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Interview with Tokimune Takeda (1)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #87 (Winter/Spring 1991)

This interview with Tokimune Takeda Sensei, present headmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Budo, was conducted at his home in Abashiri, Hokkaido in 1986 by Aiki News editor-in-chief Stanley Pranin. The son of Sokaku Takeda speaks of his father, Daito-ryu techniques, and his role as successor to the art in this first installment of a two-part series.

Tokimune Takeda
Tokimune Takeda in his Abashiri home, 1985

Sokaku Takeda Sensei learned some martial arts from his own father as well as Onoha Itto-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu. Do you think it can be said that Daito-ryu was created by Takeda Sensei?

No, the art’s origins lie in the art called “Tegoi.” There is a story about it in the Kojiki. When the goddess Amaterasu o Omikami went to her fellow god Ookuninushi no Mikoto to order him to return her country to her, he and the god Tejikaraou no Mikoto fought a match. This match was conducted using Tegoi. The Tegoi art is the origin of present-day sumo. In the old days, sumo matches were always held at shrine festivals. Emperor Seiwa created the two Imperial Guard posts of Ukon and Sakon for sumo and made this art into bu. It became the most popular art during the Kamakura period. Therefore, it can be said that Emperor Seiwa is the founder of Daito-ryu.

The record of this story is kept at the Ise Shrine. Although these documents are not allowed to be shown to anyone except Shinto priests, since the Takeda family is descended from a family of Shinto priests, I was allowed to see them. When I went there to check what my father had told me, I found these documents.

What other martial arts did your father practice?

Sokaku practiced Onoha Itto-ryu. Kenjutsu was popular and jujutsu was merely a supplemental art in those days. In other words, since the bushi [samurai warriors] always carried their swords, they never thought of throwing someone with their hands. Therefore, at the time of the Meyi Restoration, sword arts were more popular than jujutsu. Jujutsu was just beginning to be practiced then. Oshikiuchi, the palace art, was an exception, of course.

Sokaku’s sword came from the traditional Onoha Itto-ryu. The first short sword technique in this art is the same as the first technique in Daito-ryu where you pin your opponent then thrust at and cut him. This technique was used only during the age of civil strife but Sokaku taught it as an important technique. Since he had practiced kenjutsu, he could easily turn his wrists. In order to cut your opponent, you need to set the blade of your sword in a specific position; you need to turn your sword this way. You receive your opponent’s sword with the back of your sword and then you turn your sword to cut him. This is not how you hit your opponent with a bokken, you know. Since a real sword has a sharp blade, you need to receive your opponent’s blade with the back of your sword. You should not receive it with your blade. If you do so using a real sword, the blade will be nicked. But if you receive your opponent’s sword with the back of your sword and then go to cut him with your blade, the cutting edge will never be nicked. Therefore, unless you can easily turn your wrists, you cannot perform aiki techniques. This twisting of the wrists is the essence of Daito-ryu techniques.

Then the art is based on sword movements?

Sokaku Takeda’s arts are based on the sword. In learning Daito-ryu, studying the sword is absolutely necessary. Sokaku always carried a short knife wrapped in a towel. He never showed it to anyone but I heard that there was a person who saw him drop that knife once. This [the technique using this knife] was a secret technique of Shingen Takeda [ 1521-1573, famous leader and warrior during the Age of Civil Strife] and was transmitted to the Takeda family. When an enemy comes to attack you with his sword, you use this knife in this way [Sensei demonstrates]. I now get your vitals. This is ippondori in Daito-ryu.

Timing is very important, isn’t it?

That’s right. When your opponent approaches, you must grab him immediately. If you ask him to wait when he comes to strike you, you will be hit. You must immediately turn your body to dodge his attack and then turn and control him. You cannot do this unless you can use the turning motion of your hands effectively. The essence of Daito-ryu lies in this turning of your hands. This was why Sokaku practiced only ken in the beginning.

When you say “timing” do you mean to attempt to control your opponent’s ki?

That’s right. You control his vital points with the guard of your short sword and then thrust it into him. You control him with ki and this is the ippondori technique, a technique directly transmitted from Sokaku Takeda. In the old days, one used to move his foot forward like this and then immobilize his enemy’s head by grabbing his hair to cut his head off. This was one of Shingen Takeda’s techniques and it is an important technique in Daito-ryu. However, we do not cut off our opponent’s head now like they used to in the old days. We just teach our students to control their opponent. However, originally one used to cut his enemy’s head off after grabbing his hair. I do not usually talk about such things but since you are so enthusiastic about the art, I am telling you this.

We understand that Sokaku Sensei learned from Kenkichi Sakakibara Sensei. Did Jikishinkage-ryu have any influence on Daito-ryu?

Yes, it did. Sakakibara’s sword was goken (hard sword). His techniques have also been transmitted to Daito-ryu. When I teach, I teach sword and taijutsu (unarmed techniques) separately. I explain as I teach that this technique conies from the sword of Shinkage-ryu or Onoha-ryu. Since it is too much work for me to teach all of them, I teach the Onoha Itto-ryu techniques only to leading members of the dojo. As you know, there are 60 techniques in this school alone.

So Sokaku studied Onoha Itto-ryu. He learned the traditional art of the Aizu clan from a person named Toma Shibuya. Most of the records and documents of the Aizu clan were burnt at the time of the war. Only a few documents which were kept in a temple are available now.

Did Sokaku Sensei use an iron stick (tetsubo)?

Yes, he carried a hexagonal stick, but we have lost it. He often carried a shikomizue, which is a stick with a sword hidden inside. He used to use it when he traveled about testing his skills.

Here is a genealogy of the Takeda family. Soemon Takeda was Sokaku Takeda’s grandfather, wasn’t he?

That’s right. He was Sokichi’s father. At the time of the Aizu war, many soldiers from all over the country came to attack the clan since they considered it to be an enemy of the Emperor. Thus, I think if someone hadn’t asked a temple to keep these kinds of documents, they would have been lost.

There is one story about Sokaku. At the time of the Aizu war, my father was nine years old. All of the adults from his household had escaped to the mountains and he and his sister were left behind in the house because it was thought that the children would be safe there. When the soldiers of the Imperial army came into his house, they took the duck which Sokaku had tended carefully and killed it. Seeing this, Sokaku shouted, “The Imperial army are thieves!!” When he heard Sokaku, the captain came to him and explained that the Imperial army were not thieves because they were all soldiers of the Emperor. However, since Sokaku continued to insist that they were thieves, the captain had to calm him down by giving him some money (two bu). I heard that some local people who witnessed this scene later came to the house with their faces concealed behind masks to frighten Sokaku and so to steal the money he had been given. Since in the old days, they used paper-covered lamp stands, at night it was quite dark. In this darkness they broke into Sokaku’s house wearing masks. However, Sokaku got angry and threw the rice bowl from which he was eating straight at one of the masks. I heard that the mask he hit broke in two. He was only nine years old then. He really had a heroic temper.

There is another story about Sokaku. I heard that he used to walk some seven miles in the middle of the night to see the cannons firing. Every night he made some rice balls and set out to watch the fighting because seeing guns being shot at the castle interested him. Since there were guards everywhere, they often caught him when he made a sound. Since he was only a child, he was threatened and sent home. However, he would always return [laughter]. The old cannons are quite different from present-day bombs. They didn’t explode. They were red balls of flame, since the cannon ball was heated. Because they could easily be seen in the dark, Sokaku went to watch every night. Since it was a battlefield, there were many people carrying weapons such as spears. Sokaku had seen people kill each other this way since he was very young. He loved battlefields. Since he was a child he didn’t have to worry about being killed and so he used to run around the battlefield. He told me many other stories about himself. He talked about how he went around testing his skills and how he studied under top masters. He even told me the habits of these top teachers as well as the characteristics of their arts. I think these talks were quite valuable to me.

Was Sokaku Sensei knowledgeable in the history of Aizu clan?

He was not a very academic type and could not write. I wrote the articles published in our newsletter. I studied all the documents kept in the temple and wrote the articles based on the information they contained.

The Aizu clan were originally guards in Kyoto. A group of samurai called the Shinsengumi was active at that time [just prior to the Meiji Restoration]. The crest of the Shinsengumi was the same as the crest of the Aizu clan and they were descended in a direct line from Aizu clan members. The Shinsengumi was a violent group which killed royalists belonging to the Satsuma and Tosa clans. They even killed top leaders. This was why the lord of the clan was attacked when the Satsuma and Tosa clans later took power. They defeated the Aizu clan in the Toba and Fushimi war. Once the clan had been beaten, they could not recover. During that war, the Aizu were still using heated cannon balls whereas the Imperial army was using imported cannons. The Aizu were no match for the Imperial forces. The Aizu clan, which was supposed to have been guarding the Emperor, had turned into the Emperor’s enemy. At one point, the lord of the Aizu clan was arrested and was about to be killed. However, he was not killed. The Aizu castle was burnt down and completely disappeared. There are not many people who have the records of the genealogy of the Aizu clan.

We understand that you have been writing many articles concerning the history of the art in your newsletter. Do you have any future plans to publish a book?

The reason I write those articles in the newsletter is that I want those who study Daito-ryu to understand what is really right. I then study the history further using the articles I write as the basis. Although I have never written a book, I feel that I ought to do so eventually. However, I will not publish any book which contains falsehoods. Since I have the eimeiroku, I can write my book based on the information in it. I do not wish to write a book at all unless I can write one which will never need to be rewritten or corrected in the future.

My concern is that if we do not have reliable sources of information or historical books, there may be people who will write anything they wish about the art. The extreme example of this tendency can be seen abroad. For example, in the United States ninjutsu is currently very popular and although there is no historical proof, everybody tends to believe that it really exists even today. Therefore, we would really like to help you preserve the historical background and information about Daito-ryu.

Since I am already over 70 years old, I would like to make the effort to be able to do so. A successor cannot do anything unless he has historical documents. For example, if I didn’t have anything which belonged to Sokaku Takeda or if I didn’t check the lineage of the Takeda family properly, I would have been considered worthless as his successor. Since I have all the documents here, I can talk about the history according to the information contained in them. I do not wish people to think that I am telling a fictional story just because I happen to be Sokaku’s son.

Therefore, I publish my documents whenever it is necessary.

However, if I show these documents to my students, various problems arise and so I do not show the eimeiroku to them. If I were to do so, I fear there would be people who will say that what they see is different from what the Ueshiba group has said, which could be a cause of discord. This is why I publish only a newsletter and send it only to present students. I do not write about Ueshiba Sensei in the newsletter at all. In one book about aikido, it is written that Sokaku charged several tens of thousands of yen per technique. However, it is recorded in the eimeiroku that he charged 10 yen for a 10-day seminar. Since Sokaku had to earn money to live on and he had to pay for his accommodations, it was necessary for him to receive suf-ficient fees. In those days [the Taisho era, 1912-19251, the honorarium (sharei) was approximately equal to the amount of one bag of rice (132 lbs). The market value of the rice at that time was quite low compared to that of today. I think that the salary of a policeman was about 30 or 45 yen. The salary of an assistant teacher was about 35 yen. When I used to teach the art to the police, the monthly fee was 15 yen and one bag of rice. I suppose one bag of rice costs about 10,000 yen in today’s money [1986]. Therefore, it is not true that he charged tens of thousands of yen per technique. The chief of the police department paid as its representative and not the individual students, though they are all recorded in the eimeiroku. The latest dates in this eimeiroku are between 1938 and 1939.

Since there are such conflicts of opinion, I do not like to publish my documents. It seems that some people say that there has been discord, but it is not true. I am making public some of the articles in the newsletter because you have eagerly asked me to do so, but usually I do not give out the newsletter to anyone other than members of our dojo. If I make these articles public, it will cause many problems.

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