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Remembering Takuma Hisa

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #129

It is a daunting task to attempt to define the role of Takuma Hisa within the context of the overlapping histories of aikido and Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. The dynamics of Hisa’s associations with Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda, two giants of modern Japanese martial arts history, are little understood. This is because Hisa was caught in an awkward situation resulting from the sometimes bizarre relationship between Ueshiba and Takeda. Hence, a principal aim of this essay will be to clarify Hisa’s relationships with his two teachers and stimulate a reevaluation of his great contribution to the aiki arts.

Background and early career

Hisa was born November 3, 1895 in Sakihama village in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. In 1915, he entered Kobe Business School (present-day Kobe University) where he majored in business. Hisa was the captain of his college sumo club and one year won the All-Kansai Student Sumo Championship.

Upon graduation, Hisa first joined a business firm that soon went bankrupt. In 1927, he entered the general affairs department of the Tokyo home office of the Asahi News with an introduction from a university senior named Mitsujiro Ishii who was also employed by the newspaper. Ishii (1889-1981) was first a journalist, then a department head with the Asahi News, and later rose to prominence in the field of politics and was one of the founders of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

The Asahi News had come under attack by lobbyists and right-wing activists due to an editorial mistake in March 1928 concerning the death of an imperial prince. Hisa assumed responsibility for the security operations of the General Affairs office by special order of bureau chief Ishii. This was surely due in no small part to Hisa’s background in sumo and love for the martial arts. Hisa performed the task of tightening security at the Tokyo office well and, in 1932, he was rewarded with a promotion and transferred to the Osaka office of the Asahi News.

Meeting Morihei Ueshiba

It was during this period in Osaka that Hisa first met Morihei Ueshiba through an introduction from Mitsujiro Ishii. Hisa’s association with this jujutsu master would have a defining effect on the development of both aikido and Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. Hisa describes the circumstances of his meeting Ueshiba in these words

“In the spring of 1933, the bureau chief of the Asahi News sales office, Mr. Mitsujiro Ishii, who is presently the Minister of Justice, introduced us to Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, vouching for him as an expert on a par with the founder of judo [a reference to Jigoro Kano]. He recommended to the person in charge of security that we learn aikijujutsu from Ueshiba Sensei. Mr. Ishii was a leading figure at the Asahi News and had tremendous influence, so while it was supposedly a “recommendation,” it was really more like a supreme command. Since those of us in the General Affairs section were responsible for security, we very much welcomed Ueshiba Sensei, and we began learning at the Asahi Budo Dojo.”

(from From Aikijujutsu to Aikido)

During this time frame, Ueshiba was operating his Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo and already making frequent trips to Osaka in connection with his responsibilities as chairman of the Budo Senyokai. This organization was affiliated with the Omoto religion and was the brain child of Onisaburo Deguchi, the co-founder of this new Shinto sect. Ueshiba added the Asahi News dojo to his regular itinerary while in the Kansai area.

Hisa was the person in charge of the Asahi dojo and seriously took part in the training, quickly becoming adept at the techniques of aikijujutsu. The art as taught to the Asahi security staff was aptly dubbed “Asahi-ryu” (different kanji than “Asahi” in Asahi News) by Ueshiba, who attached little importance to naming his art throughout his career.

Soden

By a stroke of good fortune, Hisa had the foresight and the means through the facilities of Asahi News to make a pictorial record of their aikijujutsu training. After each training session, the Asahi dojo members would systematically photograph the techniques practiced on that day. Yoshiteru Yoshimura, Heizaburo Nakatsu, and Kuniyoshi Kawazoe are the main individuals who appear in the technical sequences photographed. These photos eventually numbered more than 1,500 and were later assembled into scrapbooks with brief explanations by Hisa under the title of Daito-ryu Aikibudo Densho Zen Juikkan. These books cover some 547 techniques and are commonly referred to as the Soden by Hisa and his students.

The techniques taught by Ueshiba in the Asahi News period consisted mainly of suwariwaza, hanmi handachi, and tachiwaza. What Ueshiba was teaching was primarily basic techniques, however, his instruction also included some more advanced techniques of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu as evidenced by the hundreds of photos comprising the first six volumes of the Soden.

It is interesting to compare the contents of the Soden with the only other large collection of technical photos representing Ueshiba’s techniques from this period. I refer to the so-called “Noma Dojo” photos taken in 1935 by Hisashi Noma, the son of Kodansha founder Seiji Noma. This collection provides the best evidence of the state of evolution of Ueshiba’s aiki budo or aikijujutsu—both terms were used during this period—during this transitional phase from Daito-ryu aikijujutsu to modern aikido. With Shigemi Yonekawa serving as his uke, Ueshiba demonstrates hundreds of intricate Daito-ryu techniques that included many of the suwariwaza, hanmi handachi, and tachiwaza covered in the Soden. Not surprisingly, there is a large overlap in the techniques depicted in these two photo collections.

1935 Asahi News film

A third precious document from this period was again the result of Hisa’s efforts. This is a 16mm sound film made under Hisa’s direction that is titled simply Budo. Budo was filmed in 1935 at the Asahi News dojo and features an amazing performance of technical virtuosity by Ueshiba. A young, powerful Takuma Hisa himself also makes a brief appearance as do Shigemi Yonekawa, Tsutomu Yukawa, and Rinjiro Shirata as Ueshiba’s ukes. The latter were all leading uchideshi of Ueshiba from the early Kobukan Dojo period. Hisa recalls seeing the film 44 years later

“… to tell the truth I completely forgot that I had even taken the film, let alone where I had put it. But recently [1979], an American named Stanley Pranin, who is researching various things about Ueshiba’s aikido, discovered this film and brought it to show me. I was quite surprised at the opening credits where all of a sudden my name appeared, “Asahi News Film, directed by Takuma Hisa.” Before long I was amazed to see myself as a young man! I watched this together with Yonekawa, one of the top students from the Ueshiba Dojo. We two old men sat there watching and couldn’t stop chuckling and teasing each other about how young we both were in the film. It was like riding in a time machine!”

(From My Career)

It is interesting to note that while Budo contains many Daito-ryu-like techniques, one’s overall impression from viewing this film is that Ueshiba’s techniques have already undergone a major transformation away from Sokaku Takeda’s aikijujutsu toward the circular, flowing movements of modern aikido. Traces of these characteristics can be seen even today in the Daito-ryu aikijujutsu practiced by the Takumakai schools that preserve Hisa’s technical legacy.

Ueshiba taught Hisa and the Asahi staff members for approximately three years starting in 1933. Ueshiba would spend several days of each month in Osaka and also assigned several of his uchideshi to instruct on a rotating basis. This included Kaoru Funahashi in addition to Yonekawa, Yukawa and Shirata mentioned earlier. As a result of their training, Hisa and the Asahi News security personnel acquired a solid foundation in the techniques of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu to supplement their already considerable martial arts skills. The top students at the Asahi dojo included many 4th and 5th dan judo holders; this we know because their ranks are listed in Sokaku’s eimeiroku.

Sokaku Takeda arrives in Osaka

In June 1936 a most unusual event occurred that would totally reshape the direction of training at the Asahi dojo. Here is what happened in Hisa’s own words

“… Sokaku Dai Sensei suddenly appeared out of nowhere, without any previous notice or invitation. He had a small physique, but his eyes were sharp and glaring, and he wore a dagger at his waist. And he walked jangling an iron staff in his right hand, the kind of staff a mountain ascetic might carry.

He called out, ‘Hello in there! Send out the Director of General Affairs. I am Morihei Ueshiba’s aikijujutsu teacher, my name being Sokaku Takeda. I hear that despite his inexperience Morihei has been teaching aikijujutsu here. Other places aside, I regard it as a matter of great importance for the honor of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu if poor techniques are taught at the Asahi News under the eyes of the whole world. So I’ve come from Hokkaido as quickly as I could.’ And holding his sword high overhead he said emphatically, ‘We begin the lesson at once!’”

(from From Aikijujutsu to Aikido)

Equally puzzling was the reaction of Morihei Ueshiba to Sokaku’s sudden appearance at the Asahi office. Ueshiba happened to be in Osaka at that time and when Hisa informed him of Takeda’s arrival Morihei didn’t seem at all pleased. A few days after, Ueshiba left Osaka without so much as greeting Sokaku. For obvious reasons, Hisa found this whole affair quite incomprehensible and his incredulity was apparent even in later years when he recalled this episode.

Those who have studied aikido history will be aware that the relationship between Takeda and Ueshiba had been strained long before this event of 1936. In fact, this episode recalls an earlier 1922 incident, equally strange, when Sokaku suddenly appeared with his entire family in tow to teach Daito-ryu aikijujutsu out of Ueshiba’s home in Ayabe. Ueshiba was then living among a community of believers of the Omoto religion, a Shinto sect established in the late 19th century. Takeda stayed in Ueshiba’s home for about six months and, at the conclusion of his visit, awarded Morihei a teacher’s certification (kyoju dairi). Among the requirements listed was the following condition “When instructing students, an initial payment of three yen shall be made to Takeda Dai Sensei as an enrollment fee.”

Apart from Sokaku’s demanding character, this hopelessly vague financial arrangement seems to have been one of the causes of friction between the two for the remainder of their relationship. In subsequent years, Sokaku would drop by Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo from time to time and expect to receive a payment. This became very troublesome for Ueshiba, and his students from that period all recall how Morihei would sometimes arrange to be absent when Sokaku would turn up uninvited.

We know from Hisa’s own words that the Asahi group knew that Sokaku Takeda was Ueshiba’s Daito-ryu teacher. Likewise, Sokaku obviously knew that Ueshiba taught at the Asahi dojo since he announced himself as Morihei’s teacher when he appeared at the Asahi News office. One can therefore speculate that Sokaku went to Osaka to meet Ueshiba with the aim of receiving a payment from the latter. If the quote from Hisa about Sokaku’s announcement is an accurate representation of what actually happened, then Sokaku must have come to the Asahi office intending to take over for Ueshiba. I suspect that Sokaku was upset at Ueshiba for having avoiding seeing him for several years and failing to live up to his commitments as a Daito-ryu kyoju dairi. Takeda must have also attached great importance to the teaching post of such a prestigious company as the Asahi News and wanted this position for himself.

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