Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda, by Stanley Pranin

“In modern psychological terms the association between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda might be characterized as a “love-hate” relationship.”

Few individuals have so thoroughly investigated the origins of aikido as Aiki News’ own editor-in-chief Stanley Pranin. In this new series, originally written for publication in the Japanese-language magazine Wushu, Pranin recounts some of the highlights of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba’s long career through his association with his teachers and leading students. This first installment focuses on the extremely significant but little understood relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and his teacher, Sokaku Takeda.

Let me begin by stating categorically that the major technical influence on the development of aikido is Daito-ryu jujutsu. This art, which is said to be the continuation of a martial tradition of the Aizu Clan dating back several hundred years, was propagated in many areas of Japan during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods by the famous martial artist, Sokaku Takeda. Known equally for his martial prowess and severity of character, Takeda had used his skills in life-and-death encounters on more than one occasion.

Takeda was fifty-four years old when Morihei Ueshiba first met him at the Hisada Inn in Engaru, Hokkaido in late February 1915. This encounter marked the beginning of a long, stormy yet ultimately productive association between the two, which lasted for more than twenty years.

Ueshiba’s initial exposure to Daito-ryu practice included three 10-day seminars in close succession which concluded on April 4 of that same year. Daito-ryu records show he then participated in three other seminars taught by Takeda in 1916. Ueshiba also invited Takeda to his home and received intensive, private instruction in the highly-refined techniques of Daito-ryu. Unfortunately, few details about this study and how long it lasted are known.

Ueshiba left Hokkaido once and for all in December 1919 after he received a telegram which contained the news that his father was critically ill. He entrusted his home, a modest wooden structure, to Takeda and returned to his hometown of Tanabe. En route, he made an unscheduled stop at Ayabe, the center of the Omoto religion, to pray for his father’s recovery. It was here he met Onisaburo Deguchi, another major influence in his life and the subject of the next article in this series.

When he arrived home to find his father already dead, Ueshiba decided to move his family, then consisting of his wife, his mother, and two children, to Ayabe, and they relocated there in the spring of 1920. At the urging of Deguchi, Ueshiba opened up his first dojo in his home, known as the Ueshiba Juku, and taught Daito-ryu to students, most of whom were members of the Omoto religion.

Two years later in April, Sokaku Takeda appeared in Ayabe with his wife, a daughter, and his 6-year old son, Tokimune, the present Daito-ryu headmaster. The question of whether Takeda invited himself or was asked by Ueshiba to come to Ayabe seems at the moment to be unresolvable, and the official versions from Daito-ryu and aikido sources differ considerably. What is known is that Takeda remained for five months, teaching members of the Ueshiba Juku dojo, and that at the end of this period Ueshiba was awarded the kyoju dairi certificate which conferred upon him official status as an instructor of Daito-ryu. Takeda and the spiritually oriented Deguchi appear, not surprisingly, to have disliked each other, although the Omoto leader did present Sokaku with a sword and a hand-drawn painting as parting gifts. In any event, all indications are that the relationship between the diminutive but fearless Sokaku and his most famous student, Morihei Ueshiba, was strained during the Ayabe period.

Sokaku Takeda posing for Asahi News photographer in Osaka, c. 1939

Following Takeda’s departure in September 1922, the two appear to have met only infrequently, although Takeda did visit Ueshiba on several occasions at the latter’s dojo in Tokyo. Ueshiba eventually established himself as a well-known teacher of jujutsu in Tokyo while Takeda continued to travel extensively all over Japan, giving seminars primarily to prominent persons such as judges, police officials, military officers and the like. Although Ueshiba and Takeda had little direct contact from that point on, they did maintain a correspondence. Further, Ueshiba, now an accredited teacher of Daito-ryu, awarded scrolls of proficiency to his direct students until quite probably as late as 1937. Among the recipients of Daito-ryu diplomas from Ueshiba are Kenji Tomiki, Minoru Mochizuki, Rinjiro Shirata, and Gozo Shioda.

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