Refelcting on Conversations with Daito-Ryu Masters

Pranin, Stanley. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Conversations with Daito-ryu Masters. Aiki News. 1996.

In his never-ending research to better understand the many and the martial artist that was Morihei Ueshiba, the late Stanley Pranin followed the influence of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, specifically that of Ueshiba’s teacher, Sokaku Takeda. The aikido sources at the time of Pranin’s research seemed to have glossed over or demonized Takeda and his influence of the martial arts journey of Ueshiba, suggesting that there was not real connection between the aikido that Ueshiba taught and the Takeda’s Daito-ryu. It seemed like to Pranin that he thought otherwise and sought out Daito-ryu practitioners fill the information and knowledge gap on what became the basis for modern aikido.

Before Pranin opens up with the interviews and conversations with the Daito-ryu practitioners, he gives a biography on Takeda, where the reader finds out that he was an adamant martial artist who never cared to read or write, but required detailed records of who he taught, when, and where. In addition to that, Takeda fully committed to his martial art, sometimes leaving his family for months without communication. Moreover, he traveled around Japan before he began his teaching career, essentially honing his craft and making it deadly effective. It should be expected, how3ver, of a man who was born just as the age of the samurai was ending and the modern age for the country was beginning. Raised in the old warrior ways, he sought to live his live by them, even as the country he knew quickly changed.

As rough around the edges he was, however, the interviewees paint a strikingly different picture of Takeda compared to that of the early aikido sources that discussed him and Daito-ryu. A very perceptive and kind man, many of his students retold stories and instances where he was meticulous, firm on his decisions, and open to conversation and discussion about certain topics. Some of the incidences remind the aikido reader of the feats Ueshiba demonstrated before his time in Iwama. Especially in his later years, it seemed that the brashness earlier aikido sources cover is a bit overexaggerated. What was not exaggerated was the piercing eyes that Takeda held even into his older age; his eyes were one of the first things many of his students noticed first and how off-putting it was.

There are two aspects that the reader takes away after finishing Pranin’s work; the first being Daito-ryu Aikijutusu had a profound influence on the techniques that would later appear in aikido – there was a direct link between the two arts – secondly, around the time Pranin conducted the interviews, Daito-ryu was a marginal martial art compared to aikido, despite being its ancestor art. This unpopularity of the art, according to some of the interviewees, stems from how Takeda taught Daito-ryu. He taught mostly at police stations and military academies all around the country, staying in one location for about ten days, his average seminar length. What is more, Takeda continued this routine until his old age – he never thought or considered sending personal students to these institutions and have them establish Daito-ryu schools. This was something that Ueshiba allowed during the prewar years and was accelerated in the postwar years by his son, Kisshomaru. In a sense, the transmission and spread of Daito-ryu was a more isolated affair than aikido, with no need to establish a central organization when Takeda was alive, but rather, many smaller Daito-ryu organizations formed from the isolated nature the art was transmitted.

While Pranin published his book in the mid-1990s, there has been a better understanding of the connection between Daito-ryu and aikido. Pranin references the small number of aikidoka exploring Daito-ryu. Today, this number has surely grown and the once muddled link between aikido and Daito-ryu is much more prevalent – surely, this outcome was something that Pranin wanted.


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