You indicated that your grandfather trained directly under Kenkichi Sakakibara, one of the most prominent martial artists of the late 19th century. Would you tell us what you recall hearing about your grandfather¥s experience training in Jikishinkage-ryu and what you happen to know yourself about the famous teacher? Takeda Sokaku was also supposed to have trained under Sakakibara Sensei. I wonder if this is the connection between your grandfather and Sokaku.
Unfortunately, I know very little about Sakakibara Sensei except that my grandfather met him during a demonstration and had towards him an almost divine reverence. One thing I do remember that I was told by Namishiro Sensei was of my grandfather¥s strength in "positive heiho of ippatsu" (Instant victory with one stroke). He attributed this tactic to Sakakibara Sensei and said that it affected his decision to leave the Yoshin-ryu and pursue training, in Shindo Yoshin-ryu.
In going over my notes I find that Sakakibara, according to Namishiro Sensei, was quite aggressive in his kenjutsu. This influenced Namishiro Sensei in his application of techniques and his way of instructing me. He specifically talked about how Shigeta admired Sakakibara¥s strategy of employing feinting and countertiming followed by a very powerful attack. The use of hip movements in successful feinting is extremely important as, without it, the feint will fail when one is confronted by an experienced opponent. In my notes I also found mention of the heiho totsuzen-totsuken concept. This refers to the strike from the subconsciousness, so fast that you youself are not aware you have made it. It exists in only the most dangerous and superior swordsmen. It is a technique of true masters.
Its interesting, 20 years ago nobody had ever heard of Sokaku Takeda. Now I get asked about him all the time. Your magazine has done some very good articles on him. Many people attempt to minimize Takeda Sensei¥s perceived influence on aikido. That is too bad because it is very disrepsectful to Ueshiba as well as Takeda. Would it not be just as disrepectful for my students to minimize my grandfather¥s influence on what I teach today? What I teach and the way I teach it is quite different from what he taught me, but his influence will always be there and deserves proper recognition.
Many people also attempt to make Ueshiba Sensei into a god. What foolishness! Ueshiba Sensei was just a man. Maybe all this talk of Takeda Sensei will bring the aikido world back down to earth. Many will, however, resist it because it¥s always easier to convince people to follow a god.
I understand your grandfather also knew Kotaro Yoshida. He was one of Sokaku¥s senior students and received a kyoju dairi or instructor certification. In what way were they connected?
My grandfather worked for a Tokyo newspaper as a reporter and traveled often. He had many friends in government and politics. He met Kotaro Yoshida while traveling. Yoshida Sensei and my grandfather discovered they had much in common so he introduced my grandfather to Takeda Sensei. I know my grandfather met Takeda Sensei several times but I am not sure when or where. It was possible that it was Hokkaido because my grandfather Shigeta traveled often. I had the impression that my grandfather was more impressed with Yoshida Sensei than Takeda Sensei. I don¥t know why I have this impression. It may simply be that he talked about Yoshida Sensei more. I know my grandfather was very impressed with Yoshida Sensei¥s technique and regarded him as a martial artist of phenomenal ability. Yoshida Sensei was instrumental in Morihei Ueshiba being introduced to Sokaku Takeda. He is also well-known for instructing Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushinkai karate, and Richard Kim. My grandfather adopted several concepts and techniques from Yoshida Sensei and taught them in the dojo. We still do these forms as part of the Takamura school.
I know Yoshida Sensei and my grandfather still traveled together sometimes after 1930. Yoshida Sensei visited my father¥s house with my grandfather on several occasions when I was a small boy. I remember being scared of Yoshida Sensei. He dressed funny and occasionally played mean tricks on me. One time I even hid under the floor when I knew Yoshida Sensei was coming! It¥s very funny now when I look back on it.
I found out later that Yoshida Sensei had a son named Kenji. This was interesting news as my grandfather never mentioned that he had any family or children. The son evidently traveled to America and eventually passed their family art to a student in the USA. His name is Don Angier and I witnessed several demonstrations by him in Los Angeles many years ago. If I remember correctly he was a police officer at that time. He is an excellent technician.
I have an old picture of my grandfather with Yoshida Sensei, Takeda Sensei, Hiratsuka Sensei and Inazu Sensei. I¥m not sure when or where it was taken. An interesting thing is that several years ago Don Angier Sensei sent me a picture of Kotaro Yoshida Sensei by way of a mutual student, Toby Threadgill. In the group with Yoshida Sensei is my grandfather! It was a big surprise to receive a photo of my grandfather from Angier Sensei. It must be from 1935 or later as my grandfather looks to be the age I remember him.
Yoshida Sensei was purported to have been a member of the so-called "Black Dragon Society."
I believe Yoshida Sensei was a member of both the Kokuryukai and the Genyosha as I believe my grandfather Shigeta was. I know very little particular information about these groups. I know they purposely approached many who embraced bushido to raise their numbers and influence. The military version of bushido was seen as a distortion of samurai ethics by some of the upper class who resented the commoner military. Real samurai were not commoners so the commoner army would be destined to failure. This tactic was used effectively to encourage persons of samurai heritage to join these groups and the military. It was a grave error of judgement and the part these groups played in Japan¥s destruction should not be underestimated. But I do believe many who were members of these organizations were simple patriots and not aware of Japan¥s real imperial pursuits. Some families are still ashamed unjustly for their ancestors¥ membership in these organizations.
Please describe the present status of the Shindo Yoshin-ryu school in Japan.
It has been a long time since I have had contact with the mainline Shindo Yoshin-ryu dojo in Japan. I last saw Headmaster Tatsuo Matsuoka around 1970, I believe, when I made contact through Taro Kozumi, a student of Hidenori Ohtsuka and Kinosuke Abe. I believe Matsuoka Sensei died about ten years ago. This left the future of the mainline of the school uncertain. I have also heard that the headquarters dojo was a victim of fire and do not know if it was rebuilt. I think Fujiwara Sensei is in control of the future of the mainline school, but I have no idea of his intentions. I am not even sure how many mainline dojos exist now in Japan. The last time I heard I believe there were four or five. Takagi Iso, until his recent retirement, maintained a Takamura school dojo in Osaka. Senior student Hashimoto Sensei is considering teaching at a new dojo, but the situation there is not settled.
The Wado-ryu jujutsu kempo headquarters dojo still teaches Shindo Yoshin-ryu in Tokyo. I understand that Shindo Yoshin-ryu does not generate much interest within the Wado-ryu now. This is too bad as Wado-ryu founder Hidenori Otsuka held a menkyo kaiden in Shindo Yoshin-ryu. He received his license from Tatsusaburo Nakayama Sensei around 1921. My grandfather knew Otsuka only slighlty but thought highly of him. He was a man of exceptional reputation. I hope that Wado-ryu does not loose its jujutsu roots which makes it one of very few karate styles to have a bujutsu heritage. I know some Wado-ryu dojos that still have a jujutsu influence as in earlier times. Kozumi Sensei came to me in 1968 from Wado-ryu with excellent jujutsu skill. Many years later, one of our present senior instructors, Toby Threadgill Sensei, came to me from a Wado-ryu sensei named Gerry Chau with equally impressive Shindo Yoshin-ryu knowledge. It is regretful that this has now become the exception. Sport karate matches seem to drive the future of Wado-ryu away from its jujutsu roots. It would be good news to hear that this impression is incorrect.
You mentioned earlier something I think is very important when you said that the original Shindo Yoshin-ryu school is more correctly a sogo bujutsu (comprehensive martial system) than a jujutsu because it includes weapons training in its curriculum. Would you talk more about the historical reasons for the elimination of a large part of these old martial systems and the pros and cons of practicing the specialized modern martial arts?
The modern idea that old jujutsu are weaponless arts similar to judo is not correct. The truth is there are many jujutsu arts which are fundamentally different. The very old jujutsu bear many names such as yawara, kumiuchi, kogosoku, hakuda, and koppo, etc. Mostly these are true koryu (classical martial schools) and were conceived for battlefield combat against armor-clad soldiers. Most of these systems were not very intricate as they were quickly taught to ashigaru (foot soldiers) and include more simple weapons. Some of the more intricate systems included advanced techniques and weapons such as the kusarigama (chain-and-sickle), tanto (knife), or even kodachi (short sword). They were invented so that lightly armed and armored samurai could successfully engage superior armed and armored opponents.
Jujutsu in the Edo period changed due to the extended era of peace. These arts adapted to address the new reality of an environment without armor. The old systems changed while many new systems were founded. These schools still included much weapons training as the basic principles and techniques of weapons were still the heart of martial systems. Certain weapons, however began to fall into disuse as others gained in favor due to the new reality. The end of armored warfare saw a decline in the use of the nagamaki (long-bladed halberd), yari (spear) and other weapons.
Weapons such as the jutte (truncheon), tessen (iron fan), sode garami (sleeve entangler), tanto and jo were more emphasized. Changes in weapon techniques, which were the core of an art, also affected the application of unarmed techniques. Eventually, unarmed techniques developed more of their own flavor due to the popularity of unarmed contests. This signaled the beginning of judo-like jujutsu and the end of many true classical traditions. By the turn of the century, many schools began to ignore much of the weapons curriculum in favor of unarmed combat. The popularity of judo, founded by Professor Jigoro Kano, forced even greater change on many of the older jujutsu schools. This is somewhat of a mystery as the real innovation of judo was not in the area of technique as much as in teaching methodology. Judo adopted a more scientific approach to teaching and explaining physical technique. Older jujutsu schools still used mystical explanations using ki and other such concepts. Scientific explanations appealed to most of the public as more modern and superior to outdated martial mysticism. This resulted in the public embracing judo over jujutsu and other Japanese classical schools. Kano was also successful in making judo seem to appear more upper class than jujutsu. This was very shrewd as the truth is exactly the opposite. Judo is more a commoner¥s art while jujutsu was an art of the samurai.
So, what is commonly called jujutsu today is, for the most part, not the jujutsu of old. What are commonly practiced today as jujutsu are actually small parts of complete martial systems called bujutsu or bugei. There are many reasons for learning only part of a martial system. The most obvious is the simple truth of the changing reality of the environment. Changes in technology and military tactics led inevitably to weapons falling into disuse. Where a weapon system survives it does so for a reason different from that of its original value. This is why iaido is more popular than iaijutsu and kendo is more popular than kenjutsu. Neither the spiritual nor sporting dimension of the sword existed when it was invented. The sword was developed as a tool of war. Other aspects of swordsmanship came later. Some of these aspects were adopted by the warrior class because they found them beneficial, but these things were secondary. The bottom line for the warrior is the vanquishing of the enemy. This must not be forgotten. This truth is what makes a martial art "martial."
Sometimes old martial arts or weapons retained their value over long spans of time and great changes. Tanto were used by samurai as an alternative weapon, but the knife is still on the belt of modern warriors as a companion to modern firearms. This is amazing when you think about it! The knife may be one of the all-time greatest weapons due to its versatile nature. History seems to confirm this.
Another reason for learning only a part of a bujutsu system is simply time. We are not warriors 24 hours a day now. The modern world only affords us so much time to train so we practice what is realistic to learn. To learn a bujutsu completely would be a full-time job. Very few people have time or wish to make sacrifices of this magnitude for bujutsu. It is better to learn one aspect of a bujutsu well than learn all of them poorly. Also, we are free to learn what most appeals to us. Some learn the sword, some learn jujutsu, and some learn naginata (halberd). This is good in that it gives future generations freedom of choice and opportunity.
Some people think that learning only jujutsu without studying a complete bujutsu is not good. I regard that as the view of a dilettante. It is better to learn something well than to learn it poorly or to learn it to impress others because it is exclusive or difficult. Learning to impress someone else and not for yourself or for the teachers who came before you is not a proper motivation. The best martial artists are driven to train because of a love for the arts, a love for their teachers now and in the past, rather than themselves.
Lastly, there are those of us who are committed to and accept the sacrifices of learning and teaching a complete bujutsu or bugei. We are not better than our friends who choose one part of a bujutsu or who practice modern martial arts. We practice a complete system because we believe and hope that there is a bonus worthy of the sacrifice. It does exist. It is understanding the technical and historical core of a martial school. A true bujutsu or bugei tradition is a cohesive puzzle. Every separate aspect combines to strengthen the whole and complement each other. The realization that individual techniques are not the art but rather a temporary reflection of a deeper set of concepts and martial strategies is liberating. This allows us to embrace and understand the okuden (secrets of the art). Mastery of these principles allows a martial school to grow from generation to generation from old applications to new. Through the okuden we grasp the intellectual genius that appears after years of training in a true bujutsu. It is like an old signature of many masters, each one visible on top of one another, each one part of a greater whole. This is what makes a ryu (school or style) a ryu.
Cobbled together systems which include different arts like karate mixed with aikido are almost always missing the signature of genius. It would be better to keep the systems separate because combining them erases most of the signatures of all previous teachers¥ wisdom. They are separate traditions whose concepts and truths are not really compatible. They were conceived in different environments for different reasons. Let them succeed at what they are instead of failing to be what they were never meant to be.