Interview with Kenji Tomiki (1) by Stanley Pranin

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of James Day.

Kenji Tomiki Sensei (1900-1979)

This interview with Professor Kenji Tomiki was conducted on January 4, 1974 at Waseda University in Tokyo. The interview is presented in two parts with the second installment to appear in the next issue of Aiki News.

Editor: Sensei, would you be kind enough to tell us about your first involvement in the study of martial arts?

Tomiki: I first began to practice judo when I was about 10 years old. Later when I was to enter the university, I came up to Tokyo. But it wasn’t until I became one of the key officers of the university judo club that I was first able to get to know Jigoro Kano Sensei, the founder of Kodokan judo. It was in 1920 that I first met him directly. Kano Sensei was born at the end of the Edo Period in 1860 and died at the age of 79 in 1938, so he was of the same generation as Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher, Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Kano Sensei founded the Kodokan in 1882 so he was about 24 or 25 at that time.

You mentioned Sokaku Takeda? Could you elaborate? I know that Sokaku Takeda was taught Daito-ryu Jujutsu and he was one of Ueshiba Sensei’s first teachers; and then I know that afterwards several times in the late 19 teens and early twenties, Takeda Sensei returned and spent some time with Ueshiba Sensei. Sensei, did you have any contact with Takeda and Ueshiba at that time?

This would be a good moment for me to talk about the history of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Just before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan’s domestic political scene was divided into two factions. The Imperial forces on the one hand, and the old Tokugawa government on the other. Eventually, the Emperor’s side was victorious and we have heard the famous story of that group of 15- and 16-year olds called the Byakko Tai (the White Tiger Brigade of Aizu Han in Wakamatsu who committed “seppuku”) at that time since they had supported the defeated Tokugawa forces. Had young Takeda Sokaku, then 9 years old, been 5 years older he too would have had to commit ritual suicide along with the others from his fief.

Anyway, he had been practicing Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, an art which had long been handed down in the Aizu Han (fief), and Takeda had studied from the time he was a child. Moreover, at that time swords were popular and he had learned kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship) as well. As the feudal period was drawing to a close he had been the uchideshi (live-in student) of one of the most famous masters of kenjutsu of that period. In the old days people hid their techniques behind the closed doors of their own households and it wasn’t until 1898 that some were first revealed to the public. And, by any standards, the northeastern region of the country was particularly rich in them. On top of that, the area had an abundance of people at the instructor level and also lots of wealthy people, so a teacher would often go some place and stay with some rich sponsor for two weeks or a month at a time and teach. Around 1907 the then Akita Prefectural police chief was transferred to the northern island of Hokkaido and Takeda Sensei was among his entourage. They went to Abashiri, a place very far to the north.

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