Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda
Aiki News #94 (Winter/Spring 1993)
Few individuals have so thoroughly investigated the origins of aikido as Aiki News’ own editor-in-chief Stanley Pranin. In this new series, originally written for publication in the Japanese-language magazine Wushu, Pranin recounts some of the highlights of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba’s long career through his association with his teachers and leading students. This first installment focuses on the extremely significant but little understood relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and his teacher, Sokaku Takeda.
Let me begin by stating categorically that the major technical influence on the development of aikido is Daito-ryu jujutsu. This art, which is said to be the continuation of a martial tradition of the Aizu Clan dating back several hundred years, was propagated in many areas of Japan during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods by the famous martial artist, Sokaku Takeda. Known equally for his martial prowess and severity of character, Takeda had used his skills in life-and-death encounters on more than one occasion.
Takeda was fifty-four years old when Morihei Ueshiba first met him at the Hisada Inn in Engaru, Hokkaido in late February 1915. This encounter marked the beginning of a long, stormy yet ultimately productive association between the two, which lasted for more than twenty years.
Ueshiba’s initial exposure to Daito-ryu practice included three 10-day seminars in close succession which concluded on April 4 of that same year. Daito-ryu records show he then participated in three other seminars taught by Takeda in 1916. Ueshiba also invited Takeda to his home and received intensive, private instruction in the highly-refined techniques of Daito-ryu. Unfortunately, few details about this study and how long it lasted are known.
Ueshiba left Hokkaido once and for all in December 1919 after he received a telegram which contained the news that his father was critically ill. He entrusted his home, a modest wooden structure, to Takeda and returned to his hometown of Tanabe. En route, he made an unscheduled stop at Ayabe, the center of the Omoto religion, to pray for his father’s recovery. It was here he met Onisaburo Deguchi, another major influence in his life and the subject of the next article in this series.
When he arrived home to find his father already dead, Ueshiba decided to move his family, then consisting of his wife, his mother, and two children, to Ayabe, and they relocated there in the spring of 1920. At the urging of Deguchi, Ueshiba opened up his first dojo in his home, known as the Ueshiba Juku, and taught Daito-ryu to students, most of whom were members of the Omoto religion.
Two years later in April, Sokaku Takeda appeared in Ayabe with his wife, a daughter, and his 6-year old son, Tokimune, the present Daito-ryu headmaster. The question of whether Takeda invited himself or was asked by Ueshiba to come to Ayabe seems at the moment to be unresolvable, and the official versions from Daito-ryu and aikido sources differ considerably. What is known is that Takeda remained for five months, teaching members of the Ueshiba Juku dojo, and that at the end of this period Ueshiba was awarded the kyoju dairi certificate which conferred upon him official status as an instructor of Daito-ryu. Takeda and the spiritually oriented Deguchi appear, not surprisingly, to have disliked each other, although the Omoto leader did present Sokaku with a sword and a hand-drawn painting as parting gifts. In any event, all indications are that the relationship between the diminutive but fearless Sokaku and his most famous student, Morihei Ueshiba, was strained during the Ayabe period.
Following Takeda’s departure in September 1922, the two appear to have met only infrequently, although Takeda did visit Ueshiba on several occasions at the latter’s dojo in Tokyo. Ueshiba eventually established himself as a well-known teacher of jujutsu in Tokyo while Takeda continued to travel extensively all over Japan, giving seminars primarily to prominent persons such as judges, police officials, military officers and the like. Although Ueshiba and Takeda had little direct contact from that point on, they did maintain a correspondence. Further, Ueshiba, now an accredited teacher of Daito-ryu, awarded scrolls of proficiency to his direct students until quite probably as late as 1937. Among the recipients of Daito-ryu diplomas from Ueshiba are Kenji Tomiki, Minoru Mochizuki, Rinjiro Shirata, and Gozo Shioda.
In modern psychological terms the association between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda might be characterized as a “love-hate” relationship. It is difficult to pin down historical facts as there are almost no surviving witnesses to many of these events. Even today emotionally charged explanations, which largely contradict each other, are offered by Takeda’s and Ueshiba’s successors. It is clear that Ueshiba had deep respect for Takeda’s technical ability and that the latter regarded the founder of aikido as one of his most promising students.
I suspect that at the root of the problems between the two were Sokaku’s demanding personality, Ueshiba’s independent attitude and spiritual orientation, and the vague financial arrangements with regard to Morihei’s obligations as a certified instructor of Daito-ryu. The page of the Daito-ryu eimeiroku dated September 15, 1922 in which Ueshiba is awarded his kyoju dairi certification clearly states the he was obligated to pay a three yen registration fee to Sokaku for each student enrolling in his dojo. Later each accused the other of improprieties with regard to financial matters and reports of their last meetings reveal the unresolved nature of the disagreements between them. But Takeda conferred kyoju dairi status on quite a number of individuals, including Taiso Horikawa, Yukiyoshi Sagawa, Kotaro Yoshida, Kotaro (Kodo) Horikawa, and Takuma Hisa (Kiyoshi Watatani lists a total of twenty-nine in his Bugei Ryuha Dai Jiten), and ostensibly, all of these individuals would have been responsible for paying the same sums to Sokaku whenever they taught Daito-ryu. I consider it highly doubtful that Ueshiba was the only one to have had personal difficulties with Takeda concerning financial matters.
In conclusion, I would like to mention some of the positive consequences of the connection between these two highly-regarded twentieth-century budo men. First, aikido’s technical debt to Daito-ryu is immense. It is difficult to find a movement in aikido which does not originate in Takeda’s jujutsu form. On the other hand, the survival, dissemination and future prospects of Daito-ryu as a traditional Japanese martial art have been virtually guaranteed by the tremendous international success of modern aikido. In fact, I have often heard practitioners of Daito-ryu refer loosely to their art as aikido! In any event, viewed historically, the two martial arts are irrevocably linked and will remain so despite the misunderstandings, biases, and recriminations that have been perpetuated to this day. In time, as our understanding of past historical events grows, I believe it will be possible to regard the relationship between aikido and Daito-ryu jujutsu with a more objective eye and that the mutual debt of these arts will be more easily perceived.