Founder of Aikido (12): The First Encounter with Master Sokaku Takeda by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Sokaku Takeda posing for a technique at the Asahi News Dojo in Osaka c. 1939

Sokaku Takeda posing for a technique at the Asahi News Dojo in Osaka c. 1939

“Though Morihei was physically stronger than Takeda, he was powerless
in the face of his teacher’s control of technique and pinning”

Takeda Sokaku is recorded in modern budo history as the transmitter of Daito-ryu Jujutsu. He was an awe-inspiring person with a formidable appearance and, although he was about 2 inches shorter than O-Sensei, he always seemed to stare down at things with a mysteriously piercing gaze, made all the more so by a tight-lipped frown due to his lack of front teeth. It is said that Onisaburo Deguchi, who had a reputation for being able to tell people’s fortunes, once told Takeda that even though he had mastered one “Way,” he was a man with the smell of blood and a hapless or evil fate. Master Deguchi often wondered why Ueshiba was so humble towards Takeda, and this attitude was a point of irritation to the religious leader. But Ueshiba was always true to etiquette and was grateful to his teacher, so he always tried to meet Takeda Sensei’s demands.

It was in February of 1915 while visiting Engaru in Kitami that O-Sensei met Takeda. They were both staying at the same inn and they met in the halls of the inn. Ueshiba, who was about 30 then, studied with him at the inn for only a month, but while he was being taught he felt some kind of inspiration that spiritually he didn’t quite understand, so he invited Takeda to come to the Shirataki area where about 15 of Ueshiba’s deshi and servants received instruction from Takeda in Daito-ryu. Later, when asked if it was then, while studying Daito-ryu, that he came to the realization of aikido, O-Sensei shook his head, “No,” and said, “I would say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.”

Morihei Ueshiba, c. 1918

When they first met, Sokaku introduced himself by saying, “I am Sokaku Takeda.” O-Sensei recognized the name because earlier he had fought and defeated a huge Sumo wrestler from Kitami Ridge, and at that time he had been asked if he were Takeda. According to the Sumo Ozeki (the 2nd highest rank in Sumo) whom he had defeated, Takeda was a budo man of samurai rank who had come to Hokkaido at the invitation of one of his students. It was this incident that had familiarized O-Sensei with Takeda’s name and although he thought, “How surprising it is to find such an important teacher so far north,” he felt close to him from the beginning.

This was the start of the long and fateful bond between the two men. Upon meeting, Takeda invited Morihei to his room where they talked the night away. It was then that Morihei realized the great budo knowledge possessed by this formidable character. When Ueshiba requested to be instructed in Daito-ryu jujutsu, something completely new to him, Takeda immediately invited him to stay on at the inn. It seems that he realized that Ueshiba had trained hard and had great potential.

It appears that O-Sensei was very impressed by the secret techniques of Daito-ryu which he saw for the first time during that month of day-long intensive training sessions. Later, he received a transmission scroll which listed 188 general techniques, 30 aiki techniques, and 36 secret teachings. He was quite surprised by the tremendous number of variations which had been given to him.

The techniques of Daito-ryu were more practical than the jujutsu that he had learned up until that time and the violent effectiveness of the joint locking techniques and attacks to vital points (atemi) were something new to him. Though Morihei was physically stronger than Takeda, he was powerless in the face of his teacher’s control of technique and pinning. Morihei became deeply absorbed in researching these secret techniques, but after about a month he returned to Shirataki. Later, when talking of this time in his life, he told the author, “I realized later that after that first month Takeda Sensei never showed me any new “waza.” When Takeda came to Ayabe to visit, he told me that I didn’t need to practice any further and he wouldn’t train with me.”

The gravesite of Sokaku Takeda
in Abashiri, Hokkaido

Here is a brief summary of Master Sokaku Takeda and Daito-ryu. Daito-ryu jujutsu is a family martial tradition of the Takeda clan. The founder was Shinra Saburo no Yoshimitsu from the Seiwa Genji line (a major branch of the Minamoto clan). The name of the system is said to have been taken from the “Daito Mansion” in Shiga where training used to take place. The tradition was handed down in the Kai Takeda family and when Lord Takeda Tosa Kunitsugu was appointed to be Lord of “Aizu Han“, it was he who brought it to Aizu. There it had been handed down as the secret techniques of that domain until the end of the feudal period in the 1860’s. Sokaku had been outstanding in martial arts as a youth and was called a genius with the sword. One story relates that as a young man Takeda killed many challengers, and he would boast of this to Ueshiba. It seems though that after a while he changed and layed aside the sword and became absorbed in the Daito-ryu Jujutsu tradition. In 1898, he received a master’s license in the secret techniques of the domain. This is how Takeda Sokaku became a transmitter (in Japanese literally a “middle founder”) of the Daito tradition. After that he traveled to various places teaching and spreading Daito-ryu and eventually made his way to Hokkaido.

O-Sensei treated him most humbly and politely and did his best to serve Sokaku until his death in 1943. During the time Takeda lived and taught in the Shirataki area, Morihei took care of him completely by himself and despite the fact that he was in a position of great respect in the community, he voluntarily humbled himself by doing lowly jobs out of his own convictions. It was O-Sensei’s belief that total devotion to your teacher was simply the accepted or expected etiquette once you had received instruction from him. In reference to this, the author says, “I can think of none who held decorum and etiquette more highly than he. This is why the Founder was able to develop the capacity to command respect as a teacher himself.”

We would like to thank Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba for his kind permission to publish these chapter summaries.

(Translated from Japanese by Stanley A. Pranin and Midori Yamamoto)

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The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.


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