Aikido’s Ancient Origins

origini_aikidoThe oldest literary document of ancient Japan, the Kojiki (“chronicle of ancient events”), is a shinto text about the history of the imperial family from 554 to 628. The book contains references to an autochthonous style of fight called Tegoi: “…When Takeminakata no kami grabbed the hand of Takemikazuchi no kami, the hand became a column of ice, then again changed into the blade of a sword, and he lost any hope completely. Then in turn Takemikazuchi no kami grabbed the hand of Takeminakata no kami. He held it as if it was a young reed and threw it away.”

It is said that the Tegoi is at the origins of Sumo. In 868, the supervision of Sumo combats during court banquets was transferred to the Counsel of Military Affairs and was since then under control of the Imperial Guard. The techniques based on the Tegoi were transmitted as “Aiki In-Yo (yin-yang) method” for a long period, until the Sumo Assembly of Kamakura warriors (Kamakura Period = 1192-1333).

According to legend, the Aiki principle was discovered by prince Teijun, sixth son ofEmperor Seiwa(850-880) of theSeiwa Genjidynasty. Teijun’s eldest son wasTsunetomo Minamoto(894-961), progenitor of theMinamoto clan. He passed on the Aiki principle to the next generations of the family in the Sumo for Samurai of the Kamakura Period. This kind of Sumo was a bit different from today’s; it was not fought within a circle and was indeed oriented to the Samurai arts inspired to the Tegoi. The Minamoto clan has been one of the most prominent in Japan. In 1192 Yoritomo Minamoto, having defeated the opponent Taira clan and gotten rid of his brother Yoshitsune, became the first Samurai to govern Japan as Shogun (military chief, general) to lead the country. The Emperor, descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu by shinto tradition, was relegated in Kyoto as a mere nominal chief, the capital was moved to the Minamoto’s original village Kamakura, thus beginning the Kamakura period. Even the Tokugawa clan claimed descent from the Seiwa Genji and Minamoto.Ieyasu Tokugawaunified Japan under his command and his family ruled the country since 1600, after the famousbattle of Sekigaharaagainst the Toyotomi clan. His shogunate lasted until 1868, when Japan was forced out of its voluntary isolation with Emperor Meiji’s reform.

In 1054, an ancestor to the first Shogun Yoritomo, Yoriyoshi Minamoto,grandson of the forefather Tsunetomo and Daimyo of the Chinjufu province, was sent by the Emperor to put down a rebellion of the Abe clan, started by Sadato, son of a former imperial governor after his father was removed for corruption. The war lasted 11 years, until Sadato Abe was defeated in the battle of Yakata Koromogawa. Afterwards, Yoriyoshi’s sons Yoshie, who stood out remarkably in the preceding war, and Yoshimitsu also fought in the Gosannen no Eki war against the Kiyohara clan.Yoshiie Minamoto, thanks to the help of his brother Yoshimitsu, expunged the Kanazawa fortress, subjecting north-eastern Japan. Yoshie was compared to the king of war and he was received by the Emperial Court as he was now called the “chief of all Samurai”.
yoshiHis brother Yoshimitsu Minamoto(1045-1127) was also allowed to the Emperor’s court and was a renown Sumo fighter and best yumitori (a Sumo fighter who received the championship prize). He was also an expert mouth-organ player, often performing at the court’s traditional ballets. Yoshimitsu saw that the elegant and sinuous movements of those dancers had no fixed form and did not offer any opening for attack. He realized that this qualities allowed for a number of different permutations. He created additions to the secret methods of the Seiwa Genji tradition and formalized the secret techniques of Aiki. Yoshimitsu was a man of exceptional capabilities and knowledge. It is said that he elaborated most of his techniques from observing a spider who trapped a big insect in its web. It is certain that he studied human anatomy by dissecting bodies of war casualties and criminals for better understanding the dislocations caused by Aikijujutsu locks, the art he is believed to have founded.

200px-Sasa_Rindo.svgWhen Yoshimitsu was a kid, he lived in the Daito castle in Ohmi (today’s Yamanashi prefecture) and was called Sabura Daito. Yoshimitsu also studied Chinese military techniques and later trained his body and spirit in the Mikkio Dojo, near the temple of Enjo. Later he was appointed gevernor of Kai (today’s Yamanashi prefecture), following his military successes during the Gosannen war. Yoshimitsu appointed Nobuyoshi,  nephew of his second son Yoshikyo, as his successor and he gifted him with the Minamoto family crest (at right) and armour. Nobuyoshi moved to the Takeda village in the Kita-Koma district and took the name of Takeda. The Aikijujutsu techniques were since then secretely passed down only to Takeda family members

kogusokuIn 1574, Kunitsugu, younger brother of the famous daimyoShingen Takeda(1521-1573), who opposed Ieyasu Tokugawa during the unifying war, moved to Aizu and became governor of the Aizu clan, based in today’s Fukushima prefecture. The Takeda descendants of Kunitsugu took residence in Aizu and served as abbots in local monasteries. Through the following generations, the Takeda family transmitted the secret methods of Daito-ryu Aiki in the form of Kogusoku (a martial art in which a criminal is arrested wearing “only an armour”). Since then, the art had been exclusive to Samurai warriors and was passed on within the Takeda family only, until after 1868, when Japan was forced out of isolation at the beginning of the Meiji period.

aizuSome papers report that in 1674 the influence of the Takeda clan spread over the whole Aizu territory (at right), where many prominent martial art schools flourished. They were meant exlusively for Aizu clan’s bushi (warriors). They featured 5 sword schools, 2 jujutsu schools (the famous Mizu no Shinto-ryu and Shinmyo-ryu) peculiar to the Aizu clan, plus a number of private schools that taught also to lesser rank Samurais: 22 sword schools, 16 of jujutsu, 16 of firearms, 14 of sword extraction, 7 of bowshot, 4 of lance, 1 of halberd, sickle with chain, staff and unarmed armoured fight.
Two of those schools were forbidden to perform in public. They are the two secret schools of the Aizu clan – the Oshikiuchi (previously Aiki-in-yo-ho, later Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu) of the Takeda clan and the Misoguchi-ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu of the Aizu clan. The Ono-ha Itto-ryu is one of the most ancient sword styles in Japan. It was taught to highly ranked Samurais of the Tokugawa shoguns and remained the official Kenjutsu school until the Meiji restoration (1868). The one-sword method (itto-ryu), as opposed to the two-sword method (nitto-ryu) made famous byMiyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), is still taught today to the Tokyo Police.
In the Tokugawa/Edo period (Edo corresponds to today’s Tokyo, where Tokugawa moved the capital), the city of Aizuwakamatsu, in the Aizu district, was known for the power of the Tsurugajo castle, bulit in 1384 (Ashikaga period) by Ashina Naomori (at that time daimyo of Aizu). During the rebellion to the Meiji restoration, the castle was equipped with Aizu clan’s troops, trained by the Takeda clan, that was also providing the best Samurais for the shogun’s guard. In 1868 the core of the forces held out well against the enemy, which was also confronted by two formations of young Takedas trained in Oshikiuchi (the future Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu): the Byakkottai team (White Tigers) and the Joshigun team (one of male and the other of female members, both aged between 15 and 17). When the Meiji army approached the Tsurugajo castle defended by the Aizu damyo Matsudaira Katamori, the two teams rushed to the battle site as reiforcement. Seeing the castle sieged and wrapped out in smoke, they thought for worse and did the only thing worthy of bushido: they committed seppuku. Today, at the gates of the city, there is a monument to the memory of the young suicidal Takedas.

The battle, altough already lost, lasted for four more weeks, and the castle, not in flames as the young Takedas had believed, was still in Aizu-Takeda hands. The survivors, after the heroic act of the young teams, chose to fight until death and, like in the past, the families committed seppuku so that their husbands and fathers would not have to worry about them, since the defeat was unavoidable. When the Emperor’s armies entered the castle, there was no man alive. In the home of the Takeda clan’s chief, they found 21 women and children who committed suicide. That was the end of the egemony of the shoguns. But also the end of an era, the era of real Samurais. The Meiji period (1868-1912) had begun; the following social revolution erased the concept of caste and no one was allowed to wear in public the two swords, a long one (the katana) and a short one (wakizashi), symbol of the elite military class of the Samurais.

220px-Takeda_SokakuA few years before, a child had been born, namedSokaku Takeda(1860-1943). He was only eight when all this happened. His father, Soikichi Takeda, descendant of the Takeda lineage of the Aizu feud, had kept him hidden safely. Soon the young Takeda, besides studying the family art of Oshikiuchi, began his musha shugyo (apprenticeship pilgrimage): growing up with that education he involuntarily became a ronin, a bushi without lord – the new Meiji government had abolished the castes and the whole social buke since 1868. Sokaku studied all the best schools of sword (especially the classical Ono-ha itto-ryu at Aizu), lance and staff of his country. He became so skillful that, although he publicly wore until death the two swords, symbol of the abolished caste of the Samurai, no one ever had the guts to disarm him.

Sokaku was highly criticized for his hot-tempered and surly character, for his arrogant and haughty manners, for his contempt and disdain against the new social order. But his figure should be viewed within the context of a country suffering a profound revolution, where values rooted for millennia in the bushi’s soul were thrown away in few years. They saw their world going to pieces beneath their feet. Conforming to that was not easy, especially because of the moral beliefs and strong conditioning they sustained since childhood. Some of them reacted. Sokaku Takeda (also Masayashi Minamoto for descent) wanted to rename the art of his family school into “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu”, to recall names and places of the origin of his art and clan: the Daito castle and prince Yoshimitsu Minamoto; the word “Aiki” derives from the ancient art’s name “Aiki-in-yo-ho”.

Sokaku Takeda was the man who took the art out of secrecy and taught it to many students. Although illiterate, he gave classes and recorded everything in registry books (still preserved today at the Abashiri honbu dojo); he had his own students to fill them in with such an impressive scrupulousness that today we are able to reconstruct the facts with incredible detail.

Restored by Whitney Hansen on 11/21/01, Paid $30 for job.He had many prominent students: ministers, admirals, generals, magistrates, powerful tycoons of the early 1900s, police forces, and also future martial art masters, among whichMorihei Ueshiba, gandson (or great grandson – it is not clear) of Kichiemon Ueshiba, at his days famous for his power and ability. Morihei Ueshiba earned from Takeda a degree that is just one step below Menkyo kaiden (the “total transmission), plus the certificate of Daito ryu Aiki Jujutsu master. Ueshiba opened a dojo in Tokyo in 1927, where he began teaching ” target=”_blank” title=”Ueshiba-ryu Aikijutsu” style=”color: #114170;”>Ueshiba-ryu Aikijutsu, mirror of Daito-ryu and skeleton of Aikido.

A man of rare skills, Ueshiba inserted in the Daito school some techniques he deveoped and some essential elements from ancient martial art schools.

In particular, he used the art of sword fighting, Kenjutsu; he mastered several sword styles, among which the Ono-ha Itto-ryu, and closely collaborated with its master of those days. He first taught what he called Aikibujutsu and later Aikibudo. Then he came to create Aikido, a word officialy used for the first time in 1942.

From the ancient roots of Sumo, enveloped in shinto legend, the father of the first Minamoto, head of the same lineage of the first shogun who ruled over all Japan, discovered the Aiki principles, which were then transmitted secretly within his family only. One of his descendants, Yoshimitsu, lord of the Daito castle, codified those principles elaborating Aikijujutsu, that was kept secret within the imperial court. Sokaku Takeda, of Minamoto lineage, born after the end of feudal Japan and of the Samurai class, carried on his clan’s tradition and released it to the public. Morihei Ueshiba, one of his best students, from those principles created Aikido.


P. Robustini

Maestro Katsuyuki Kondo


Aikido Journal n. 67 (May1985)

Takeda Tokimune, Dayto-ryu Aikibudo

Gozo Shioda, Dynamic Aikido

Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, onWikipedia.org

Leonardo Vittorio Arena, Samurai, ascesa e declino di una grande casta di guerrieri