paying the bridge toll.
The amount of money was large for someone traveling for self-training and proved to be a hardship for those who had to rely on the charity of others for lodging and food. Therefore there was no way to cross a river other than by walking or swimming. When it rained, the conditions of the roads were so bad that the mud was shin-deep. Even though he left a lodging wearing new straw sandals hanging from his waist in the morning, all of the footwear was worn out after he covered a distance of about 25 miles. In those days, if a man traveling for self-training visited a well-known fencing school he was treated to a meal and politely asked by the dojo head to instruct his students first. Then he would give them lessons. In that period they practiced with bamboo swords wearing protective kendo equipment. It was important to give the students only light training and to guide them well. Sometimes there were 40 or 50 pupils to teach. After teaching six or seven students, the master would tell him to rest where he was and he would stop with his headgear on. After giving lessons to 15 or 16 students he would tell him to rest and remove his headmask. Then he could take a rest without the headgear. If he was tired and removed his headgear to rest before being directed to do so by the master, this was regarded as bad etiquette and shameful. It meant that the person would be expelled from the fencing school as a shamed, weak-spirited man.
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