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Sokaku Takeda and the Daito-ryu Tradition

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #71 (June 1986)

Recently, AIKI NEWS has enlarged the scope of its research effort to include regular examination of the subject of Sokaku Takeda and the Daito-ryu tradition. Readers will have noted that articles on Daito-ryu have appeared on a regular basis in the last several issues and we plan to continue this practice for the indefinite future. As is predictable our venture into the world of Daito-ryu has not been met with universal approval. For some the character of Sokaku Takeda does not represent a model to be emulated.

Certainly, those who attach importance to the ethical nature of Aikido will not find attractive a man who engaged in actual combat and killed many over the course of his long lifetime.

On the other hand, there seems to be unanimous agreement on the part of those who knew Sokaku Takeda that he was a true martial genius possessed of amazing skill and keen perceptive powers. Sokaku’s martial prowess was without doubt the product of incredible self-discipline and a continuing concern for technical excellence.

Yet, these considerations are, in one fundamental sense, beside the point. As we are first and foremost historians, we do not choose who to research or who to ignore. History mandates that we systematically examine all events and persons relevant to the creation of O-Sensei’s Aikido. The fact that a certain aspect of our work displeases a given individual or organization is, I suppose, inevitable. There is clearly no other approach to be followed if we wish to do justice to the focal points of our study, Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido. The information we have so far uncovered concerning Daito-ryu has served to greatly enrich our understanding of Aikido’s technical roots and we hope that readers too have found material of interest.

All of this raises the major question of the extent to which Aikido was influenced by Daito-ryu. To be sure, Morihei Ueshiba studied a number of traditional martial arts during the years of approximately 19O1 to 1922. Written documentation and the testimony of Kisshomaru Ueshiba and others confirm that, later on in the late 1930s, the Founder was also influenced by the Kashima Shinto-ryu sword. Yet, of all of the arts Morihei Ueshiba studied, technically speaking, the impact of Daito-ryu on Aikido is by far the strongest and I would like to provide support for that claim here. We feel it is necessary to stress this point because in recent years there has been a marked tendency in the orthodox Aikido world to portray Daito-ryu as merely one of a number of technical influences on O-Sensei’s art or even to assert that “Goto-ha Yagyu-ryu” has left the strongest impression on Aikido. This practice has even been carried to the unfortunate and ethically questionable extreme of the alteration of published historical documents in an effort to obscure the deep relationship between Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and the early stages of development of Aikido.

Although it has of late been stated that Morihei Ueshiba’s study of Daito-ryu was limited to a few short weeks, documents in the possession of Sokaku Takeda’s, son Tokimune, bearing O-Sensei’s personal seal tell quite a different story. All in all, available records show that the Founder of Aikido studied for more than 200 days in the form of intensive seminars starting in 1915 until at least April 1931, the date of the last entry in the student enrollment log of Sokaku Takeda. In addition, Morihei accompanied Sokaku Takeda as an assistant on numerous occasions when the latter travelled about Hokkaido giving seminars during the period of 1915 to 1919. He was awarded a formal assistant instructor’s certificate in Ayabe in 1922. A photograph published in the biography of the Founder also dated about the same year shows O-Sensei seated in front of a plaque which reads “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu”. This plaque apparently appeared in the “Ueshiba Juku” dojo where he taught primarily Omoto followers from the years 1920 to the first part of 1924. Moreover, the certificates of proficiency awarded by Ueshiba subsequently to his students in the pre-war years were “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” scrolls. The was certainly the case through the early 1930s, however, as of this writing we do not know until what year this practice continued. In the middle 1930s to the early 1940s the art was usually referred to as “Aiki Budo” until its official name change to “Aikido” in 1942.

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