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Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu (????????), originally called Daito-ryu Jujutsu (?????, Daito-ryu Jujutsu?), is a Japanese martial art that first became widely known in the early 20th century under the headmastership of Takeda Sokaku. Takeda had extensive training in several martial arts (including Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu and sumo) and referred to the style he taught as “Daito-ryu” (literally, “Great Eastern School”). Although the school’s traditions claim to extend back centuries in Japanese history there are no known extant records regarding the ryu before Takeda. Whether he is regarded as the restorer or founder of the art, the known history of Daito-ryu begins with Takeda Sokaku. Perhaps the most famous student of Takeda was Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido.
The origins of Daito-ryu maintain a direct lineage extending approximately 900 years, originating with Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (?? ?? ? ??, 1045–1127), who was a Minamoto clan samurai and member of the Seiwa Genji (the branch of the Minamoto family descending from 56th imperial ruler of Japan, Emperor Seiwa). Daito-ryu takes its name from the mansion that Yoshimitsu lived in as a child, called “Daito” (???), in Omi Province (modern day Shiga Prefecture). According to the legend, Yoshimitsu dissected the corpses of men killed in battle, studying their anatomy for the purpose of learning techniques for joint-locking and vital point striking (kyusho-jitsu).
Yoshimitsu had previously studied the empty-handed martial art of tegoi, an ancestor of the Japanese national sport of sumo, and added what he learned to the art. Yoshimitsu eventually settled down in Kai Province (modern day Yamanashi Prefecture), and passed what he learned within his family. Ultimately, Yoshimitsu’s great-grandson Nobuyoshi adopted the surname “Takeda,” which has been the name of the family to the present day. The Takeda family remained in Kai Province until the time of Takeda Shingen (?? ??, 1521–1573). Shingen opposed Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga in their ultimately successful campaign to unify and control all of Japan. With the death of Shingen and his heir, Takeda Katsuyori (?? ??, 1546–1582), the Takeda family relocated to the Aizu domain (an area comprising the western third of modern day Fukushima Prefecture).
Though these events caused the Takeda family to lose some of its power and influence, it remained intertwined with the ruling class of Japan. More importantly, the move to Aizu and subsequent events profoundly shaped what would emerge as Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in the 19th century. One important event was the adoption of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson, Komatsumaru (1611–1673), by Takeda Kenshoin (fourth daughter of Takeda Shingen). Komatsumaru devoted himself to the study of the Takeda family’s martial arts, and was subsequently adopted by Hoshina Masamitsu. Komatsumaru changed his name to Hoshina Masayuki (?? ??), and in 1644 was appointed the governor of Aizu. As governor, he mandated that all subsequent rulers of Aizu study the arts of Ono-ha Itto-ryu (which he himself had mastered), as well as the art of oshikiuchi, a martial art which he developed for shogunal counselors and retainers, tailored to conditions within the palace. These arts became incorporated into and comingled with the Takeda family martial arts.
According to the traditions of Daito-ryu, it was these arts which Takeda Sokaku began teaching to non-members of the family in the late 19th century. Takeda had additionally studied swordsmanship and spearmanship with his father, Takeda Sokichi, as well as Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu as a live-in student (uchi-deshi) under the renowned swordsman Sakakibara Kenkichi. During his life, Sokaku traveled extensively to attain his goal of preserving his family’s traditions by spreading Daito-ryu throughout Japan.
Takeda Sokaku’s third son, Tokimune Takeda (?? ?? Takeda Tokimune, 1916–1993), became the headmaster of the art following the death of Sokaku in 1943. Tokimune taught what he called “Daito-ryu Aikibudo” (????????), an art that included the sword techniques of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu along with the traditional techniques of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu. It was also under Tokimune’s headmastership that modern dan rankings were first created and awarded to the students of Daito-ryu. Tokimune Takeda died in 1993 leaving no official successor, but a few of his high ranking students such as Katsuyuki Kondo (?? ?? Kondo Katsuyuki, born 1945) and Shigemitsu Kato now head their own Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu organizations.
Aiki-jujutsu is a form of jujutsu which emphasizes “an early neutralization of an attack.” Like other forms of jujutsu, it emphasizes throwing techniques and joint manipulations to effectively control, subdue or injure an attacker. It emphasizes using the timing of an attack to either blend or neutralize its effectiveness and use the force of the attacker’s movement against them. Daito-ryu is characterized by the ample use of atemi, or the striking of vital areas, in order to set up their jointlocking or throwing tactics. Some of the art’s striking methods employ the swinging of the outstretched arms to create power and to hit with the fists at deceptive angles as can be observed in techniques such as the atemi which sets up gyaku ude-dori or ‘reverse elbow lock’. Tokimune regarded one of the unique characteristics of the art to be its preference for controlling a downed attacker’s joints with one’s knee in order to leave one’s hands free to access one’s weapons or to deal with the threat of other oncoming attackers.
Currently, there are a number of organizations that teach Daito-ryu, each tracing their lineage back to Takeda Sokaku through one of four of Sokaku’s students. Those four students are: Takeda Tokimune, the progenitor of the Tokimune branch; Takuma Hisa (? ?? Hisa Takuma, 1895–1980), of the Hisa branch; Kodo Horikawa (?? ?? Horikawa Kodo, 1894–1980), of the Horikawa branch; and Yukiyoshi Sagawa (Sagawa Yukiyoshi, 1902–1998), of the Sagawa branch.
The Tokimune branch descends from the teachings of Takeda Tokimune, the son of Takeda Sokaku, and designated successor of Daito-ryu upon the death of Sokaku. When Tokimune died, he did not appoint a successor, and there are two main groups that carry on his teachings.
The first group is led by Katsuyuki Kondo who, began his training under Tsunejiro Hosono, and continuing with Kotaro Yoshida (?? ??? Yoshida Kotaro, 1883–1966) for a time before being introduced to Tokimune. On the basis of the high level teaching licenses he was granted by Tokimune, his followers represent his school as the Daito-ryu “mainline.” He has much support in the martial arts community for this. Kondo has done much to increase the visibility of the art by hosting seminars both in Tokyo and abroad, especially in the United States.
The second group from the Tokimune branch is headed by Shigemitsu Kato and Gunpachi Arisawa, who are long-time students and teachers from Tokimune’s original Daitokan headquarters in Hokkaido. This organization is called the Nihon Daito Ryu Aikibudo Daito Kai (????????????, Nihon Daito-ryu Aikibudo Daito Kai?). They maintain a smaller organization in Hokkaido with strong connections to practitioners in Europe, especially Italy, United States, and Brazil.