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Interview with Ryuho Okuyama

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #83 (January 1990)

Hakko-ryu Jujutsu is a name all aikido and Daito-ryu practitioners have heard at one time or another. Despite the considerable publicity surrounding the art, information concerning its background, the philosophy of the founder, and the activities of the school have been quite limited until today. What kind of martial art is Hakko-ryu? How does it combine a highly effective healing system with jujutsu techniques? This interview with the Second Headmaster Ryuho Okuyama (son) reveals the answers to these questions. This is the first installment of a two-part interview.

Hakko-ryu jujutsu Soke Ryuho Okuyama

Aiki News: Did Headmaster Ryuho Okuyama, founder of Hakko-ryu, first study Daito-ryu or did your father study some other martial art first?

Okuyama: He seems to have studied some other arts first. He studied all of the major military arts.

We understand that Headmaster Okuyama studied under Mr. Toshimi Matsuda, a student of Sokaku Takeda. Why did he study Daito-ryu from Matsuda Sensei?

I never heard. My father studied the art of public speaking at the Tokyo Seiji Gakko (Tokyo School of Politics). One day someone tried to choke him. In a situation like this, normally you would feel suffocated and would struggle, but he told me that what he did then was to smile and this removed all the pressure from his neck. This incident got him interested in martial arts.

During the war, he was also a military surgeon and studied Eastern medicine under a man named Ryozan Hirata. However in the Hirata method, they work on the affected part itself, but my father had a different opinion and he quit.

My father’s policy was never to touch the affected part during treatment. This difference of opinion led to a breach between them in 1937 or 38. He came to his realization that shiatsu was related to the martial arts, not through any kind of instruction, but all by himself.

When did he go to Hokkaido?

I think it was when he was 17 or 18 years old.

Did Headmaster Okuyama meet Sokaku Takeda Sensei in about 1936?

I believe so. He probably met him in Abashiri because my father told me that Sokaku Sensei was sick in bed then. It seemed that Sokaku Sensei was so ill that he was unable to talk.

According to an article written in English by Mr. Brian Workman [shihan of the Hakko-ryu dojo in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.], Headmaster Okuyama received a scroll or some kind of license from Sokaku Takeda Sensei in 1936.

I suspect that it was the Kyoju Dairi license. I do not know whether the scroll still exists or not. It might have been lost when the building was remodeled.

When did Headmaster Okuyama begin to call his art “Hakko-ryu”?

It was in 1941 that he first called it “Hakko-ryu,” but the art existed with the name “Meishido” for two or three years before that in Otamagaike in Kanda, Tokyo. However, in 1938 a fire destroyed that house and he went to Haguroyama in Yamagata Prefecture. Then on November 8, 1947, he moved to the dojo’s present location here in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture.

Ryuho Okuyama (father), 1901-1987

We understand that Headmaster Okuyama taught police tactics after the war. Would you tell us about that?

He taught at the request of some of his students who were local police officers. The Japanese police force traditionally has its own arresting techniques but they are executed using only force and would not be effective when the man you are dealing with is physically much bigger than you.

I am now the vice president of the committee for the Prevention of Crimes in Omiya. The population of our city is now over 400,000 and I expect that crimes will begin to increase. There are some cases where mental patients have been cured through [Hakko-ryu] techniques and shiatsu. However, mental patients currently are usually just drugged to sleep in mental hospitals.

Many notable people have studied Hakko-ryu, I believe…

Yes. Many have. So Doshin [Doshin Nakano] was one of them. My father taught him only the first or second technique. He complained of a lot of pain and so he learned the rest of the techniques by correspondence. Then he later combined our techniques with Nihon Kenpo and created Shorinji Kenpo.

His students often came to study our art. A 7th dan in Shorinji Kenpo came to study and received the shihan rank. However, many martial artists, especially those who have been doing power techniques [such as Shorinji Kenpo] have a hard time understanding the meaning of relaxing themselves. Those who have no jujutsu background usually progress much faster than those who have. And karate people cannot last either. They have no bodily flexibility. If a slightly strong joint technique is applied to their wrists, they become unable to grab anything for about a month.

Did the Headmaster talk about the martial arts he had studied, or Sokaku Takeda at all?

Not much. It seems that he went through all kinds of hardships [in creating Hakko-ryu]. The arts that he studied tended towards power techniques. He realized that such power techniques would eventually be limiting because when two practitioners clash with power, they are unable to execute a technique on each other. This was why he created his own art.

We often receive phone calls from those practicing Daito-ryu saying they wish to study Hakko-ryu because they do not understand Daito-ryu and they think that they are immobilized only by force. The response to our art has really been great since the article about it was published in the monthly magazine Karatedo.

Seeing the pictures of your demonstration we can see some techniques which are similar to Daito-ryu. Although we believe that Headmaster Okuyama added his own theory into the techniques, we would like to ask you this. What is the difference between Hakko-ryu techniques and the old jujutsu techniques?

The old style jujutsu are all power-based techniques. I can see that from various video tapes. The reason we do not make a video of our art is that our techniques are not something you could understand through a tape. The Headmaster used to say that nobody should be allowed to observe our practice. He said that there would be no need for you to study the art if the techniques could be learned through observation. Our techniques are something you understand for the first time only by being taught directly.

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