Aikido Comes to America by Joseph Svinth

Admiral Isamu Takeshita (1869-1949)

In 1904 Isamu Takeshita helped introduce judo into the United States. For a description of that, see Joseph Svinth, “Professor Yamashita Goes to Washington,” Aikido Journal, 25:2 (1998), 37-42. In 1935 Takeshita also introduced aikido, then known as aikibudo, into North America.

Takeshita was born to a samurai family in service to the Satsuma clan of Kagoshima Prefecture in 1868. His birth name was Yamamoto, but after being adopted by the Takeshita family, he subsequently took that as his family name.

He became a sailor, and upon graduation from the Japanese Naval Staff College, he was assigned as Japan’s naval attaché to the United States. In April 1904 he achieved national attention by introducing then-US President Theodore Roosevelt to Kodokan judo. “The late President Theodore Roosevelt was one of my best friends there [in Washington in 1904-1905],” Takeshita recalled in August 1935.

The relationship between us was just like that of members of one family. We had engaged Mr. Y. Yamashita, an expert on judo or jiu jitsu, from Japan as our instructor, and we, Mr. Roosevelt and I, used to take lessons in jiu jitsu very often in his library on the second floor of the White House.

After returning to Japan, Takeshita was promoted to captain in 1907 and rear admiral in 1913. During his career he commanded the warships Suma and Kasuga, and the training ship Izumo. For his service during World War I he received a Distinguished Service Medal from the United States, and in 1919 he was in the entourage of Crown Prince Hirohito during the latter’s visit to Europe. Subsequent flag billets included Chief of Staff of the First Japanese Fleet and Commander-in-Chief, Imperial Japanese Navy.

Meanwhile Takeshita did not neglect his duties as a samurai, and in Tokyo he patronized a martial art dojo called the Kobukan. Methods taught at that school included aikibudo—Morihei Ueshiba was the instructor—kendo, riding, and other spirit (kiai) developing activities. The school had about 200 members, perhaps ten percent of whom were female.

Admiral Takeshita receiving the keys to San Francisco in 1935


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