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Sokaku Takeda and Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #104 (1995)

Sokaku Takeda is well-known as the principal martial arts instructor of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. As I have pointed out on several occasions, the revival of interest in Takeda’s art, Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, is largely due to the popularization of aikido in Japan and abroad after World War II. It seems inevitable that with hundreds of thousands of people having now studied aikido, there would be a certain interest in the “roots” of the art. In the first two articles of this series we have tried to place Daito-ryu in historical context and trace Sokaku’s formative years. Now we will turn our attention to his unparalleled teaching career that spanned more than fifty years and touched the lives of some 30,000 students.

Apart from an abundance of anecdotal evidence concerning Sokaku gleaned from his son and students, our main aids in tracing his activities are the enrollment registers (eimeiroku) and payments received ledgers (shareiroku) that he meticulously kept over some forty-five years. Since these documents comprise over 2,000 pages, our research thus far has been limited to a preliminary study of the eimeiroku.

Nonetheless, by charting a chronology of Sokaku’s movements from 1898 through 1943, for example, quite a clear picture of his teaching activities emerges. We find that he spent most of teaching career in northern Japan, and more than half of this time he was in Hokkaido. What follows is a summary of his activities during this period.

Spring 1898 through fall of 1910: Tohoku region with lengthy periods of stay in Miyagi, Iwate, and Yamagata prefectures. Shorter sojourns to Fukushima and Akita during this time are also recorded. There is mention of a brief trip to Hokkaido in July of 1904 as well.

Winter 1910 to beginning of 1921: Hokkaido. Sokaku moved to Shiratakimura about 1916 and this remained his home for the rest of his life.

Spring 1921 through fall 1922: four month stay in Fukushima and five-and-a-half month visit to Ayabe, near Kyoto.

Winter 1922 to winter 1930: Hokkaido. 1931 to beginning of 1934: Hokkaido with visits to Tokyo and Yamagata in 1931.

Spring to fall 1934: half-year stay, mostly in Iwate prefecture.

1935: Stays of several weeks each in Fukushima, Yamagata and Iwate; he returned to Hokkaido at end of year.

First half of 1936: Miyagi, Saitama, and Tokyo.

July 1936 to July 1939: Osaka with possible brief return to Hokkaido. August 1939 to fall 1942: Hokkaido. 1943: Left Hokkaido, probably early in the year, for Tohoku where he died in Aomori in April 1943.

Apart from the entries in his eimeiroku and shareiroku, the only documents to have survived that record Sokaku’s presence in Tohoku in the early 1900s are a few hiden mokuroku and other transmission scrolls possessed by the descendants of their recipients. What little else is known about Sokaku’s activities through 1910 is preserved in the form of anecdotes, most of which were related by his son Tokimune.

It is known, for example, that Sokaku taught Daito ryu to members of the Second Army Division in Sendai for several years starting about 1903. Sokaku got his teaching post with the army due to his earlier connection with Tsugumichi Saigo (younger brother of Takamori Saigo), whom he accompanied to Hokkaido in 1887. Among Sokaku’s students during this period was Makoto Miura who later became a famous general and supporter of Morihei Ueshiba.

One fascinating story about Sokaku describes his adventure-filled trip to Hokkaido in 1904. It seems that Sokaku was asked by the Municipal Court of Hakodate to provide assistance in helping prevent the disruption of court proceedings by local gangs. Several of the prosecutors had trained in Daito-ryu and were teaching the art to court employees and policemen in Hakodate and this was the connection to Sokaku. A few days after his arrival in the city, it looked as though the diminutive Daito-ryu master would attempt to take on single-handedly some two hundred gang members wielding a variety of weapons, including firearms. Fortunately, the matter was settled through arbitration, without violence. The gang leaders agreed to cease their disruptive activiries and Sokaku was convinced to leave Hokkaido so as not to provoke any further hostilities.

In 1905, a shabbily-dressed Sokaku encountered a brash young British gentleman on a train in Sendai who objected to his presence in the first-class car. Sokaku registered his displeasure by proceeding to effortlessly pin the larger foreigner The amazed man, Charles Parry, then became a student of Sokaku for a short time and his name is preserved in the eimeiroku.

Our knowledge of Sokaku’s movements improves somewhat following his relocation to Hokkaido at the end of 1910 since many first-hand accounts of his students have been preserved. However, before proceeding any further, I would like to take a moment to dispel one lingering myth concerning Sokaku which has circulated in aikido circles for many years.

The rumor is that Sokaku fled to Hokkaido to escape the authorities after being implicated in a killing. This story and others were repeated, it seems, in an attempt to discredit Sokaku, thereby making Morihei Ueshiba’s parting-ofthe-ways with his teacher seem more justifiable. The reality is that Sokaku, before moving to Hokkaido, had spent the better part of a year teaching in Akita. Among his pupils were police officers including the Akita Prefectural Police Chief, Sanehide Takarabe. Takarabe held Sokaku’s skills in such high regard that when he was posted to Abashiri in the northernmost part of Hokkaido, he invited the Daito-ryu master to accompany him. No doubt Takarabe had heard about Sokaku’s earlier experiences in the yet-to-be-civilized Hokkaido.

Sokaku was fifty years old and in his prime when he relocated to Hokkaido. There he met and married his second (or possibly his third) wife Sue around 1912. She bore Sokaku seven children, including his successor Tokimune, before her death in 1930. Sue also practiced Daitoryu and sometimes assisted Sokaku during seminars. It was in Hokkaido, too, that Sokaku groomed most of his leading students, among them Morihei Ueshiba. Besides Ueshiba, lesser known but prominent figures in Daito-ryu aikijujutsu history who studied under Sokaku in the early Hokkaido years were Nenokichi Sagawa and his son Yukiyoshi, Taiso Horikawa and his son Kodo, and Kotaro Yoshida. Yukiyoshi Sagawa, now in his mid-90s and in frail health, still operates a dojo out of his home in Tolryo. Kodo Horikawa (1894-1980) created a separate branch of Daito-ryu known as the Kodokai that continues today in Hokkaido. Kotaro Yoshida (1883-1966) was an intellectual who worked as a journalist in Engaru and is credited with being the person who introduced Ueshiba to Sokaku in 1915.

It is well-known that Morihei Ueshiba first met Sokaku at a Daito-ryu seminar in Engaru in February 1915 and that this experience signaled a turning point in his life. Ueshiba became completely absorbed in the study of Daito-ryu and even invited Sokaku to come to live with him in Shirataki-mura and give private instruction. The best guess is that this occurred in late 1915 or early 1916. When Sokaku accepted Morihei s invitation to move to Shirataki, he was treated with great deference and cared for personally by his enthusiastic student. How could Morihei afford the luxury of spending so much of his time pracricing Daito-ryu when life in Hokkaido was so demanding?

Let me digress for a moment to provide some background information on Ueshiba’s life in Shirataki at the time of Sokaku’s appearance on the scene. AIthough the village was still a primitive place in those years, a small and relatively prosperous settlement had sprung up due to the hard work of its industrious citizens, many of whom were transplanted from Wakayama prefecture. It appears to have escaped the attention of historians thus fax; but Morihei received considerable financial and moral support from family and relatives during his years in Hokkaido.

To be more specific, in addition to his own wife and daughter, Morihei s father Yoroku, his brother-in-law Zenzo Inoue, Zenzo’s son Yoichiro and other family members all lived in Shirataki. Zenzo was one of the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Tanabe and had married Ueshiba’s eldest sister, Tame. His younger brother, Koshiro Inoue, was one of Japan’s wealthiest industrialists in the early part of the century. Moreover, Zenzo’s son Yoichiro (also known as Hoken and Noriaki), who later founded Shin’ei Taido, was one of Ueshiba’s most prominent students. The names of both Yoroku Ueshiba and Zenzo Inoue appear in an undated entry of Sokaku’s shareiroku. I conjecture that both the elder Ueshiba, and especially, Zenzo who was by far the richer of the two, were the ones who provided the large sums that Sokaku is reported to have received from Morihei during these years.

As an interesting side note, there has been some dispute about the accuracy of Morihei s statements concerning his treatment of Sokaku during these years. Ueshiba claimed to have built a fine house and dojo for Sokaku on his property. However a record dated December 21, 1919 and witnessed by Kotaro Yoshida reveals that Morihei presented his teacher with a modest wooden house. The apparent contradiction is resolved when we recall that Shirataki was completely razed by a fire in May 1917. This tragic event destroyed Morihei s home and was the impetus for Zenzo and his family and probably Yoroku as well, to return to Tanabe. Ueshiba’s original Hokkaido home was no doubt more spacious than the small structure hastily built after the Great Fire.

Obviously, the fire in Shirataki interrupted Sokaku’s teaching at the Ueshiba residence. We know little of what happened after that and, not surprisingly, after the fire only one seminar is recorded in Sokaku’s eimeiroku until mid-1918. We do know that Ueshiba rebuilt a small house that Sokaku later received on Morihei’s departure from Hokkaido. Sokaku also acquired several pieces of property of his own in Shirataki at some point in time. It seems that Sokaku did resume teaching in Shirataki after an indeterminate hiatus and that Ueshiba s training continued. Although the exact truth will perhaps never be known, Morihei would appear to have spent three to four years pracHcing Daito-ryu under Sokaku in Hokkaido. Two or so of these years included intensive training at the side of the master It is interesting to note that Ueshiba claimed in an unpublished interview conducted around 1965 that Sokaku had asked him to become his successor. This does not seem at all out of the question considering the closeness of their relationship at that time.

In December 1919, Ueshiba received a telegram from Tanabe informing him that his father was near death. He hastily departed from Shirataki and left to Sokaku the modest home he had rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1917. Ueshiba would never return to Hokkaido but his association with Sokaku continued for many years. Sokaku, too, was affected by his star pupil’s abrupt departure as we will see in our next article, when Sokaku sets out from Hokkaido for the first time in many years to follow Morihei to Ayabe.