Yukiyoshi Sagawa: Daito-ryu Master by Kiyokazu Maebayashi

Yukiyoshi Sagawa (1902-1998)

Aiki News #84 (Spring 1990)

“… I felt instinctively that I had finally encountered a true martial artist for the first and probably last time and knew immediately what I must do…” “What was even more mysterious was that in the beginning, I didn’t even notice that my balance had been broken because I didn’t feel him use any power…”

These are the reactions of a high-ranking Kendoka at meeting Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei for the first time. This article by K. Maebayashi lends a new dimension to the martial art genius of Sagawa, one of the top students of Sokaku Takeda.


I wonder how many times we encounter a scene which makes such a deep impression on us that we remember it for the rest of our lives? We surely experience such feelings in our childhood, but for a man over 30 years old, like myself, the feeling that something is of any value comes only once in a rare while.

However, I am now experiencing this inexpressible feeling daily in my relationship with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu.

What I am going to record here are indisputable facts which I have experienced myself, although some may find my account hard to believe because it seems far beyond the realm of ordinary reality.

Encounter With Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu

It was in March of 1987 that I first saw Daito-ryu. I had never imagined that I would be what I am now when I first experienced the art. I was brought to the dojo in the Tsukuba University gymnasium by Mr. Susumu Nagao, a research assistant at Tsukuba University, who is now training Daito-ryu with me.

Both Mr. Nagao and I work in the Institute of Health and Sport Sciences of Tsukuba University. Mr. Nagao specializes in the history of martial arts, while I specialize in the history of the philosophy of martial arts, and we both practice Kendo (Mr. Nagao is a 6th dan and I am a 5th dan). The two of us are considered to be specialists on martial arts in general. One day, Mr. Nagao said to me, “I have heard that there is a club at the Tsukuba dojo which practices a jujutsu called Daito-ryu. It seems that this art is different from Aikido, so I will go and see what it is like.” What Mr. Nagao had to say the next day was quite unbelievable, even though I knew that Mr. Nagao was not the kind of man who would tell a lie.

According to Mr. Nagao, the person who was instructing this art was a man named Tatsuo Kimura, an associate professor of mathematics at Tsukuba University. Although Mr. Nagao attacked him forcefully many times, Mr. Kimura threw him easily, using virtually no power.

I thought to myself that this was not likely because Mr. Nagao was usually quite confident in his strength due to his weight training. Even if what Mr. Nagao said was true, how effective would the art be on me? “Well,” I thought, “the techniques are being performed by a mere mathematics teacher, so I should be able to handle him.” But I also recognized that one never knows what one might encounter in this world. The art might be of some use for my Kendo. With all these stupid thoughts, which are so embarrassing to me now, I was brought to the dojo by Mr. Nagao the following week and participated in practice.

After I greeted Mr. Kimura at the dojo, we soon began practice. At first, Mr. Kimura taught me the basic practice method of aiki age, a technique where you sit in seiza facing your opponent who grabs both of your arms and holds them down while you try to raise them. Mr. Kimura grabbed my hands and told me to raise them in any way I liked. I tried to raise them but couldn’t move at all. Then he threw me freely to the back or sideways over 100 times. But I was not just being thrown during this time. I tried to raise my hands the moment I was grabbed or to alter the timing or raise my hands after pulling them a bit down in the opposite direction, but all in vain. Then after I had struggled for a while, it was my turn to grab. But, the result was the same. No matter how hard I tried to press his hands down, my arms and my body were lifted, my balance was broken, and I was thrown, without feeling hardly any power from Mr. Kimura. I tried everything I could think of—using my force, releasing my power and relaxing, changing the direction of my attack—but it was completely hopeless. Mr. Kimura continued to smile as he faced me. At first I thought what I was experiencing was very strange and impossible, but later I became irritated, and in the end I could find nothing else to do except grin in embarrassment and be thrown.

I entered the Tsukuba dojo that day. Since then, I have learned various seated and standing techniques (zadori and tachidori), which are included among the ichigen techniques, and have experienced the greatness of the art every time I practice. However, what fascinated me most were the stories of Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei that Mr. Kimura would tell me when I practiced at the dojo or visited him. Surprisingly, according to Mr. Kimura, anybody who attacked Sagawa Sensei was thrown hard the moment they touched him. Every time I heard these stories, my wish to see this Sagawa Sensei increased.

Meeting Sagawa Sensei

January 3, 1987 is a day I will never forget. It was the day I entered the dojo of Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu.

After I waited for a while in the dojo, Sagawa Sensei entered from a back room. My impression of Sagawa Sensei then was that he looked like a person who would give no openings, but I felt a warmth emanating from his whole body. He didn’t look like what we would usually call a “martial artist.” The word “natural” (shizentai) was the most suitable word to describe Sensei, and this was exactly what I had imagined he would be.

A while after we began to practice, Sensei, who had been watching, gave a couple of pointers to Mr. Kimura and then started throwing him. I couldn’t believe that this was the same Mr. Kimura who had always been just like a rock whenever we tried to move him. At first Sensei would repeat the technique his students were practicing as a model, and then he would begin to execute all kinds of techniques, from complex techniques I had never seen before to techniques where you were thrown as soon as you touch him. His students were thrown any way he wanted, and they looked as if they were rubber balls or puppets. Seeing this unbelievable scene with my own eyes, I was stupefied. My mouth hung half open and I felt as if I were dreaming. Although I had heard about him before I went to the dojo, I had never before imagined that such an incredible, sophisticated art could exist in this world.

It was at this moment that I felt instinctively that I had finally encountered a true martial artist for the first and probably last time and knew immediately what I must do. Since that day I go to Sagawa Sensei’s dojo from Tsukuba twice a week and the more I practice, the more I feel the depth of the art. However, I feel I am not really qualified to say this because I have not practiced the art long enough yet.

Recently, together with Mr. Nagao, I was able to receive two months of direct instruction in the nigen techniques from Sagawa Sensei. In this seminar, the techniques for the next rank were taught directly by Sensei. My long-cherished desire was fulfilled when I was allowed to take ukemi for his technique every week.

When I finally took ukemi for Sensei, I was thrown to the mat without knowing what had happened. For example, the moment I grabbed his hand with all my might, he moved his hand just a little forward and this took away all the power in my body, bent me fully backwards, and I was thrown backwards two or three meters. Another time, when I went to choke Sensei from behind (ushiro hagaijime), his shoulders moved as if they were separate living creatures, and in a flash, my body was up in the air in front of Sensei. What was even more mysterious was that in the beginning, I didn’t even notice that my balance had been broken because I didn’t feel him use any power, and I only realized how strongly I had been thrown by the force of my impact on the mat.

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