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Aiki Forum: Kaishiro Takeuchi

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #85 (Summer 1990)

Features discussions with individuals involved in the martial arts in various capacities, such as writers, editors, video producers, etc. In this way we hope to offer alternative viewpoints in order to gain new perspectives on how others view Aikido, Daito-ryu and the martial arts in general. On this occasion our guest is Mr. Kaishiro Takeuchi, a writer who specializes in the study of the human body, ki theory, and the body’s relationship to the environment in which it exists.

“My hypothesis is that the basis of the training systems of traditional Japanese martial arts originally consisted of a systematic curriculum to develop a suitable body structure for the arts.” - Kaishiro Takeuchi

Aiki News doesn’t want to see the creation of a fictional image of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei or Sokaku Takeda Sensei which dominates our perceptions of them. In fact, their lives and works are fundamentally fascinating and don’t require any embellishment whatsoever.” - Stanley Pranin

Takeuchi: I hold Aiki News in high regard because it is a specialized publication whereas other martial arts magazines usually tend towards the commercial. Whether a magazine is specialized or commercial, it is necessary for a publisher to make ends meet. However, it is extremely important that a publisher continue to maintain its editorial policy as a specialized magazine. The difference between a commercial and a specialized publication is that the former places strong emphasis on publicity, while the latter indicates the criteria which guides the staff in gathering materials to edit and publish.

[In my case], I started writing about martial arts around 1980. I had already written articles on other topics before then.

What was it that made you interested in writing about martial arts?

Takeuchi: It was because I have been a practitioner of a variety of methods of physical training. It struck me that it might be possible to understand martial arts in terms of the traditions of a culture conscious of physical activities which have been handed down uniquely in Japan rather than in terms of strength and weakness. In other words, my hypothesis is that the basis of the training systems of traditional Japanese martial arts originally consisted of a systematic curriculum to develop a suitable body structure for the arts. For example, to be able to execute the techniques of Goju-ryu Karate which originated in Okinawa you have to develop a body designed for the techniques of that school. In this case, sanchin and breathing exercises in Goju-ryu training help to train the body for that style of Karate. I think the method most similar to this system is the Shugendo training method [a system practiced by Buddhist monks who pursued ascetic lives in the mountains].

Shugendo is divided into two sects; one which is influenced by the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism and the other by the Tendai sect. In Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism have been practiced in the same places, and Shugendo has turned out to be influenced by both Shintoism and Esoteric Buddhism. Before the Meiji Era [prior to 1868], I presume, the Shugendo training system used to serve as a systematic curriculum to develop a suitable body structure for martial arts.

A real Japanese sword, for example, has inscriptions on its blade. 95% of the letters written in such inscriptions are in Sanskrit characters or characters of Esoteric Buddhism and not of those proper to Zen Buddhism which is usually referred to as being one and the same as the sword. Toshinori Otake, a master of Katori Shinto-ryu, clearly pointed out this fact. For example, the late Yasuhiro Kobayashi, a master swordsmith who forged Japanese swords capable of cutting iron, engraved them with Sanskrit characters.

The basic curriculum of Chinese martial arts serves as a means to develop a body necessary for executing the techniques of the school.

When Karateka try to do a Chinese martial art, they often injure their lower back. This is because they do not know how to use the muscles around the anus or how to release and tighten them. If you twist your body with the anal muscle tightened, your lumbar vertebra and the pelvis absorb relatively more weight and energy. It doesn’t matter how hard you train in your youth, if you do not learn basics, you will injure yourself when you reach your 40s. Finally you’ll end up in just the same condition as an ordinary person who has never trained at all. This is a crucial point for martial arts.

This is not true of Karate as a sport. The goal of Karate as a sport is to win matches only in situations defined by rules. If attacking the face is prohibited by rules, you must win without doing so. Nor can Chinese martial arts as exercises be considered as traditional martial arts or ways. They are expressive martial arts. Therefore, even if you practice these martial arts for ten years, you won’t be able to master the so-called basics (ko). In order to continue training when you reach your 40s if you learn a traditional martial art, you must carefully follow the basic use of the body to match the principles of the traditional martial arts. The distinction between traditional martial arts and sports is that the former are something that you can still do after you are 40 years old and the latter are something that you cannot do after that age.

Kimura: From this point of view, how do you consider the use of the body in Aikido?

Takeuchi: I think that Aikido is wonderfully effective as an introduction to the martial arts. It has irimi, taisabaki (body movements), and tenkan, which is wonderful. It is unusual even for a modern martial art to have all these characteristics.

What I think is wonderful about Daito-ryu is that power from two different directions can be synthesized together. I call such synthesis aiki. The prerequisite for aiki is that the point where the power from different directions intersects becomes its starting point. But I don’t think the combination of power from more than two different directions produces aiki techniques. I think that aiki can be produced if you consider the point at which you are grabbed or touched as a starting point and imagine that powers from more than two different directions exist. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu was a school which organized these aiki techniques in the most systematic manner. In my opinion, aiki techniques must have existed not only in Daito-ryu but also in Japanese traditional martial arts in general. I have seen many similar techniques.

People doing Aikido often use a sword in the course of their training. The sword helps them to develop a sense of proper distance (maai), and to learn to find the body center. The basis of traditional martial arts is learning both where the median line of the body is and how to find the appropriate distance.

Most Japanese traditional martial arts have something to do with sword techniques, and they are the basis of taijutsu techniques. Sojutsu (spear techniques) and Bojutsu (staff techniques) represent other traditional weapons, but thesword seems to be the most important among them. I think that the sword has a special importance in the Japanese psyche.

Takeuchi: Now that you have mentioned it, I have a few words to say about the sword. The shape of the sword will decide the style of techniques executed with it and vice versa; the style of the techniques will determine the shape of the sword. You cannot tell which came first just as you cannot tell which came first, the chicken or the egg.

For example, swords in ancient times were straight and from this we can now deduce that the most of the wars in those days were conducted by means of hand-to-hand combat among infantrymen. When mounted combat became popular and soldiers needed to cut their enemies while on horseback during the Nara Era [710-794], sword blades started to be curved. The straight-bladed sword might work well for thrusting, but a curved blade works better for cutting. It is thought that the sword took its present shape around the middle of the Heian era [866-1160].

The principle is probably the same for the curved blades on sickles used for cutting by farmers.

Takeuchi: The gradual change of the shape of the blade was not merely the innovative idea of an individual but was determined as a result of actual necessity on the battlefield.

The style of fighting changes under the circumstances. When laymen fight, it may be easier and more effective for them to thrust at each other rather than to cut. For example, a yakuza, who is not formally trained to handle a sword, thrusts when he fights. You cannot cut a moving opponent without learning how to coordinate the movement of your knees, hips and elbows, at the very least. It takes time to train and attain a level of mastery of such coordination. On the other hand it is not so demanding to simply thrust.

According to the late Ken’ichi Sawai Sensei [1904-1988, the founder of Taikiken], when laymen who used swords for the first time on the battlefield had to fight against each other, both of them would maintain a distance of more than 20 yards and would be unsteady and shiver with fear.

Could you tell us something about Ken’ichi Sawai Sensei?

Takeuchi: The reason why I respect him so highly is because he used a basic curriculum to develop the body for martial arts, something which most Japanese traditional martial arts have now lost.

He founded Taikiken which was developed from a Chinese martial art called Taiseiken which emphasized the concept of ki as its central idea. He emphasized the training method generally called tan toko and ritsuzen in Kiko [Chi-Kon in Chinese: a 3,000 year old system for balancing and improving the flow of ki or life energy within the body for health and self-realization]. Ritsuzen or “standing Zen” and hai or “creeping” are two basic movements he introduced in a curriculum to thoroughly develop a basic body structure. That’s how I became interested in his Taikiken.

Does the curriculum include such things as stretching or Yoga?

Takeuchi: It’s better if I talk about the opinion of a martial artist rather than relate my own since I am not a martial arts practitioner. Master Shotatsu Nogami, who has been systematically learning a Chinese martial art handed down in the Ba-shi family, often says, “Basic warm-up movements cannot be effective unless they are executed in conjunction with strategies for real fighting situations.” In other words the basic movements for martial arts already include more than stretching.

The basic movements themselves often involve elements of techniques.

Takeuchi: The basic movements are the foundation on which techniques are developed. Such a foundation cannot be found in most of the Japanese martial arts today. However, I have studied closely a school of kenjutsu called Jikishinkage-ryu. It has many interesting aspects in terms of ki. But when I set aside the question of ki and observe the school in terms of its basic curriculum, it still preserves a set of exercises to develop the basic body structure which enables a practitioner to execute the sword techniques of that school.

Is this school part of the same tradition as the Jikishinkage-ryu of Kenkichi Sakakibara?

Takeuchi: I don’t know. I am skeptical about Kenkichi Sakakibara. When he trained with a thick training stick, he tightened the body muscles. However, Jikishinkage-ryu has forms which correspond to each of the four seasons. According to my theory of the human body, these four forms and the thick training stick are incompatible with each other. Thus I can’t say much about him now.

There seem to be two schools of thought regarding the correct way of training to attain mastery in the martial arts. One method is to train yourself physically, practicing basic skills for a long time so as to be able to execute techniques automatically without relying on muscular strength even when you grow older. The other approach holds that there’s no point in practicing basic physical movements but rather that one should de-emphasize physical strength and practice only with ki from the beginning. What do you think?

Takeuchi: I think that to maintain health, you don’t necessarily have to train your body. In order to maintain health, what you must do is relax and release the muscles. However, since a minimum amount of muscular strength is indispensable for the human body, you might as well train your muscles until you reach the age of 20. If you do a martial art, you need to have enough physical strength at least to stand on your hands. This does not mean only physical strength but also a good sense of balance.

For example, some say that you can throw your opponent using only ki. It may be true that the “sympathetic effect of ki” does work in restricted situations such as between a teacher and his student. The relation is like that between a transmitter and a receiver. Though according to written documents there certainly were a few who were able to display ki powers, my principle is to have concrete proof about such things. I follow these principles in gathering data. First, I see and listen with my own eyes and ears. Second, I look at the uniqueness, positive points, and characteristics of each school. Third, regardless of whether a school is part of a large system or a small one, whether or not it has a long history, a master’s high level of skill or unique techniques and training methodology should be recognized.

Let’s go back to the last topic. As a historian, when I think of teachers who are considered to be strong or great masters today, they invariably were physically strong and muscular in their youths. It seems they trained their bodies a great deal.

Takeuchi: Let me tell you about Sawai Sensei’s training as an example. He would stand on the balls of his feet holding his heels just slightly above the floor so that only a sheet of paper could slide between his heels and the floor. It is said that he could stand this way for three hours in the days when he was in his best condition. His other training method was to practice a creeping movement. He would move back and forth slowly across a distance of about five yards for about thirty minutes. His training included a system for thoroughly developing the lower body.

I wanted to record the activities of martial artists such as Sawai Sensei who did not have an organized school or system or make their livings from martial arts. The search to improve the techniques of a school versus the management of a school to make it popular are quite different pursuits. If you really want to expand a school, you had better employ an effective manager. Also, the size of a school and its master’s level of proficiency in the art are quite different things. Finally, traditional martial arts are different from martial arts as sports or as exercises.

In Japan, the number of traditional martial arts has been diminishing. Do you think real traditional martial arts still exist in Japan?

Takeuchi: Since a martial art is a living entity, it dies without nourishment. Successors who are transmitting techniques need to train hard. I started to research and write about traditional martial arts in 1980, because I was afraid that they might die out and I wanted to interest more people in them. I wanted to inspire even only five or ten people to become students of the traditional martial arts. Just one of them can be enough for a school to survive.

There used to be hundreds of traditional Japanese martial arts but only a few dozen remain. I think that Daito-ryu has been the most successful survivor judging from the number of dojos remaining. Interestingly enough, Aikido is derived from Daito-ryu. From a historical point of view, Daito-ryu was a small school during the Meiyi and Taisho Eras when Sokaku Takeda Sensei traveled all over Japan to teach it. On the other hand, by that time, other traditional martial art schools were disappearing one by one.

Although some claims have been made that the history of Daito-ryu goes back several hundred years, I can’t say anything on this point without any proof.

Takeuchi: As my principle is to seek concrete proof, I evaluate a school only after observing the body usage and the movements characteristic of that school. Also, I put aside the question of whether or not the history of a school is correct unless I have documentation for it. If you say that Daito-ryu has a history that goes back hundreds of years or only to the Meiji Era, all I need to see are the documents to prove the statement. That’s all. You can say anything if you can support it with proof or reasoning.

If the history of Daito-ryu really goes back hundreds of years, that is in itself wonderful. But if it doesn’t that is not something bad. If that is the case, then the position of Sokaku Takeda in martial arts history must be elevated and it may be understood that he combined techniques from Jikishinkage-ryu, the oshikiuchi [secret techniques of the Aizu clan said to have been incorporated into Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu] of the Aizu feudal clan, and other martial arts in order to develop and establish Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, which eventually would influence Aikido, Hakko-ryu and other derivative arts.

Takeuchi: When it comes to truth or reality, lying should be avoided even though it is impossible to completely avoid making mistakes. If you tell only one lie out of 100 statements, your credibility for the other 99 is lost. I think that in the homogeneous society of Japan which consists of a single race, the strictness imposed by truth tends to be forgotten.

I agree. In other fields like mathematics or computer science, for example, errors and false statements are not allowed. A machine given false input will function incorrectly or not at all.

To give another example which can be confirmed by anyone, it is wrong to tell a lie when you are asked the way to a place and deliberately give false directions. But in Japanese society there are some cases when lying has the tacit consent of society. There are occasions and subjects concerning which it is customary to tell lies. When such topics are discussed everyone knows that a lie is being told. The manner and tone of expression can also be clues which indicate a lie is being told. Since the speaker himself knows that the listener knows he is telling a lie, he thinks it is alright to do so within certain limits. However, when the listener is a foreigner who does not understand such social conventions, he will get angry and fail to understand why the speaker shamelessly lies. Such social practices are not valid beyond the bounds of Japanese society.

Takeuchi: Indeed. I make it a rule not to write a lie. Although I may sometimes make mistakes, I do not write lies. However, there are some situations where I can’t write the truth. In such cases, I do not write anything. We shouldn’t write fiction.

To cite a well-known example, do you think readers know that Musashi Miyamoto, written by Eiji Yoshikawa, is a work of fiction?

Takeuchi: As Musashi Miyamoto is a novel, they should understand that it is a fiction.

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