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Interview with Tokimune Takeda (Part 1)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #71 (June 1986)

The following text is a compilation of several interviews conducted with Tokimune Takeda between 1985 and 1987 in Abashiri, Hokkaido and Tokyo. The third son and successor of Sokaku Takeda, Tokimune Takeda began training in the martial arts under his father in 1925. He completed the Hokkaido Police Officer Training Course in 1946, and in 1947, a police course in stick handling techniques. While a member of the police force, Tokimune received several awards for outstanding service in arresting criminals. He joined the Yamada Fishery Co., Ltd., in December 1951 and worked there until his retirement in 1976. Tokimune established the Daitokan dojo in Abashiri, Hokkaido in 1953, and organized the Daito-ryu techniques, incorporating into them elements of Ono-ha Itto-ryu to create his own Daito-ryu aikibudo. He received the Cultural Social Education Award from Abashiri City on November 3, 1987.

Now that the role of Daito-ryu in the development of aikido is better understood I think it likely that more aikido people will become interested in the history of the art. I would like to begin by asking you some questions about your father, Sokaku Takeda. Can it be said that he created the art of Daito-ryu?

No, the art’s origins lie in an art called tegoi. There is a story about this art in the Kojiki. When the goddess Amaterasu Omikami went to her fellow god Takeminakata no Mikoto to order him to return her country to her, he and the god Takemikazuchi no Mikoto fought a match. This match was conducted using tegoi, which can be considered to be the origin of present-day sumo. In ancient times, sumo matches were held at shrine festivals. Emperor Seiwa created the two Imperial Guard corps of Ukon and Sakon, and made sumo into a martial art. Later, during the Kamakura period, sumo became the most popular martial art. Therefore, it can be said that Emperor Seiwa is the founder of Daito-ryu. When the youngest grandson of Emperor Seiwa, Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, went to Oshu in the northeastern district of Japan, he studied human anatomy through dissection, and this was the origin of Daito-ryu. He stayed at a place known as Daito, and called himself Saburo of Daito. This is the source of the name. Daito-ryu was then passed down through generations of the Takeda family, as we are also descendants of the Emperor Seiwa.

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

The name Soemon Takeda appears in the genealogy of the Takeda family you have shown us. I believe he was Sokaku’s grandfather?

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

Would you give us some background on the Aizu clan?

The Aizu clan was originally responsible for guarding Kyoto. A group of samurai called the Shinsengumi was active 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. It was a violent group that assassinated Imperial supporters belonging to the Satsuma and Tosa clans. They even killed top leaders. Because of the Shisengumi’s relationship to the Aizu clan, when the Satsuma and Tosa clans came into power they attacked and defeated the lord of the Aizu clan in the Boshin Civil War. Once the clan had been beaten, it was unable to recover. During that war, the Aizu were still using heated cannon balls while the Imperial army used imported cannons. The Aizu were no match for the Imperial forces. The Aizu clan, which was supposed to have been guarding the Emperor, had become the Emperor’s enemy. At one point, the lord of the Aizu clan was arrested and was about to be killed, although in fact he was not. The Aizu castle was put to the torch and completely destroyed. There are not many people who have records of the genealogy of the Aizu clan.

I’m sure your father must have told you many stories about his experiences as a boy.

Yes, he did. Once, during the time of the Aizu war when my father was nine years old, all of the adults from his household had fled to the mountains. Sokaku and his sister were left behind in the house because the adults believed that the children would be safe there. When the soldiers of the Imperial army came to the house, they grabbed a duck that Sokaku had been carefully tending and killed it. Seeing this, Sokaku shouted, “Imperial troops are thieves!” When the captain heard Sokaku, he came to him and explained that members of the Imperial army were not thieves, because they were all soldiers of the Emperor. But Sokaku continued to insist that they were thieves, and so the captain had to calm him down by giving him some money. I understand that some of the local people who witnessed this scene later masked their faces and came to the house to frighten Sokaku and steal the money he had received. In the old days, they used paper-covered lamp stands, and it was quite dark at night. After darkness fell, they broke into Sokaku’s house wearing their masks. But, Sokaku got angry and threw the rice bowl from which he was eating straight at one of the masks. I understand that the mask he hit broke in two. He really had a heroic temper, even at the age of nine.

I also heard that Sokaku used to walk some seven miles in the middle of the night to see the cannons firing. The old cannon balls were quite different from modern ones. They didn’t explode, but were heated, red balls of flame that could easily be seen in the dark. Every night Sokaku would make some rice balls and set out to watch the fighting because he was interested in seeing the guns being shot at the castle. Since it was a battlefield, many people were carrying spears and other weapons. Sokaku saw people kill each other this way when he was very young. He loved battlefields. Because he was a child he didn’t have to worry about being killed and he used to run around wherever he pleased. But there were guards everywhere and they often caught him when he made a sound. Since he was only a little boy, he was threatened and sent home. But he always went back!

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 teachers, as well as the characteristics of their arts. I think these stories were quite valuable to me.

Would you tell us something about Sokaku’s education?

He was not a very academic type. In fact, Sokaku Takeda couldn’t write! When he had to write something, he had someone do it for him. His father Sokichi believed that for the future, children would need to be able to write, and so he opened his temple to the public during the Edo period, establishing a private temple elementary school. He also taught Sokaku. But his son was a strange child who was always causing a commotion by disappearing suddenly or creating trouble for other people. In the end, Sokaku’s father expelled his own son from the school. Sokaku defied his father, and declared that he would not write himself but have others write for him. When his father, Sokichi retorted angrily, “Who would want to write for you!” Sokaku insisted that he would have people write for him. And that is exactly what he did. What’s more, he had judges and public prosecutors do so.

You know it was quite unusual for police to sign their names to anything. I was a police detective and I know the situation well. It was quite extraordinary that Sokaku was able to make the police and descendants of samurai sign their names and stamp their seals in his enrollment books. Even in my day the police would never give out name cards, because they would be in big trouble if someone misused them. But even in the Meiji period, Sokaku required his students to sign their names.

Did Sokaku Takeda Sensei have any brothers and sisters?

He had one elder brother and one younger brother. He also had a sister.

Can you tell us something about Sokaku’s martial arts background?

Sokaku studied the traditional Ono-ha Itto-ryu sword of the Aizu clan from a teacher named Toma Shibuya. Most of the records and documents of the Aizu clan were burned at the time of the Aizu war. Only the few documents that were kept in a temple survived.

Kenjutsu was popular and jujutsu was merely a supplemental art in those days. In other words, since the samurai always carried their swords, they never needed to think about throwing someone with their hands. Therefore, at the time of the Meiji 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.

What is the importance of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu in the later development of Daito-ryu?

The sword style incorporated into Daito-ryu is Ono-ha Itto-ryu. This art is the source of Sokaku’s sword. 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 [1603-1868] and Meiji eras [1868-1912] required “ten thousand men.” In other words, you had to put on your men ten thousand times and then spend three years traveling around to various dojos for training. You put on your men and participated in sword matches. Each school had its own individual forms, but regardless of style, everyone used the men.

Modern-day kendo derived largely from Ono-ha Itto-ryu, due to 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. Until about 1910 there was no particular classification of forms, so the faculty of the Advanced Teacher Training School (Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko) and the Butokukai created kata (forms) to facilitate instruction. The kendo kata as they are practiced today were established at that time. At the Daitokan we no longer practice using men, because we practice only kata.

When we use swords, we talk about receiving. You receive the attack as soon as the oppone nt draws his sword. You’ve got to have that kind of speed. The aiki sword doesn’t work unless your arms and legs are working together effectively. Since Sokaku had practiced kenjutsu, he was able to turn his wrists easily. 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 [gesturing]. 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. 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 because 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, you must be able to easily turn your wrists to be able to perform these sword techniques, and this twisting of the wrists is the essence of Daito-ryu techniques.

Would it be correct, then, to say that Daito-ryu is based on sword movements?

Yes. Sokaku’s techniques are based on the sword. In learning Daito-ryu, it is absolutely essential to study the sword. The first short sword technique in the Ono-ha Itto-ryu is the same as the first technique in Daito-ryu, where you pin your opponent, then thrust at and cut him. This technique was only used during the Sengoku Jidai [Age of the Warring States, 1467-1568], but Sokaku taught it as an important technique.

Sokaku always carried a short knife wrapped in a towel. He never showed it to anyone, but I understand that once someone saw him drop it. The technique using this knife was a secret technique of Shingen Takeda. When an enemy comes to attack you with his sword, you use this knife in this way [demonstrates]. I now get your vitals. This is ippondori in Daito-ryu.

I understand Sokaku also studied martial arts from teachers outside of the Aizu clan?

Yes. Sokaku was a student of Kenkichi Sakakibara and studied Jikishinkage-ryu. Sakakibara’s sword was of the so-called hard-style. His techniques have also been transmitted as part of the Daito-ryu curriculum. When Sokaku was a live-in student, there were scores of students training at the Sakakibara dojo. All of them suffered concussions as a result of being struck on the head by their teacher’s sword. When he thrust at them, they went flying.

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