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.”

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