Aikido Journal Home » Articles » Tokimune Takeda (2) Aiki News Japan

Tokimune Takeda (2)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #88 (Summer 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 talks about aiki, sen and go no sen in Daito-ryu techniques, his father’s travels throughout Japan, and his role as successor to the art in this second and final installment.

Sensei, were police tactics taught while you were with the Police Department

At first arrest techniques were taught. Before these techniques were formulated however, we practiced jojutsu, because the policemen’s swords had been taken away from them and were later replaced, by order of the U.S. Army, with pistols.

Since there were no handcuffs in those days, we used a technique called the quick-rope technique, which enabled us to control a criminal and frisk him, while binding his hands and neck simultaneously with a rope.

When did you come to Abashiri [ Hokkaido]?

In 1945. In 1951 I joined the Yamada Fishery Company, and retired from that company at the age of sixty. It’s been ten years since then. I have travelled throughout the country and set up branch dojos. Sokaku only taught and did not establish branch dojos. I start out with a group that functions like an amateur club and then have them develop it into a branch with official representation. We now have 3,000 members, each of whom has a numbered membership card. These replace the attendance registers [kept by Sokaku Takeda before the war].

You built the Daitokan Dojo in about 1954?

1953. In Hokkaido our Daito-ryu affiliates are active. In the Osaka area a different school of Daito-ryu is active. In fact, the dojos are run by people who were formerly Sokaku’s students, and both his direct and indirect students can be found in the Osaka area. Those who are teaching in Kyushu can be said to be Sokaku’s “grandstudents.” Thus there are different characteristics to be found from district to district even among those who were Sokaku’s students. Their personalities are different and thus their techniques are different too. We practice with swords, but as you know, the other schools don’t teach sword work very much, do they? Our sword is Onoha Itto-ryu. You are not doing Aiki Budo unless you practice both sword and jujutsu, that is to say, unless you practice both Daito-ryu and Onoha Itto-ryu.

I see. That is why the name was changed from Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu to Aiki Budo.

Ippondori is referred to as kogusoku in Onoha Itto-ryu, and a kodachi (short sword) is used. You thrust up from below when you are attacked by an opponent with a sword. This is the way ippondori is done in Daito-ryu. As an opponent swiftly attacks by grabbing you by the chest, you hold him down. The technique applies in situations where the enemy thrusts at you, and you control him. What is different from other schools is that you hold the opponent down using the knee. Then you grab the opponent’s hair in order to cut off his head. This is true Daito-ryu technique. You may wonder, “What meaning does this have in this day and age?” but it is basic. If you hold an opponent down with your knee, both of your hands are free. Then you can cut the throat. You must remain alert until then.

Daito-ryu teaching methods are completely different from those of other schools. Our techniques use real swords for serious combat. When Daito-ryu was used in the police department, the police gradually stopped practicing in this way. They just gently held the opponent down. Even during the Meiji era, the time was already past when people controlled their enemies in order to stab them and cut off their heads. However, the essence of Daito-ryu is to keep alert until you have cut the enemy’s throat. The thrust must be made immediately. We strictly teach Daito-ryu students these things. So, practice is violent, and a little different from other kinds of practices. It’s different from just practicing softly with aiki.

Could you explain in a little more detail about aiki?

Aiki is to pull when you are pushed, and to push when you are pulled. It is the spirit of slowness and speed, harmonizing your movement with your opponent’s ki. On the other hand, kiai is to push to the limit, while aiki never resists.

The term aiki has been used since ancient times, and not only in Daito-ryu. The ki in aiki is go no sen (response to an attack). Sen sen is to initiate the attack by grabbing the opponent and throwing him. Although this is the case in kendo as well, you are doomed to fail if you attack first. If you move first to cut your opponent, you will end up being beaten. So we should always use go no sen.

You are not supposed to cut an opponent. This is called katsujinken (live-giving sword). The opposite is called setsuninken (death-dealing sword), where you first evade an opponent’s attack, then eventually cut him down. This is go no sen. Sen sen is to attack first and win. This is winning with kiai. Almost all Itto-ryu techniques are go no sen. Various kendo forms (kata) also employ go no sen. You will definitely be beaten if you attack first.

Aiki is different from the victory of sen sen. It applies in situations of go no sen, such as when an opponent thrusts at you. Daito-ryu is all go no sen, in which you first evade your opponent’s attack and then strike or control him, and Itto-ryu is primarily go no sen. You attack because an opponent attacks you. Therein lies the essence of katsujinken and setsuninken. You block the attack when an opponent approaches; at his second attack you break his sword and save his life. This is katsujinken. When an opponent strikes at you and your sword pierces his stomach it is setsuninken. These two are the essence of the sword. What is important is the form of the swordsmanship.

Does the opponent ever attack first in Daito-ryu?

The techniques used by the police are jujutsu. You attack; it is not self-defense. Theirs must be an active jujutsu. Self-defense can be thought of as a victory of sen go. In the case of sword techniques, it is go no sen; you deflect an attack when the opponent strikes, or you evade the attack and then cut him. Go no sen does not work when a policeman arrests a criminal. He must attack to catch the criminal who is escaping. The policeman must initiate the attack. He cannot ask the criminal to grab him first. He must start with an attack, and control the opponent with kiai. Aiki applies to self-defense when an opponent attacks first. These two must not be confused. Thus, the police do not use the word aiki; it is just jujutsu. They fight with kiai, using a sen sen attack. Attack is kiai. Aiki, on the other hand, is go no sen. Policemen are permitted to attack first. This is why the police studied Daito-ryu, though these days the mixture of judo, kendo, aikido, etc., used by the police is usually referred to as taiho-jutsu (arrest techniques).

Aikido and Daito-ryu have different meanings. In Daito-ryu, once you have captured an enemy, you must finish him off with a second or even third technique. Techniques do not exist in isolation but are followed by second and third techniques.

You can’t do that unless you have studied the construction of the human body as a whole, can you?

That’s right. When the youngest grandson of the Emperor Seiwa, Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, went to Oshu [the northeastern district of Japan], he studied the human anatomy through dissection, and this was the origin of Daito-ryu. He stayed at a place called Daito, and called himself Saburo of Daito. This is where the name Daito comes from. It was passed down through generations of the Takeda family, as we are also descendants of the Emperor Seiwa. Our techniques do not allow openings for our enemies.

You mentioned that modern policemen no longer practice conventional Daito-ryu but instead practice a combination of judo, karate and kendo.

Yes. Kendo is go no sen, and is a product of peaceful times having originated in the Tokugawa era [1603-1868]. The Jikishinkage-ryu, which Sokaku practiced, is sen sen. He practiced Yagyu-ryu as well. The sword style incorporated into Daito-ryu is Onoha Itto-ryu. Sokaku learned just about everything. There was very little he did not know. Swordsmen in the old days were not merely experts in swordsmanship. Training during the latter part of the Tokugawa and Meiji eras [1868-1912] required “ten-thousand men” (protective head-covering or mask worn during matches). One had to put on his men ten thousand times and to spend three years traveling around to various dojos to train. You put on your men and participated in sword matches. Each school has its own individual form, but regardless of style, everyone used the men. We no longer practice using men, because we practice only to learn forms. Modern-day kendo derived from Onoha Itto-ryu because of the popularity it shared with the Hokushin Itto-ryu; Sasaburo Takano of the former, and Takaharu Naito and Shusaku Chiba of the latter, are well known. The techniques of these two schools are the same even though the names are different. Until about 1910 there was no particular classification of forms, so the faculty of the Advanced Teacher Training School and the Butokukai [organization established in 1895 to promote and oversee martial arts] created forms to facilitate instruction. The forms of kendo as they are practiced today were established at that time.

Aiki sword doesn’t work unless your arms and legs are sufficiently effective. We talk about receiving when we use swords. You receive the attack as soon as the opponent draws his sword. You’ve got to have that kind of speed. As I have said repeatedly before, people in the old days had strong arms because they used swords. In Daito-ryu you must develop instantaneous arm movements. If the opponent thrusts, you control his arm using your knee to pin it. This is peculiar to Daito-ryu; no other school does this. The difference between Daito-ryu and judo is that we do not have one-on-one matches. Even situations with multiple attackers can be handled with your free arms because one attacker has been pinned under your knee.

This is the essence of Daito-ryu. If you hold an opponent down with your entire weight concentrated on your knee, the enemy cannot rise. This method is important. Each and every technique is lethal. None of the techniques give the opponent any openings. This is why judges and police practiced the art. Here [referring to a directory] is listed one judge who is a fifth dan in judo.

Sokaku taught students over ten-day periods. Did the content of his teaching differ from person to person according to each individual’s experience?

There were great differences. For instance, he taught the police how to pin the opponent without allowing him any openings; in other words, he taught them jujutsu. For ordinary people, he taught self-defense, or what to do if someone grabs you by the chest or hand. He taught go no sen.

Which did Morihei Ueshiba learn, the version taught to ordinary people, or the police jujutsu?

He was taught the version for ordinary people, more or less. In fact, the techniques for self-defense were similar to the arrest techniques.

How did Sokaku treat those who were learning kendo?

Sokaku taught wearing his men. In those days people trained for three years after having participated in ten thousand matches wearing their men. They say that after that a swordsman could then begin to understand how to grip a bamboo sword. If they practiced a little more, they would say, “I have practiced a little,” which meant in those days that a person was a grand master. That was one of the martial artists’ codewords. You could tell how many years of training a person had done by the way he gripped a bamboo sword, and they would say, “Ah! This one has worn his men ten thousand times and has done three years of training around the country.” This kind of thing occurred at the beginning of the Meiji era. There was no dan-ranking system then.

There were no trains, either, so Sokaku traveled on foot. He would never know what kind of specialty techniques each dojo he visited might have. I heard that he would stand outside and call in to someone, and would never enter the place. Even when he returned to his own home, he would stand in front of the entrance and call me, shouting, “Sozaburo!” without even coming into the house.

(The full article is available for subscribers.)

Subscription Required

To read this article in its entirety please login below or if you are not a subscriber click here to subscribe.

Remember my login information.