THE HISTORY OF DAITO RYU AIKI JUJUTSU
by Dr. Robert Thivierge
Members of the Koryukan dojo would like to extend their gratitude to Dr. Thivierge for his unselfish contribution to our website. We are all better off for his generosity.
Aiki Jujutsu is a traditional Japanese combative discipline, the essence of the art is contained in the name.
Ai means to meet or harmony
Ki is the life energy that animates all living things
Ju means flexible or non resistant
Jutsu means an art
In Aiki jujutsu we discover an art with which we can master conflict by means of harmonizing with the life energy that animates the opponent. With this harmony it becomes possible to face the tests life continually sends our way.
The origin of Daito ryu aiki jujutsu can be traced to emperor Seiwa (850 A.D).
Long kept a secret under the Minamoto clan, the art was used by the Emperor’s army and private guard. Controlled by Japanese nobility, appointed official martial art of the Shogun’s residence by Hoshina Masayuki in the late 1600’s, Daito techniques were transmitted from generation to generation.
Through the centuries numerous masters of this discipline were important war lords, such as Shingen Takeda, undoubtedly the most famous in Japanese culture. Among his collateral descendants, whose destinies were intimately linked with Daito ryu, we find Sokaku Takeda, a master and a reviver of the art.
Minamoto Yoshimitsu was the son of prince Minamoto Yoriyoshi (lord of Chinjuf). Direct descendants of Emperor Seiwa.
Emperor Seiwa was a lackluster leader as most japanese emperors were. Yoshimitsu inherited an art that had been developed by his forefathers and said to be related to Sumo; he perfected this discipline which was to be the roots of what is now known as Daito Ryu (Daito was the name of Yoshimitsu’s summer residence). Legend has it that in creating new techniques he is said to have been influenced by observing the movements of a spider trapping its prey.
He was also known as an exceptional horseman and a master of kenjutsu, kyujutsu and sojutsu (the spear).
During the Gosamen war (1083-1087), he fought alongside his brothers against the Kiyohata clan, under the imperial banner (as the Minamoto where often asked to do). It is with one of his brothers, Yoshiie, that he besieged Kanazawa castle; the siege lasted one year and was successful.
It is during this siege that the two brothers were said to have dissected bodies of fallen enemy soldiers in order to study their anatomical structures. This practice was said to have helped Yoshimitsu in perfecting his unarmed martial art.
Because of his military prowess Yoshimitsu was made lord of Kai by the Emperor. One of Yoshimitsu’s son, Minamoto Yoshikiyo, moved to Takeda village in the domain of Kai (present day Yamanashi prefecture) and took the name Takeda Yoshikiyo. He later succeded his father as lord of Kai. And so the Takeda clan was born.
Shingen Takeda , born in 1521 in the city of Kofu, became Daimyo of Kai in 1541 when he deposed his father. He was ambitious, a brilliant strategist and a formidable leader; his political savvy, however, did not measure up to his military might. He was involved in numerous albeit fruitless encounters with the Hojo, Imagawa, Tokugawa and Oda clans.
But his most intense rivalry was with Uesugi Kenshin, Daimyo of Echigo. They confronted each other five times at Kawanakajima. The fourth battle is the most memorable and among the most famous in japanese history.
Through the years they developed great respect for each other as exemplified by this true story:
Salt was an important commodity in Japan especially in the mountainous areas such as Kai where it was difficult to obtain. Several of Takeda’s enemies had decided to blockade the import of salt to Kai. When he heard of this Uesugi decided to send salt to Takeda saying that he did not want his enemy vanquished by a salt blockade but through Yumi-Ya (military confrontation). In appreciation Takeda presented Uesugi with a now famous blade the Kou-no-Tachi.
See here a statue erected at the site where Shingen Takeda repelled the attack of Uesugi Kenshin with his tessen at the 4th battle of Kawanakajima 10 Sept 1561.
Years later, upon hearing of Shingen’s death, Uesugi is said to have wept at the loss of his ‘best enemy’.
During his reign Shingen built Yogai castle in Kofu. He resided on the shores of lake Suwa strategically located and within view of mount Fuji.
It is while reading Sun Tzu`s Art of War that he found what would become his famous Furin Kazan:
Quick as the wind,
Peaceful as the forest,
Overwhelming as fire,
As immovable as a mountain
A sniper’s bullet put an end to his life during the siege of Noda castle in april of 1573, as he approached enemy lines to listen to a defender playing his flute. His death was kept a secret for two years and the leadership of the clan was assumed by his son Katsuyori. The celebrated japanese movie director, Kurosawa, made this incident the subject of a remarkable film: Kagemusha. In february of 1574, in accordance with Shingen’s last will, Kunitsugo Takeda, Shingen’s nephew, was welcomed to Aizu by Daimyo Moriuji Ashina an old friend of Shingen.
Katsuyori besieged the castle of Nagashino in june 1575 against an alliance formed by Oda Nobugana. On the morning of june 29, 1575 the famed cavalry of the Takeda clan charged in the direction of the Rengogawa river which had been laden with ropes by the defenders. This slowed them down considerably, and they where now easy targets for the 3,000 arquebusiers that where waiting for them. They were slaughtered.
Katsuyori retreated to Kai. The combined forces of Oda and Tokugawa invaded Kai and defeated him in 1582. Katsuyori committed seppuku. This was the end of the Takeda clan as a military force.
Hoshina Masayuki becomes Lord of Aizu in 1643 (Grandson of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, he adopted the name Matsudaira in 1696. Matsudaira was Tokugawa Ieyasu’s original family name. The interest of mentionning this paticular Daimyo in the lineage is that he became quite an enthousiast and practitionner and was a major factor in the survival and development of the art.)
Aizu-Wakamatsu is a town situated in the west of Fukushima Prefecture. It faces Lake Inawashiro. The city center was initiated by the construction of a castle by Ashina Family. The Ashina family had been rewarded and given the Aizu fief for helping the Minamoto establish the first military government of Japan in 1192.
The mansion constructed by Ashina Naonari in the first year of Shitoku Era (1333) would be the origin of the castle, completed in 1384 it would be known as Kurokawa Castle. In 1589 Date Masamune took the castle, but his reign was short lived; Gamo Ujisato, a Hideyoshi retainer, overtook it in the 18th year of Tensho Era (1591) to rename it Tsuruga Castle. In 1643 Hoshina Masayuki was appointed Governer of Aizu by his brother, Shogun Iemitsu. His name was later changed to Matsudaira. The Matsudaira ruled Aizu till the defeat of the clan in September of 1868.
In october of 1799 the Nishinkan, Aizu Martial arts school, was completed. The Nisshinkan school was founded by Genko Tanaka. In 1874, all the buildings including the main donjon were destroyed but in September 1965, it was restored to the initial state.
Tenshyukaku is the main tower of a whole castle compound and was formed originally from a watchtower built above the habitation during the civil war period of Sengoku (1467-1603). It has become then more and more solid serving as well as a defense function. During Edo period it was considered a symbol of the local daimyo’s authority and became more decorative. Beginning from a simple fort or a camp in the civil war period, it became a residence and an administration office during the Edo period (1603-1867). It served as well as a defense point by adding a donjon to its center. Those compound buildings as a whole are called ‘Jokaku’.
In 1868, after a defeat in the battle of Toba-Fushimi, the order was given to subjugate the daimyo Matsudaira Katamori. So, the government attacked Aizu, Matsudaira opposed it by forming an alliance with about thirty feudal clans of Tohoku Region. They had resisted by holding Wakamatsu Castle even after Edo Castle had surrendered but finally capitulated in September after six months of fierce fighting. The sacrifice of the Boy’s Corps of Nihonmatsu and the famous collective suicide of the ‘White Tiger Regiment'(Byakko-tai), both formed by boys not older than 17, occurred at that moment.
The Edo era
The beginning of the Edo era
Three men in japanese history are known as ‘The three unifiers’ they are:
• Oda Nobunaga (1534-82)
• Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98)
• Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616)
The events that brought about the end of the Takeda clan as a military force where described in the biography of Shingen Takeda. This was the era of the Warring States and of course many clans like the Takeda where subdued, many formed alliances but few held the reins of power.
After the dust had settled over all the battlefields it would be Oda Nobugana who would be military leader of Japan but he never held the tittle of Shogun. Save for a few reluctant Daimyos Japan was practically unified in 1582 when he was assassinated at the Honnoji temple by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide. The latter proclaimed himself Shogun; but his reign would last only 13 days. Upon hearing of Oda’s death Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Oda’s most faithful generals, killed Mitsuhide.
Hideyoshi succeeded Oda but like him was not Shogun, he was a man of modest origin but a fierce warrior so the other important Daimyos did not oppose him. He decided that from then on the tittle of Shogun would be transmitted trough lineage to insure stability. He designated his son to be the first of a lineage and thus had is five principal generals (among which was Tokugawa) swear that if anything should happen to him his son Hideyori would be Shogun, they all agreed. In 1587 Hideyoshi banned the possession of weapons by commoners, another element to insure stability of the land and of course his own. But his ambitions took him beyond the frontiers of Japan and he decided to invade Korea. It was a fiasco, and he died there of disease in 1598.
Tokugawa saw the opportunity: he would be Shogun. Not respecting the promise he had made to Hideyoshi meant little to him. He was opposed in this decision by Ishida Mitsunari, a faithful Hideyoshi retainer. They both made alliances, and their opposing views were finally settled at the battle of Sekigahara, on October 21 1600. Tokugawa, of course, was the victor there. In 1615, in order to eliminate the true inheritor of the tittle of Shogun, he traitorously invaded the fortress of Osaka, where Hideyori Toyotomi had taken refuge with a few faithful retainers. They where subdued and Hideyori committed seppuku.
Nobody thereafter dared oppose him and to insure the loyalty of his Daimyos he instituted, among other measures, the Sankin Kotai, a law stipulating that the Daimyos had to spend every other year in Edo and when they were not in Edo they had to leave behind a member of their family; a concubine, a child etc. It was blackmail, but it worked. The Edo period, which lasted for over 250, years was one of peace and prosperity.
It was also one of isolation for Japan; the policy of sakoku (closed nation policy) having been implemented. Save for the Dutch who where allowed to reside and trade on the very small Deshima island near the port facilities of Nagasaki, no foreigners or even elements of foreign culture where allowed to permeate japanese society.
It was however for the warrior class a period of idleness, and Tokugawa drew up the Buke Sho Hatto. It gave Samurai 13 guides on how a warrior should live during peace time. To insure that the skills developed during the past centuries would not be lost, many decided to pass them on in an organized fashion. It was in this period that most of the Koryu were formally developed.
The end of the Edo era
Aside from the natural decay that is to be expected of a regime that has been in power for over two hundred years, two series of events triggered the downfall of the Tokugawa regime. There where internal discords and also the expansionist views of the western world who had wanted Japan open to trade for a long time.
Among the activities the high ranking but idle samurai did, was the study of japanese culture at the School of National Learning. Scholars from this school were called kokugakushu and they excluded from their studies anything that was not strictly Japanese. One of those samurai, Takayama Hikokuro, was a strong proponent of the idea that the Emperor was not getting the respect he deserved and that he should be head of state.
Of course that noble idea was very pleasing to the clans that had been on the loosing side at Sekigahara a few centuries before, they had always been kept away from the reins of power and they resented the Tokugawa with a passion. The Satsuma and Chosu where such clans, they where powerful but isolated politically even though they shared a hatred for the Tokugawa.
In the first half of the 19th century the British had strongholds in China and this was known to the Tokugawa government. The japanese leaders where also aware of the military strength of the western countries and that in order to pursue their politic of sakoku Japan was to be stongly united.
On the other side of the Pacific a high ranking american naval officer, Alfred T. Mahan, convinced President Fillmore that it was essential for the United States to establish, forcibly if necessary, diplomatic relations with Japan in order to have access to its ports. President Fillmore dispatched for the mission Commodore Matthew Perry.
Perry arrived with his four ‘black ships’ in the bay of Edo on the 8th of July 1853 with a proposition destined to the Emperor. It stipulated that Japan was to open its ports to foreign trade. It that was more an ultimatum than a diplomatic endeavor. Perry said he would be back in the spring of 1854 for the response.
Shogun Iesada Tokugawa needed the support of the provincial Daimyos in order to have strong negotiating powers. He, of course, did not get it.
When Perry came back in February of 1854 Tokugawa had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa which gave foreigners access to the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate; it also stipulated that an american council was to be in residence in Shimoda. The council, Townsend Harris, arrived in 1856.
In 1858 Tokugawa Iesada died without an heir. The Roju (head of the Shogun’s council) and theTozama (the Provincial Daimyos) had opposing views on who was to succeed. The Roju appointed Ii Naotsuke as counselor to try and resolve the conflict. This was futile; on the 24th of March 1860 he was assassinated by a group of samurais who would be the precursors of the SHISHI, an organization devoted to the expulsion and if necessary brutal assassination of foreigners and the reinstatement of the Emperor.
Saigo Takamori (not related to Tanomo Saigo), an important retainer and diplomat of the Satsuma clan of the island of Kyushu, was of course in favor of the SHISHI’s actions. But their brutality infuriated the foreigners and Takamori and the Tozama knew they could not overthrow the Tokugawa regime without foreign help. So the SHISHI were eliminated.
By 1866 the Satsuma and the Choshu clans had decided to form an alliance and by 1868 under the military command of Prince Arisugawa, armed with modern weapons and dressed like their occidental allies, they formed with other clans a formidable army. The clans who opposed them (the Aizu clan among others) where no match and by the fall of 1868 the Boshin civil war was over and Emperor Meiji was restored to power.
The treaty, putting an end to the civil war the ‘Tosa Settlement’, still left Tokugawa with some influence. This infuriated the Satsuma and Chosu clans who under Takamori’s leadership rebelled against the Emperor they helped reinstate. In the end Prince Arisugawa besieged the castle in Satsuma in 1877, that put an end to the Satsuma rebellion. Saigo Takamori received a gunshot wound to the lower abdomen and so he would not be taken prisoner was beheaded (quite probably at his own request) by one of his own retainers on 24 September 1877. This would be the last battle in which samurai would participate.
THE HISTORY OF DAITO RYU AIKI JUJUTSU