The Multiple Legacy of Daito Ryu

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

No system has had a greater influence on the development of the modern martial arts than the one known as Daito Ryu. Known primarily as an Aikijujutsu system, according to the students of Sokaku Takeda, the system was actually much more comprehensive in nature than just being an Aikijujutsu, empty hand, system of combat. Like most ancient Ryu, the system was designed to teach total combat to the practitioners from every weapon of the time, to combat skills applicable to Ashigaru (foot soldiers), as well as, Bushi, the upper echelon of the Samurai clans. Thus Daito Ryu as a Bujutsu or Bugei, martial arts system, taught Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu, and weaponry.

Sokaku Takeda

          What has confused most people is that Sokaku Takeda, taught along with everything else, the Ono Ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu skills. Those who saw him practice his actual Daito Ryu sword skills were amazed at how great a swords master he was. As is true of all ancient combat systems, which practice in the traditional manner, there were no prearranged Kata, so when Takeda practiced his Daito Ryu sword art, he never repeated the same set of movements. While this confused many people, those who truly understood combat were aware of his genius.

          Takeda also taught a student according to their build and ability, thus there were some students who seemed to have been trained in Jujutsu, emphasizing more body contact, while others were taught the more Aikijujutsu techniques majoring on joint locks and momentum type of throws. This just showed the true genius of Sokaku Takeda and the complete range of martial arts techniques contained in Daito Ryu.

Yoshimitsu Minamoto

          In ancient times the warrior families practiced the martial arts as a matter of survival. At first the arts themselves were developed, later specific schools, known as Ryu, were created to perpetuate the martial arts of an individual or a family. Yoshimitsu Minamoto is credited with founding the martial arts system and lineage known as Daito Ryu. There are those who think that he himself never used the name Daito Ryu, but rather he created the art to which the name was later applied. Historically, this is extremely hard to trace. Some say that while the martial arts developed throughout the history of Japan, it was not until the fourteenth century that the Ryu were established. Others do think that the Ryu started in the twelfth century, which would have allowed Yoshimitsu to actually create Daito Ryu. One other point is that many believe Daito Ryu was first pronounced Daido Ryu, and that the current pronunciation was actually coined by Sokaku Takeda himself. However, either way the Kanji is the same, so it is actually a moot point.

          It is believed that during the twelfth century Daito Ryu took three paths. First of all, Yoshikiyo, the son of Yoshimitsu, moved to Takeda and founded the family of that name. He then taught his father’s martial arts to his immediate family and retainers. At least a branch of this martial arts training actually became called Takeda Ryu. There are those who believe the name Daito Ryu ceased to be used at this time, while others hold to the idea that Daito Ryu continued on in the family art referred to as Gotenjutsu, the palace art, while what was preserved in the Takeda Ryu, was a branch of Daito Ryu skills referred to as Oshikiuchi.

          Also during the twelfth century a great Minamoto warrior by the name of Tametomo, ended up in Okinawa after having lost at the Hogen Incident (War) to the Taira. It is known that he married an Okinawan woman and had a son by the name of Shunten, who established the Okinawan line of kings. It is believed that he set a guardian over his son to teach him the martial arts and raise him to be a warrior. These skills passed on from Yoshimitsu’s brother, Yoshiie, through his family to Tametomo, became the Bushi Te, warrior hand, which was the main martial art of the Okinawan royalty until modern times. Only one branch still exists in Okinawa, dating back to the old Bushi Te. This is the art currently called Motobu Ryu, because it was preserved by the Motobu family and passed on to the modern generation through the last family master, Choyu Motobu. His art was called Gotente, palace skill (sic. hand). This he passed on to Seikichi Uehara, who teaches the system in Okinawa under the name Motobu Ryu Kobujutsu.

Three Minamoto Lines and More

          Therefore, we can see three lines of Minamoto martial arts that existed in ancient times. The main one is Daito Ryu, with a secondary branch in Japan known as Takeda Ryu, as well as the art that existed in Okinawa, known as Bushi Te. Yet this is just the tip of the influence of Daito Ryu in the world of the martial arts. It’s greatest influence actually occurred during modern times and with the great master, Sokaku Takeda.

          Sokaku Takeda taught literally thousands of students. While he did not have a central formal Dojo for most of his life, he did teach a lot of clinics to students of many different ways of life and martial arts experience. Among his students was; Morihei Ueshiba, Matsuda Hosaku and Reisi Nakamoto.

Morihei Ueshiba

          Of course the single most influential person in the development of modern Aiki martial arts is Morihei Ueshiba. He founded what is known today as Aikikai Aikido, the first and most prominent of the Aikido systems. There are those who feel that Ueshiba departed far from the teachings of Takeda, but actually, to those who truly understand the idea and concept of Aiki, it seems he just achieved the highest level of skill. What many have mistaken is the lack of strikes in Aikido, to the point where people say that Aikido has no strikes, but this is an erroneous conclusion. Actually there were strikes in the art of Morihei Ueshiba, but many students did not perceive them, in that in true Aiki fashion, strikes should occur within the movements of a technique. Ueshiba was so skilled, that he no longer needed to rely on strikes to perform his techniques, but the potential and angles were always there if needed. Ueshiba himself always said that ‘one blow in Aikido kills’, a statement of true combat, which is what the Aikido of Ueshiba actually was. There have been many systems, which have developed from the teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, including; Tendo Ryu, Shinshin Toitsu Aikido, Yoshinkai, Yoseikan, Tomiki Ryu, Nishio Ryu, and others.

Matsuda Hosaku

          Matsuda Hosaku taught Daito Ryu to Ryuho Okuyama who taught Chijiro Yokoto and Michiomi Nakano. In this lineage we find the development of several martial arts systems. Ryuho Okuyama founded the Hakko Ryu Jujutsu system, while Michiomi Nakano adopted the name of So Doshin and merged what he had learned from Okuyama with Northern Shaolin martial arts founding Nippon Shorinji Kempo. Chijiro Yokoto taught an American by the name of Albert Church, who was also a Karate master under Shogo Kuniba. Church founded the Kamishin Ryu, which taught Aikijujutsu and Karate in a combined manner.

Reisi Nakamoto

          Reisi Nakamoto was not only proficient in Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, but also a master of Okinawan Kempo under Shigeru Nakamura. His most outstanding student was Dr. Rod Sacharnoski, who is world famous as a master of Aikijujutsu and the founder of Juko Ryu.

          These systems have in many cases been influential in the development of many other martial arts systems and the proliferation of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu techniques. There is one other branch of martial arts, when taught in a combative way, can be seen to derive from Daito Ryu, though not from Sokaku Takeda, this is Kodokan Judo.

          If one looks at the techniques of joint locks and the floating throws of Judo, it is easy to see the Daito Ryu influence in the original, non sport form of Kodokan Judo. It must be remembered that while Kodokan Judo was founded by Jigoro Kano, who was experienced in Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu, it was also influenced heavily by many systems, especially those of Sakujiro Yokoyama and Shiro Saigo.

Shiro Saigo

          Saigo met and became very fond of Jigoro Kano, (whom he considered a great martial artist, teacher, and master), after training in Oshikiuchi under Tanomo Saigo. It was Saigo who established the strong fighting reputation of the Kodokan, taking on many challengers and defeating them with his Oshikiuchi skills. But it must also be remembered that Kano was capable of defeating Saigo in Randori, so the skill of Jigoro Kano himself was exemplary. Sakujiro Yokoyama brought his Yoshin Ryu and Ryoi Shinto Ryu training to the development of the Kodokan as well, which helped to develop the skills and reputation of the school as well. However, most feel it was the force and skill of Shiro Saigo, as well as, his influence on Yokoyama, and of course Yokoyama’s influence on Kyuzo Mifune, the greatest of Judoka who lived through the 1960s, that truly make the Kodokan what it was in the early days.

          Many of the Goshinjutsu, systems of self defense, which developed in the twentieth century, by Japanese and Occidental students of Kodokan Judo, own as much to the genius of Shiro Saigo, which came from Tanomo Saigo and the Daito Ryu lineage, as to Jigoro Kano himself. Today there are many schools of self defense, Judo, and Jujutsu, which have their origin in Kodokan Judo, and while some do not admit their connection, it is the accumulation of many ancient Ryu of Jujutsu, which were combined in the Kodokan, to which these schools should provide thanks.

          Finally, in modern times there are still extant, at least according to some teachers, the Takeda Ryu, Saigo Ha Daito Ryu claiming to be descended from Shiro Saigo, as well as, several branches of the Daito Ryu originating from students of Sokaku Takeda.

          Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu is truly one of the most influential systems of modern times. Students of Aikido, Judo, and many branches of Jujutsu, as well as, Karate which has an influence from the Motobu family, find a part of their heritage in the grand old system, preserved by Sokaku Takeda and passed on to us through the many students he trained in his lifetime. This then is the heritage of Daito Ryu.

Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei

          Having training in Aikikai Aikido, Kodokan Judo, and Juko Ryu Aiki Inyo Bujutsu, I acknowledge the important heritage of Daito Ryu in the tradition of Kiyojute Ryu. I have researched thoroughly the many different lines of Daito Ryu as they exist today, seeking to have a deeper understanding of the roots, which existed in the systems I have studied.

          Without the heritage and influence of Daito Ryu, much of what exists in modern martial arts would be much less than it is and it is important to understand the roots of our arts so that we can understand why the techniques are performed the way they are.

          Finally, it is important to note that original Daito Ryu has three phases, which might be seen as the three classes of warriors, as well as, three facets of self defense. First there is Jujutsu (much as the skills were used by Ashigaru, or foot soldiers, and the aspects of fighting when strikes are essential). Next is Aikijujutsu, (the skills of the Bushi who fought in heavy armor, this is when fighting is less likely to involve strikes due to heavy clothing, but the strikes are there if necessary and applicable). Finally there is Aikijutsu, or the highest level of Aiki skill, which can be applied with no strikes because of the great level of skill. This is considered a very spiritual level and that which was achieved by Ueshiba later in his life.

          Another very important aspect of Aiki training, which derives from the ancient tradition, is known as Aiki Inyo Ho. I have researched this thoroughly on my own, but also been assisted by Dr. Rod Sacharnoski who teaches his Juko Ryu martial arts as Aiki Inyo Bujutsu.

          All of this has helped Kiyojute Ryu Kempo develop into a highly effective martial arts system, which uses the ebb and flow of Aiki in all of its skills.

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