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.”

Sokaku waited alone for sundown determined to engage the mob in a fight to the bitter end. Then information was obtained to the effect that the Mo group had rented a certain inn and more than and more members were gathering there and that by the next day some 200 gamblers were expected. In the meantime, rumor spread that there would be a fight between the Mo group and the court bodyguard. All of the town’s people closed the sliding doors of their houses believing that this was to be another Hakodate War like in 1868 (the Imperial Army vs. the Shogun’s Army). Not a soul was to be seen on the suddenly-deserted streets. Mo group members appeared at the inn where Sokaku was staying to watch over his movements. The owner of the inn began boasting about Sokaku who had been polishing his sword saying he was going to “storm a house and strew the ground with corpses”. Sokaku had also boasted that war would not be possible if people were afraid of guns. When they heard this they were terrified and left.

Gang leaders on the defensive

They related what they had heard at the inn to the gang leaders who began to feel fear and they instead opted for a defense stand with members brandishing weapons including Murata guns. This was not so surprising since the gang leaders who had just attacked Sokaku on his way home from the public bath house were so severely dealt with. Moreover, they had just tasted the power of Sokaku’s use of one wet towel! So, as it happened, the story of the proprietor of the inn worked perfectly. Although Sokaku Takeda was small his nose was high and his eyes were piercing. His kiai (shout) and voice, which somehow emanated from his diminutive frame, were terrifying.

Under cover of darkness, Sokaku, carrying his cherished sword, went directly to the house of Tsunekichi Morita, the head of the Mo group, instead of the headquarters of the mobsters set up at the inn, for a fight to the finish. There are said to have been three people at the front door when he arrived. When one of them saw Sokaku’s face, he said: “You must be Takeda Sensei.” This man knew Sokaku very well. He was Toranosuke Sasajima, an ex-police sergeant who was at that time an advisor of the Mo group. In fact the Morita group had increased its power thanks to his intelligence activities. Sasajima said: “I am very sorry not to have realized that the court bodyguard was you Sensei.” He explained the situation to Morita who then met Sokaku. After hearing the story, the Mo group admitted their guilt and ordered their members to clear out of the inn.

Sokaku Takeda demonstrating at the Asahi News dojo in August 1936

Sokaku Takeda demonstrating at the Asahi News dojo in August 1936

However, those who were injured in the earlier attack on Sokaku would not hear of this and insisted they were going to kill the bodyguard. Sokaku too insisted that he was going to strew the ground with corpses as a warning to others for the future.

Sokaku departs Hokkaido

The tense situation was at last resolved through the mediation of Hannosuke Okada, Superintendent of the Hakodate Police Department. Superintendent Okada told the Mo group that they were to blame and that they should leave Sokaku alone. He also added they should stop disrupting court activities and their acts against judges and prosecutors. He also requested that Sokaku leave Hokkaido because his presence would constitute a provocation of the Mo group if he stayed in town. Both sides agreed to this and discussed the matter at a first-class restaurant of Hakodate. Okada’s intervention led to a reconciliation and a big party was held in celebration. Bloodshed was avoided through this amicable settlement. Thus, Sokaku Takeda reluctantly departed from Hokkaido.

The article above was reprinted with the kind permission of Tokimune Takeda Sensei, Headmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Budo and the son of Sokaku Takeda Sensei, and with the assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

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