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Interview with Tokimune Takeda (3)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #73 (December 1986)

Sokaku Takeda was a student of Kenkichi Sakakibara and studied Jiki Shinkage-ryu. There was a person called Jirokichi Yamada who taught the sword at Hitotsubashi University. Sokaku was a fellow student of his. In those days there were scores of students in Sakakibara Sensei’s dojo. All of them had experienced brain concussions as a result of being struck on the head by their teacher’s sword. When he would thrust at them, they went flying.” I understand they scattered beans on the floor of the dojo and practiced there. Since they had very little to eat, they made thin rice gruel and ate it for breakfast. They sucked the gruel through a bamboo tube and that was all they had for breakfast. They were starving. Sokaku lived with these students as an uchideshi during such a period. I think he studied there for about two and a half years. Also, because of his connection with Jirokichi Yamada, Sokaku demonstrated the sword at Hitotsubashi University.

Did Sokaku Sensei study with Sakakibara Sensei before or after training with Shunzo Momoi Sensei?

He studied with Sakakibara first. As you know, the so-called “Southwestern Rebellion” took place. Since rumor had it that Takamori Saigo was going to raise an army, Sokaku intended to support Saigo. Then his brother Sokatsu who was a Shinto priest died and he was obliged to go to Hoshina as an apprentice priest. Later, Sokaku decided to leave for Kyushu in order to support Saigo and he visited Sakakibara in Edo on the way. He then visited Sakakibara Sensei in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Sakakibara Sensei wrote a letter and asked Sokaku to hand it to Shunzo Momoi in Osaka. (The following is recorded in newsletter No. 14 published by the Daito-kan: “Kenkichi Sensei found out that Sokaku took time out to participate in Saigo’s army explaining that it was for ‘warrior training’ and so the former asked Shunzo Momoi to prevent him from joining up). Since Sokaku could not read, he put the letter into his bosom and carried it to Shunzo Momoi in Osaka. Then he began to practice there.;/p>

Sokaku was treated like a guest there because of his introduction from Sakakibara. Shunzo Momoi had become an instructor of police on the recommendation of Sakakibara Sensei. They had that type of relationship. Sakakibara was teaching police initially but he recommended Momoi saying that the latter had more education than he did. Sokaku was unable to realize his desire to support Saigo because of Momoi’s actions.

Since Sokaku Takeda was a man of budo he was very suspicious. He never ate anything offered by students other than his own. He would eat something if you ate it first in his presence and offered it to him, but otherwise he was very cautious. I suppose this kind of behavior could have been expected of him. He was completely alert at all times.

I once had a hard time because of his cautiousness. As you know there was a certain teacher called Sasaburo Takano. My father and I and Shuzo Shibuya visited this Sensei. A niece of Mr. Shibuya married Shigeyoshi Takano, an adopted son of Takano Sensei. That’s why Shibuya came with us. Takano Sensei was quite a strange person. He had spears and naginata on display on the beams in the entrance of his house. In the back room of his house there was a thick tiger’s skin. Takano Sensei was a very gentle person and spoke quietly while Sokaku Takeda spoke in a loud voice as if he were quarreling. Wherever he went he would speak loudly. He used to tell me that one should speak loudly so that people would understand him.

Since he was a samurai he still retained the habit of talking at the highest pitch of his voice like traditional warriors when introducing himself. (Laughter) In any event, we were talking with Takano Sensei. We were served some sweets. I ate them but my father didn’t. So, Takano Sensei wrapped them up and looked up in order to hand them to Sokaku who was sitting in front of him but found no one there. Sokaku vanished suddenly. By the time Takano Sensei had wrapped up the two sweets left there Sokaku had disappeared. I was also there with him but Sokaku disappeared as if by magic. Since I liked kenjutsu I watched every movement of Takano Sensei who was a sword master. During that time Sokaku had disappeared. My father was sitting next to me opposite Takano Sensei. Since Takano Sensei asked me where Sokaku had gone I replied that I thought he had gone to the back part of the house to greet his wife. So Takano Sensei went to the back room to find him but didn’t return for a while. When he came back he had a strange expression on his face and said: “Well, I couldn’t find him there either. Where in the world has Takeda Sensei gone?” Since we couldn’t look for Sokaku forever, I decided to go home. On our way out of the room Takano Sensei motioned for me to pre-ceed him as the son of Sokaku who was his senior. When we left the room and were in the entrance we saw Sokaku outside. Takano Sensei said, “There he is! And in such a place!” (Laughter). Then Sokaku opened the front door from outside and came in. One moment he was in the room but now he was suddenly standing in the entrance. Then we paid our respects to Takano Sensei and went home. Upon arriving, my father scolded me severely. He said, “Who do you think Takano is?” Takano Sensei was a teacher of a higher normal school. The qualifications for a teacher of a normal school in those days was the same as for the principal of a junior high school today. He was also an excellent swordsman. Sokaku scolded me for having walked in front of Takano Sensei. He said to me: “What would you do if Takano held you from behind?”

I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible. Takano Sensei was a school teacher as well as a kenjutsu master and I was a young man of about twenty. However, when I said it was impossible for Takano Sensei to do such a thing my father again scolded me. He said: “People have been killed saying that such things are impossible! Shame on you for being followed by Takano! It is naturally expected that a man of budo follows others. Walking in front of someone is the same as being killed. Don’t you understand that! Then you go back to Hokkaido!” (Laughter) It seems that in the old days what he was describing actually happened. For example, one would come to a corner and suddenly be attacked by spears. But I was living in the Showa Period (beginning 1925). I never thought of that kind of possibility, you know. Being a man of budo is quite tough, isn’t it? This was what my father’s cousin said to me. “There is a secret in the Tanaka family. The family has a “kabe-nuki” (wall-passing) technique. Don’t forget that.” Although I didn’t believe that sort of technique actually existed, when Sokaku suddenly disappeared I changed my mind. My father never told me where he had gone. Don’t you think that Sokaku did strange things? (Laughter) Takano Sensei was the roost surprised. My father vanished in the room where Takano Sensei usually did his reading. We never knew how he went outside. He didn’t open the door of the room. It was a western-type door which was closed from the beginning. We don’t know from where he went out of the room.

When Sokaku Takeda Sensei was in Osaka around 1935 was he well-known in the martial arts world?

Yes, he was already known by that year. The reason is that he was teaching police. In about 1930, the Asahi Newspaper visited my father and published an article entitled “Ima Bokuden” (see AN 68). My father and I taught at the Engaru police station (in Hokkaido) and I taught the Sendai military police (Miyagi Prefecture) and the Saitama police. Mr. Yukiyoshi Sagawa went with me. Then I entered the army. In the old days, when we used the term “gaisen” (triumphal return), it meant that one would only come back dead. Therefore, there was the possibility that no one would succeed my father. So I once asked Mr. Sagawa, who was only about 35 years old at that time, to take care of things in my place. Mr. Sagawa, my father and I taught at the Saitama police station. About 100 persons trained there. Our training included the sword also. My father was nearly 80 years old then.

Did Sagawa Sensei often accompany Sokaku Sensei?

Yes, Mr. Sagawa was practicing at the police station. He and I accompanied my father. Although Sokaku wore wooden clogs he walked fast. We young men were breathing hard. My father was more than 80 at that time. You can tell he was different even by this. He was fast in walking and everything else. He wasn’t a normal person. There was no historical record of anyone over 86 years of age still travelling about teaching. The story of Musashi Miyamoto traveling around training is famous, but he was only a little over 50 years old. Musashi led a secluded life on a mountain after he was fifty. One’s death means one is weak. Sokaku traveled around until his body broken down at age 86. He was teaching at the Muroran police station in Hokkaido and then went down to Hakodate. Afterwards, he traveled down to Honshu (main island of Japan) where he collapsed.

Whenever Sokaku Takeda left home he never said anything or told us where he was going. So we had to go look for him. He told us when he left home we should think that he would never come back. He would say: “A man of budo never knows where he is going. Don’t expect me to come back. Think that you are seeing me for the last time.” Thus it wasn’t until the police informed us that we knew that my father had collapsed.

Sensei, was your father strict in educating you as a child?

Yes. Sokaku was always strict with me. But I was just a spoiled child. (Laughter) My father often told me that he worried about me because I was too kind-hearted. I think it was I who served him the most. He said to me: “Although all of my other students have left me you have served me well. That is why you can succeed me.” Some people don’t succeed their parents. In my case, I said “Yes” whether my father told me to turn left or right. But he also said to me: “Since you are a credulous type, which means you are stupid, you must listen to what I say carefully.” (Laughter) I always look at things as they are without thinking what is behind them.

Sensei, you kindly wrote down for us details about the Fukushima incident (where Sokaku is attacked by a large number of construction workers and miraculously escapes death). Are there documents remaining in Fukushima Prefecture about this incident?

I also went to Fukushima but could find no documents. When that incident occurred, Sokaku had wounds all over his body. He was stabbed in the back with a pick. He was rescued when he lost consciousness. According to Sokaku, he felt really good then. It was dark and he could see a fire in the distance. He said that he felt good when he followed the fire with his eyes. Then, he gradually regained consciousness and heard his uncle calling his name. His uncle’s name was Kurokouchi. Sokaku was saved because his uncle was at the scene. (Looking at the enrollment book) He is a relative of Sokaku. His name was Shinjuro Kurokouchi (a former Aizu clansman). I think that Sokaku was saved by this man, who had a fief yielding 250 koku (one koku = 5.119 U.S. bushels), and several other government officials.