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Katsuyuki Kondo: New Daito-ryu Videos Released

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #111 (1997)

Once shrouded in mystery, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu has recently featured in popular magazines and videos. Some schools of this ancient martial art have even published the entire 118 “secret techniques” (hiden mokuroku hyakujuhachikajo) which form the nucleus of Daito-ryu. Diverse schools have appeared offering different versions of the techniques - a situation deplored by Katsuyuki Kondo, director of the Daito-ryu Headquarters in Tokyo. In this interview Kondo Sensei explains the background to his decision to produce two new videotapes which have recently been released.

Kondo Sensei, we would like to hear your thoughts on the release of your two new videos, Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo.

Kondo: Aiki News approached me about producing the videos, and I agreed because I feel students of Daito-ryu and aikido must be quite confused by the flood of information available these days. I have also received many requests to present the authentic techniques. However, I still have some reservations about totally opening Daito-ryu to the public. The late Tokimune Takeda Soke would not permit public demonstrations of any techniques other than ikkajo, and although later in his life he said that nikajo and sankajo could also be shown, he was basically opposed to public exposure.

Some people have recently made public the entire 118 techniques.

I am afraid that just showing the outer form of the techniques will convey the wrong impression. If the techniques are to be made public then they should include the proper martial principles of Daito-ryu.

There are six essential principles, and to give them in complete detail would take a whole book, so I shall just summarize them here:

The first is etiquette (reigi). Budo has always been said to begin and end with etiquette. If this is lost you are left with bad manners; if it is deliberately ignored you have nothing but insolence. This is the cause of much trouble and should not be allowed to happen.

The second is the use of the eyes (metsuke) not just to see in the normal sense, but to gain insight, discernment, perception and precognition.

The third is breathing (kokyu).

The fourth is proper distancing (maai).

The fifth is breaking balance (kuzushi).

The sixth is continual alertness (zanshin).

There are other, finer points as well but basically each of the entire 118 techniques should contain all of these principles. Otherwise they cannot be called budo and certainly cannot be considered Daito-ryu techniques.

Some of the articles and videos I have seen make me feel these points are being forgotten. Instead of preserving the integrity of Daito-ryu, people seem to be intent on creating their own “original” styles of the art.

Are the essential principles you have just mentioned covered in your new videos?

When you see them you will understand. Take, for example, the combative stance (kamae). In Daito-ryu there is in fact no kamae: it is rather a “kamae without kamae.” To be truly effective one must maintain a natural posture (shizentai) rather than assuming special right or left combative stances.

A natural posture is a form of kamae, but once you extend one arm in front of you, you become unable to use techniques. The techniques can be freely performed from the natural, most unfettered posture. In a real martial situation it would be foolish to offer your arm for someone to grab.

In the new videos I also give a detailed explanation of the ippondori technique. In the classical martial traditions the first technique learned always contains the most profound teachings, the mysteries of the art; ippondori is just such a technique.

Ippondori is an empty-handed technique against a live sword, isn’t it?

Yes. It is a very difficult technique, and it is natural to wonder why it is the first to be taught, while the second technique, for instance, the empty-handed gyakuudedori, would be much easier to learn. But ippondori expresses the real essence of Daito-ryu.

I have been criticized for doing nothing but this technique and for not knowing anything else, but the reason I concentrate on ippondori is that I believe it is of great importance - so much so that one could profitably do nothing but this technique for years. However, the way it is often done these days is nothing but an empty form, which would be completely ineffective in a real martial situation.

The attack in ippondori is a fierce sword cut that would split a person in two from head to hips, yet we see demonstrations in which this attack is caught at head height and the attacker is thrown easily. In reality there is no way that this could be done, and I feel it is an insult to serious students of swordsmanship.

In Daito-ryu one must break the attacker’s balance without interrupting the flow of the technique. While doing so, one must continue to breathe out. These are points that I would like people to pay close attention to.

Budo is self-discipline, and one should not speak badly of others, but it is sad to see techniques that have lost their basic essence being shamelessly shown to the public. I am afraid this goes deeper than demonstrations and videos, and that these essentials are also lacking in regular training. If you say you are practicing Daito-ryu, you must be thoroughly grounded in the principles left to us by Sokaku and Tokimune Takeda, and these must be maintained in regular training.

Some say Daito-ryu techniques are violent and unrefined, but I disagree entirely. I think it is important to train in the basics, not to forget the budo principles, and to develop one’s spirit. Practice is not an intellectual exercise. You must learn the techniques physically through constant repetition.

In the case of ippondori, for example, you must not ease up after learning the form, but you should take into account how you would deal with an attack by a bamboo sword, a wooden sword, and even a live blade! If you were really attacked this way, would you be able to read the attack accurately and find the proper distancing? Is this sort of serious approach being taken in regular training?

I believe this sort of training is the way to complete us as human beings. It is the essence of budo and of Daito-ryu.

In other words, if you cannot do the techniques in this realistic way you are not really doing Daito-ryu?

Yes, and that is why I felt it was timely to show the correct principles and techniques of Daito-ryu.

How do you feel about making public techniques other than ikkajo? We feel that many people are hoping to see them.

I do not feel there is any hurry to make everything public, and I feel people will be able to learn quite a lot from these two new videos. However, I will consider future circumstances as they arise and would not rule out making more videos in the future.

We do hope so, as many people will be eagerly looking forward to this.

Though I may be repeating myself, I cannot stress enough the importance of repetitive, basic training. Studying directly from a good teacher is the best way to learn, and videos can never be more than an additional tool for learning.