Sokaku Takeda: Bodyguard in Hokkaido by Tokimune Takeda

“When Sokaku was 21 years old he engaged in a life-or-death
struggle with some 300 rowdy construction workers for six hours!”

From Aiki News #70 (March 1986)

Sokaku Takeda c. 1910

Sokaku Takeda c. 1910

Since I receive many inquiries concerning this subject, I would like to describe what really happened. Why did Sokaku Takeda, a famous martial art expert, choose to live in a backward region like Hokkaido instead of in the center of the country? It is quite natural for a question like this to be raised. About 1868, the colonial troop system was introduced with the object of developing Hokkaido and the traditional clan system was abolished. Thus, some samurai, having lost their jobs, established themselves in Hokkaido and were eager to develop the land. This northernmost island was a most suitable place for those who dreamt of making their fortunes overnight or for criminals to hide. Since people of all kinds and backgrounds descended upon Hokkaido searching for a new life similar to what we see in western movies, the number of criminals also increased. There were many crimes including rioting and jail breaks by bands of prisoners. Gamblers and villainous types overran the land and tormented the good, hard working citizens residing there.

Near anarchy prevailed in Hokkaido at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868) because of the weakness of the police. The number of gamblers increased to the point that it could not be ignored. Such types provoked quarrels with men of budo and extorted sake or money from them. When those who don’t train stand in authority, there is no way to handle them other than to please them. In this regard there is not much difference between now and the old days.

Sokaku Takeda vs. the “Mo” gamblers

This is a portion of the Sokaku Takeda biography published by Isamu Takeshita, the navy admiral, who studied Daito-ryu at the beginning of the Showa period (1925-1989 ). Also, this is the true account of the incident, part of which was published in the book “Aikido” by Tsuruyama, a researcher.

At that time in Hokkaido there were incidents involving people who would disrupt court proceedings wielding dangerous weapons and demand that suspects under investigation be released immediately. The situation was becoming extremely dangerous.

On July 6, 1904, Sokaku Takeda entered wild Hakodate City in Hokkaido at the request of the municipal court. Sokaku stayed at the home of Kishiro Yokoyama, a notary public in Hakodate. Public prosecutors Shigemori Fujita, Hachiro Hasegawa and Bansho Kimura were teaching (Daito-ryu) to employees of the court and policemen in Hakodate at that time.

About ten days after his arrival in Hokkaido, he went to a public bath in the town since he liked taking morning baths. Three gambler types were in the bath and were talking and laughing with each other as they pointed at Sokaku. Sokaku knew by intuition that they could provoke him into a quarrel, so he watched them carefully. They somehow found out who the man was who was newly-appointed as the court guardsman. They found Sokaku to be a small man, less than 5 feet tall (151.5 cm) and weighing only about 115 pounds (52.5 kg). They were waiting for an unguarded moment of Sokaku who was quite unarmed wondering how such a small man like him could possibly be a bodyguard. Sokaku exited the public bath house and walked for a while. However, five or six gamblers came to attack him all at once. He struck their faces with his wet towel. Striking an opponent with a wet towel using the “kokyu” method of Aiki was as powerful as hitting one with a young bamboo stick and they were scattered one after another. Since the ruffians were used to fighting, they persistently attacked Sokaku swishing their knives with their hands. But Sokaku dealt with them severely and broke arms and ribs and the group finally beat a hasty retreat.

Sokaku went back to Mr. Yokoyama’s house who explained that the “Mo” band had thousands of violent members and that he was sure that they would come back to exact revenge. Thinking he didn’t want to trouble his host, Sokaku moved to the second floor of an inn nearby and began to polish his cherished sword while waiting for nightfall.

Mr. Yokoyama notified Sokaku that members of the Mo group were gathering together from neighboring villages in large numbers carrying Japanese swords, spears and “Murata” guns. He said that their numbers were sure to swell by the next day and implored Takeda to escape and hide himself from the cutthroats.

Life-or-death struggle

The gravesite of Sokaku Takedain Abashiri, Hokkaido

The gravesite of Sokaku Takeda
in Abashiri, Hokkaido

From the end of the Edo period to the first year of Meiji (mid-1860’s to 1868), Sokaku fought in the Aizu War during which time he had many narrow escapes with death in battle. Still he was never defeated. When he was 21 years old he engaged in a life-or-death struggle with some 300 rowdy construction workers for six hours. He managed to survive by cutting down scores of the strong attackers. Later the construction workers were shown to be at fault. Sokaku’s act was recognized as legitimate self-defense and he was found innocent. He sustained some 30 wounds all over his body and was called indestructible. In 1903 he was instructing some 50 officers of the Sendai Second Army Division (this fact is recorded in his student register). However, he was assigned to the third army of General Maresuke Nogi and participated in the fierce battle in Lu-shun. This force was said to have been the strongest in Japan.

In view of this, Sokaku responded to Mr. Yokoyama: “How could I have served as an instructor for the Second Army Division if I were afraid of guns. When it gets dark I will raid their houses and strew the ground with corpses.”

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