“The rumor is that Sokaku fled to Hokkaido to escape the authorities after being implicated in a killing. This story and others were repeated, it seems, in an attempt to discredit Sokaku, thereby making Morihei Ueshiba’s parting-of-the-ways with his teacher seem more justifiable.”
From Aikido Journal #104 (1995)
Sokaku Takeda is well-known as the principal martial arts instructor of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. As I have pointed out on several occasions, the revival of interest in Takeda’s art, Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, is largely due to the popularization of aikido in Japan and abroad after World War II. It seems inevitable that with hundreds of thousands of people having now studied aikido, there would be a certain interest in the “roots” of the art. In the first two articles of this series we have tried to place Daito-ryu in historical context and trace Sokaku’s formative years. Now we will turn our attention to his unparalleled teaching career that spanned more than fifty years and touched the lives of some 30,000 students.
Apart from an abundance of anecdotal evidence concerning Sokaku gleaned from his son and students, our main aids in tracing his activities are the enrollment registers (eimeiroku) and payments received ledgers (shareiroku) that he meticulously kept over some forty-five years. Since these documents comprise over 2,000 pages, our research thus far has been limited to a preliminary study of the eimeiroku.
Nonetheless, by charting a chronology of Sokaku’s movements from 1898 through 1943, for example, quite a clear picture of his teaching activities emerges. We find that he spent most of teaching career in northern Japan, and more than half of this time he was in Hokkaido. What follows is a summary of his activities during this period.
Spring 1898 through fall of 1910: Tohoku region with lengthy periods of stay in Miyagi, Iwate, and Yamagata prefectures. Shorter sojourns to Fukushima and Akita during this time are also recorded. There is mention of a brief trip to Hokkaido in July of 1904 as well.
Winter 1910 to beginning of 1921: Hokkaido. Sokaku moved to Shirataki about 1916 and this remained his home for the rest of his life.
Spring 1921 through fall 1922: four month stay in Fukushima and five-and-a-half month visit to Ayabe, near Kyoto.
Winter 1922 to winter 1930: Hokkaido. 1931 to beginning of 1934: Hokkaido with visits to Tokyo and Yamagata in 1931.
Spring to fall 1934: half-year stay, mostly in Iwate prefecture.
1935: Stays of several weeks each in Fukushima, Yamagata and Iwate; he returned to Hokkaido at end of year.
First half of 1936: Miyagi, Saitama, and Tokyo.
July 1936 to July 1939: Osaka with possible brief return to Hokkaido. August 1939 to fall 1942: Hokkaido. 1943: Left Hokkaido, probably early in the year, for Tohoku where he died in Aomori in April 1943.
Apart from the entries in his eimeiroku and shareiroku, the only documents to have survived that record Sokaku’s presence in Tohoku in the early 1900s are a few hiden mokuroku and other transmission scrolls possessed by the descendants of their recipients. What little else is known about Sokaku’s activities through 1910 is preserved in the form of anecdotes, most of which were related by his son Tokimune.
It is known, for example, that Sokaku taught Daito ryu to members of the Second Army Division in Sendai for several years starting about 1903. Sokaku got his teaching post with the army due to his earlier connection with Tsugumichi Saigo (younger brother of Takamori Saigo), whom he accompanied to Hokkaido in 1887. Among Sokaku’s students during this period was Makoto Miura who later became a famous general and supporter of Morihei Ueshiba.
One fascinating story about Sokaku describes his adventure-filled trip to Hokkaido in 1904. It seems that Sokaku was asked by the Municipal Court of Hakodate to provide assistance in helping prevent the disruption of court proceedings by local gangs. Several of the prosecutors had trained in Daito-ryu and were teaching the art to court employees and policemen in Hakodate and this was the connection to Sokaku. A few days after his arrival in the city, it looked as though the diminutive Daito-ryu master would attempt to take on single-handedly some two hundred gang members wielding a variety of weapons, including firearms. Fortunately, the matter was settled through arbitration, without violence. The gang leaders agreed to cease their disruptive activities and Sokaku was convinced to leave Hokkaido so as not to provoke any further hostilities.
In 1905, a shabbily-dressed Sokaku encountered a brash young British gentleman on a train in Sendai who objected to his presence in the first-class car. Sokaku registered his displeasure by proceeding to effortlessly pin the larger foreigner. The amazed man, Charles Parry, then became a student of Sokaku for a short time, and his name is preserved in the eimeiroku.
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