Sokaku Takeda and the Daito-ryu Tradition by Stanley Pranin

Daito-ryu demonstration by Sokaku Takeda's son, Tokimune Takeda in the 1970s

Daito-ryu demonstration by Sokaku Takeda’s son, Tokimune Takeda in the 1970s

“There has been a marked tendency in the orthodox Aikido world to portray
Daito-ryu as merely one of a number of technical influences on O-Sensei’s art”

Aiki News #71 (June 1986)

stanley-pranin-encyRecently, AIKI NEWS has enlarged the scope of its research effort to include regular examination of the subject of Sokaku Takeda and the Daito-ryu tradition. Readers will have noted that articles on Daito-ryu have appeared on a regular basis in the last several issues and we plan to continue this practice for the indefinite future. As is predictable our venture into the world of Daito-ryu has not been met with universal approval. For some the character of Sokaku Takeda does not represent a model to be emulated.

Certainly, those who attach importance to the ethical nature of Aikido will not find attractive a man who engaged in actual combat and killed many over the course of his long lifetime.

Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943)

Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943)

On the other hand, there seems to be unanimous agreement on the part of those who knew Sokaku Takeda that he was a true martial genius possessed of amazing skill and keen perceptive powers. Sokaku’s martial prowess was without doubt the product of incredible self-discipline and a continuing concern for technical excellence.

Yet, these considerations are, in one fundamental sense, beside the point. As we are first and foremost historians, we do not choose who to research or who to ignore. History mandates that we systematically examine all events and persons relevant to the creation of O-Sensei’s Aikido. The fact that a certain aspect of our work displeases a given individual or organization is, I suppose, inevitable. There is clearly no other approach to be followed if we wish to do justice to the focal points of our study, Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido. The information we have so far uncovered concerning Daito-ryu has served to greatly enrich our understanding of Aikido’s technical roots and we hope that readers too have found material of interest.

All of this raises the major question of the extent to which Aikido was influenced by Daito-ryu. To be sure, Morihei Ueshiba studied a number of traditional martial arts during the years of approximately 1901 to 1922. Written documentation and the testimony of Kisshomaru Ueshiba and others confirm that, later on in the late 1930s, the Founder was also influenced by the Kashima Shinto-ryu sword. Yet, of all of the arts Morihei Ueshiba studied, technically speaking, the impact of Daito-ryu on Aikido is by far the strongest and I would like to provide support for that claim here. We feel it is necessary to stress this point because in recent years there has been a marked tendency in the orthodox Aikido world to portray Daito-ryu as merely one of a number of technical influences on O-Sensei’s art or even to assert that “Goto-ha Yagyu-ryu” has left the strongest impression on Aikido. This practice has even been carried to the unfortunate and ethically questionable extreme of the alteration of published historical documents in an effort to obscure the deep relationship between Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and the early stages of development of Aikido.

Tokimune Takeda Sensei showing historical document to Aiki News staff in his home in Abashiri (1985)

Tokimune Takeda Sensei showing historical document to Aiki News staff in his home in Abashiri (1985)

Although it has of late been stated that Morihei Ueshiba’s study of Daito-ryu was limited to a few short weeks, documents in the possession of Sokaku Takeda’s, son Tokimune, bearing O-Sensei’s personal seal tell quite a different story. All in all, available records show that the Founder of Aikido studied for more than 200 days in the form of intensive seminars starting in 1915 until at least April 1931, the date of the last entry in the student enrollment log of Sokaku Takeda. In addition, Morihei accompanied Sokaku Takeda as an assistant on numerous occasions when the latter travelled about Hokkaido giving seminars during the period of 1915 to 1919. He was awarded a formal assistant instructor’s certificate in Ayabe in 1922. A photograph published in the biography of the Founder also dated about the same year shows O-Sensei seated in front of a plaque which reads “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu”. This plaque apparently appeared in the “Ueshiba Juku” dojo where he taught primarily Omoto followers from the years 1920 to the first part of 1924. Moreover, the certificates of proficiency awarded by Ueshiba subsequently to his students in the pre-war years were “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” scrolls. The was certainly the case through the early 1930s, however, as of this writing we do not know until what year this practice continued. In the middle 1930s to the early 1940s the art was usually referred to as “Aiki Budo” until its official name change to “Aikido” in 1942.

Further proof of the technical relationship between Daito-ryu and Aikido remains in the form of several hundred photographs of techniques in the possession of Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Morihiro Saito taken in 1936 at the Noma Dojo in Tokyo. The vast majority of these photographs contain sequences of techniques which would be unfamiliar to most modern-day Aikido practitioners. Not surprisingly, they fall neatly within the repertoire of techniques of the Daito school.

A photo of Morihei Ueshiba at age 52 taken at the Noma Dojo in 1936

A photo of Morihei Ueshiba at age 52 taken at the Noma Dojo in 1936

The above observations do I believe provide a strong case for the close historical connection between Sokaku Takeda and Morihei Ueshiba, but what about the other martial arts Ueshiba is reputed to have studied. This subject has been thoroughly covered in a fine article entitled, “The Martial Arts Background of Morihei Ueshiba” by Laszlo Abel soon to be published in AIKI NEWS. Suffice it to say that 0-Sensei did have experience in a number of classical traditions and perhaps also in Judo, but in most cases his study could in no way be considered deep.

The one possible exception would be what O-Sensei referred to during his lifetime simply as “Yagyu-ryu” and what his son, Kisshomaru, has stated in recent books and lectures was actually Goto-ha Yagyu Ryu. Presumably, this view is based on the certificate of proficiency awarded the Founder in 1908 and now in the possession of his son. Considering the early dates of O-Sensei’s training and the lack of information concerning the technical areas covered by this school in the early years of this century, it is difficult to pinpoint any specific technical influence on modern-day Aikido. Moreover, O-Sensei did not lay any particular emphasis on this “Yagyu” school above others he studied when interviewed, but he did definitely acknowledge the debt he owed to Sokaku Takeda on repeated occasions. Surely, if the Goto-ha school were of particular importance in the development of Aikido this fact would have been brought to light long before now as 78 years have elapsed since the Founder received his certificate of proficiency! In any event, the opportunity for scholars to examine this scroll would undoubtedly allow for a more thorough evaluation of this subject.

Over the course of a subsequent interview conducted by Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba produced the original Yagyu-ryu scroll received by Morihei Ueshiba from his time as a student. What was remarkable was that the scroll bore no signature or seal of anyone from the school. Perhaps Morihei was instructed to prepare a scroll for later signing, but this is speculation. The truth of the matter remains unknown. -Editor

What is it that lies at the core of this obvious reluctance to render justice to the contribution of Daito-ryu to the development of Aikido? Clearly, a major part of the problem is that the two arts are often confused with each other because of the ambiguity surrounding the term “Aikijujutsu”. It is frequently used as a short-hand for Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu on the one hand, and also to refer to Aikido in its pre-war form prior to the “Aiki Budo” period (middle 30s to early 40s) on the other. This obviously irks proponents of both arts and they at times go to great lengths to point out the differences between them. Another factor at play is that at some fairly early point in their relationship a rift developed between Sokaku Takeda and Morihei Ueshiba. Something like a “love-hate” relationship existed between teacher and pupil and this fact immediately becomes clear when talking with either side. For example, both made accusations against the other regarding money matters and these points of contention continue to be perpetuated even today through their heirs and students.

morihei-ueshiba-sokaku-takeda

Despite the above and taking the long view, the fact of the matter is that martial arts historians will inevitably classify the two arts as part of the same technical line while hopefully taking the trouble to acknowledge their many differences. It is also certain that Aikido and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu have led “symbiotic” existence and one has engendered considerable interest in the other. Perhaps, we are now at a historical juncture where this situation can finally be acknowledged and the differences which have separated several generations can one day soon be laid to rest. It is to that end that we are working and we hope that this will one day be recognized by the parties involved. Pax.

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