Adventures in Aiki: What was Daito-ryu’s Aiki?

Request for cooperation:This article has been translated directly using a translator. If you see a sentence that doesn’t make sense, please let us know in the comments.


(※)Meaning of Aiki

In order to clarify what aiki is in aikido, this is an “aiki adventure” aimed at sorting out what “aiki” was, but in talking about aiki, Daito-ryu cannot be left out.


However, I have never done any Daito-ryu and have not experienced any of the actual techniques, so I would like to give my opinion based on materials.


Personally, I believe that the aiki techniques of Daito-ryu have a lot in common with aikido.


So what was it all about and what was the aiki of Daito-ryu? Let’s take a tour.


In this article, we will use some unique Japanese terminology.
The explanation is as follows.

「先」(sen):Attack yourself before the other person takes action.

「後の先」(go-no-sen):Attack after your opponent has moved. Counter.

「先の先」(sen-no-sen):Attack that takes advantage of both your and your opponent’s attacks at the same time.


Aiki-no-jutsu (the art of aiki)

How Does Daitoryu teach aiki.

Daitoryu’s Aiki

Aiki-no-jutsu (the art of aiki)

Aiki is also called “Aiki-no-jutsu” in Daito-ryu, but Aiki-no-jutsu is not an original technique developed by Daito-ryu.


According to the book “The Technique and Thought of Aiki, the Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido”, the first time Aiki-no-jutsu was officially confirmed in this world was in 1899 when a man named Bukotsukoji published “Budo-Hiketsu Aiki-no-jutsu”.

Reference: National Diet Library Digital Collection “Budo-Hiketsu Aiki-no-jutsu” by Bukotsukoji


Aikinojutsu, according to the Bukotsukoji, is described as the following.

Just before the two of them started fighting, when they hadn’t drawn their swords yet, one of them was already in control of the other’s mind. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but there is no need to dare to fight with each other anymore, this is called Aiki no Jutsu.

Excerpt from National Diet Library Digital Collection “Budo-Hiketsu Aiki-no-jutsu” by Bukotsukoji


It is doubtful that such a thing is really possible.


Bukotsukoji refers to this technique as a secret within a secret.

Apparently, the technique involves taking the 「先」(sen)or「後の先」(go-no-sen) or 「先の先」(sen-no-sen) and then using kiai (vocalization) to block the opponent’s movement.


In other words, it is about taking a step forward from the stalemate that had been considered the concept of aiki up to now and taking the next step.


It means that you can take the first move before you become aiki with your opponent.


It seems that similar techniques as Kiai-jutsu (a combination of the opposite Kanji characters of Aiki) were studied by researchers of hypnosis (Furuya Tesseki’s Kiai-jutsu-dokusyuho and Kumasiro Hikotarou’s Kiai-jutsu-kassatsujizaki in 1911) and others, and these techniques may have been developed in a different field from Bujutsu, such as shugenja(Religious practitioners in Japan).


When you hear this kind of explanation, you might think it’s an occult technique, but based on the data, there’s a good chance that the aiki no jutsu that exists in Daito-ryu was similar to this one.


According to Minoru Mochizuki, a disciple of Morihei Ueshiba, Aikijutsu is a form of performance on animals.

Mochizuki’s acquaintance always saw him catching rats by holding their movements with aiki.

They say there are people who can do this because there used to be rats in every part of the house.

However, Minoru Mochizuki did not know whether this technique was effective against human beings or not.

Reference: Minoru Mochizuki, “A Proposal for the Japanese Budo that Forgot ‘Way’ and ‘War’

In the history of Daito-ryu, the first appearance of aikijutsu in the archives is not that of Takeda Sokaku, but that of Sato Sadami, who was granted acting professorship by Sokaku.


According to the book “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Thought of Aiki”, this man was a slightly unusual person who was a correspondence teacher of Budo in an organization called Teikoku Shobukai.


The text “Bujutsu-Saikogokui-Tennomaki” (a book that teaches the highest secrets) was published from there, and it was explained as a kiai jutsu.


In terms of content, it is almost identical to Bukotsukoji’s Aikijutsu. In the text, however, there is a section called “The Relationship between Kiai-jutsu and Aiki-jutsu,” which explains Aiki jutsu.


Aikijutsu and kiai jutsu are almost the same in that sense, but aikij-utsu is a mindless aiki with a static side, while kiai-jutsu is a mindfull aiki with a dynamic side.


It is also explained that aiki is a state of calmness of mind, and kiai is moving without hesitation.

Of course, this is a textbook of the Teikoku-Shobukai, so I’m not sure if this is a Daito-ryu’s aiki-no-jutsu or not.

If you listen to the Daito-ryu side of the story, there are many statements that seem to be based on aiki jutsu and kiai jutsu.

For example, Takeda Sokaku’s son, Takeda Tokimune, spoke of aiki this way.

In response to a question about the meaning of “aiki” in Daito-ryu

Aiki, in Daito-ryu, is about taking the 「後の先」(go-no-sen). I refer to that simply as “aiki”.

Getting ahead of the first move is “kiai”. Without “kiai,” you can’t face your opponent very well.

The police are jiu-jitsu (KIAI, offensive type). You can’t do it without attacking, which is not self-defense, but aggressive jiu-jitsu. I don’t use the word “aiki”. It is jiu-jitsu in the end.


Aiki is the spirit of adapting to the opponent, pulling when pushed and pushing when pulled. On the contrary, Ki is a push, but Aiki does not go against it.

It’s the same in Kendo, but if you attack first, you lose. If you move first, you’re going to lose. Everyone takes the first move after the opponent makes a move. You don’t have to move in first.


To take the first move is to attack first and win, and to win with Kiai. That’s why Itto-ryu (ken-jutsu) almost always takes the first move after the fact. The kendo form also takes the first move afterwards. If you always attack first, you lose.

Excerpt from “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


This is why it is used in the same way as Aikijutsu. The idea of aiki and kiai also seems to be a further fleshing out of the explanation in Sato Sadami’s text.


As Katsuyuki Kondo, a pupil of Tokimune Takeda, says, Aikijutsu is just one of the techniques of Aiki-Jujutsu.

Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu includes Aikinojutsu (Aikijutsu). This aiki no jutsu is a very brilliant technique and one of the most representative techniques of Daito-ryu.


And I don’t believe that all aiki is something that should be open to the public. Now we can only expose a certain kind of aiki, just a few of them. It’s not possible to publish them all. We are only disclosing a small part of the secret catalog in our demonstration.

Excerpt from “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


So, as far as the public can see, the explanation is that, like Aikijutsu, it is about taking the first after opponent’s move, but how to take the first after opponent’s move is probably the most important thing.


We are going to see what kind of practice they did to get first of the battle as aiki.

How Does Daitoryu teach aiki.

According to Sagawa Yukiyoshi, in his father’s notebook, which he learned from Sokaku on May 14, 1913, the words “aiki wo kake…” appear here and there, and he testified that he had used the word “aiki” in his practice.

Refence: “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


However, due in part to Sokaku’s secrecy, there is almost no record of the contents of Daito-ryu instruction at this time. It is said that when he went to practice, he would close the dojo and make sure no one was watching.


There is an anecdote that a person who was hiding and watching was chased by Sokaku.



Other information, also from Yukiyoshi Sagawa, is that “Takeda Sensei taught a distinction between Aikijujutsu and Jujutsu.
Refence: “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


Horikawa Kodo, who studied aiki from Sokaku for three years, had something similar to say about this.


One of his students, Yusuke Inoue, said, “As for Sokaku’s teaching style, he taught that ‘those who have a sword should use the sword, those who have no strength should use aikijujutsu, and those who have strength should use jujutsu.
Refence: “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


Horikawa Kodo was initiated into Sokaku in 1914, so this was before the name became Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. It may not have been called Aikijujutsu at the time, but it is likely that he studied mainly in Aiki.


Sokaku’s son, Takeda Tokimune, also wrote in a letter to Hisa Takuma, about Sokaku’s teaching.

Because Hisashi Sensei is so strong, Sokaku is taught mainly the fastening technique, while Ueshiba and Horikawa are taught mainly the aiki throw because they are not strong enough.

Excerpt from “Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


The testimonies of three of Takeda Sokaku’s outstanding disciples, Yukimichi Horikawa, Yukiyoshi Sagawa, and Tokimune Takeda, are considered to be highly credible. It seems that Sokaku taught aikijutsu as a technique, especially to those with smaller bodies.


So why did Daito-ryu, which was divided into Jiu-Jitsu, Aiki and Sword, start to focus on Aiki? I think there are several reasons for this.


All the disciples whose names remain until now are small except for Hisa Takuma.


Ueshiba Morihei(156cm), Horikawa Kodo (150cm) and Sagawa Yukiyoshi(163cm).


One of the reasons for this is that many of the smaller disciples who learned Aiki remained. Of course, this was partly because Sokaku himself was small (150cm).


But perhaps the decisive factor is that Morihei Ueshiba changed the name of Daito-ryu from Daito-ryu Jiu-Jitsu to Daito-ryu Aiki-Jiu-Jitsu.


Ueshiba Morihei was serious about Daito-ryu. According to his nephew, Inoue Noriaki, he would spend a day traveling to study with Sokaku and then spend the next month or so learning.

Reference: “Morihei Ueshiba and the Direct Disciples Who Tell the Story of the Founder of Aikido”


In 1922, after five months of training from Sokaku, he received permission from Sokaku to change the name of his style to Daito-ryu “aiki” jujutsu.

Reference: “Morihei Ueshiba and the Direct Disciples Who Tell the Story of the Founder of Aikido”、Kudo Ryuta, “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Philosophy of Aiki


The secrets and substitute teaching credentials that were subsequently bestowed upon him. That sentence also has the words “Aikijujutsu” in it.


This was also said by Morihei Ueshiba’s son, Ueshiba Kissyomaru, and his nephew, Inoue Noriaki.


A similar thing can be seen from the Daito-ryu roster. Or rather, I can’t see any other reason to suddenly change the name of the style other than this.


There was no way that an untrustworthy disciple would offer to change the name of his style and give him permission. This happened only because Morihei Ueshiba was a very trustworthy disciple.


Morihei Ueshiba went to Mongolia in 1924 and returned to Japan after being shot, captured and nearly executed.

He experiences a kind of martial enlightenment in 1925. Later, he began instructing the military and aristocracy in Tokyo.


Here, to my surprise, someone appears who has been writing notes on the contents of aiki training, information that has not been made available to the public.

Isamu Takeshita, who was a general in the Navy. The name Harajuku Takeshita Street in Tokyo today comes from the location of his villa.


Basically, the content of Daito-ryu practice is a secret, but Takeshita was a patron of Ueshiba Morihei, and Ueshiba Morihei at the time wanted to be independent from Daito-ryu, so he was allowed to keep the notes.


Takeshita’s notes were very difficult to discern because they were characteristically handwritten.


The contents of this note have been deciphered by Waseda University.


In the book, there was a description of Aiki.

Aiki-no-koto (about aiki)
The best skill is to be able to gain insight into the other person’s mind and control it freely, but in the beginning, you should practice becoming one with the timing of when the other person touches you, thinking that you are an extension of the other person.
Eventually, you’ll be able to control your opponent at will.

Reference: Ryuta Kudo, “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Philosophy of Aiki


It says that you can gain insight into the other person’s mind and manipulate them freely, but it also says that you should first train yourself to control the other person as an extension of yourself when you come into contact with them.


I think it is a little occult when I see the sentence, but I think that it is such a technique because the moment of contact with the opponent is sometimes used in Aikido.


It also shows that aiki was used as a description of the technique.

Attention to Kokyu-nage
・At the beginning of the opponent’s movement, you can use Aiki to become one with the opponent and control the opponent as you wish.

・It is best to have good insight into the movements of the opponent’s body and mind, and ultimately to naturally sense and control the opponent freely through aiki.

Reference: Ryuta Kudo, “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Philosophy of Aiki


As you can see, Aiki is still used as a concept of taking advantage of the opponent’s movement.


Also, the word “aiki” appears here and there in the notes along with the word “Kokyu (breathing)”, and Ryuta Kudo summarizes it roughly like this.

The two notes on aiki were all used in a technical sense, but each example seems to differ slightly from the other, so they are summarized below.

To control the opponent’s movement as a part of your body at the moment the opponent binds to you. Eventually you will gain insight into the other person’s mind and be able to manipulate them at will.

It is a technique to match the timing of your movements with those of your opponent, and at the same time to control your opponent as you wish.

Aiki is applied by moving with the voice to deal with the opponent’s attack, and when Aiki is applied to the opponent well, you can defeat the opponent with that alone. The meaning of aiki here is that the moment you come in contact with it, the opponent is broken down into a state where it is impossible to fight back.

Some kind of body manipulation in which Kokyu (aiki) is put into the wrist or part of the body that is grabbed by the opponent. It is the same concept as “kokyuryoku” or “touitsuroku”, which is also used by the current Aikido and Daito-ryu instructors.

Reference: Ryuta Kudo, “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Philosophy of Aiki


Aiki practice methods are also described in the 1983 book “Budo”, a commentary with photographs published for teaching important people.

There are pictures of him breaking down his opponent the moment he is grabbed or attacked, and the details of his technique are described only as dictating.


Because it is a technique that fundamentally gives you the advantage first, it is difficult to explain with pictures, etc., so I think that when Morihei teach it, he had to dictate.


(※)I can, but I won’t.

There is a similar expression in the 1942 issue of 女子武道 which means Women’s Budo, published by Takuma Hisa, who mastered all of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu under the tutelage of both Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda.

While standing both knees and holding on to each other, Koyu (aiki) with your left hand  and raising your head, you hold the opponent’s left wrist with your right hand in reverse.

Reference: Ryuta Kudo, “The Formation of Modern Budo and Aikido: The Technology and Philosophy of Aiki


Thus, Kokyu and Aiki are used in the same sense and are written as a way to move from a gripped and antagonistic state of aiki.


In light of this, aiki in Daito-ryu meant that all of the following were referred to as aiki.


・To control the beginning of an opponent’s movement by using your voice, as in Kiaijutsu.

・Take advantage of the moment of being grabbed to take the opponent’s lead.

・Controlling the opponent after being grabbed and in an antagonistic state.

・By matching Qi with the opponent, they become one and control the opponent.


In other words, aiki in Daito-ryu is generally a technique to control the moment of the opponent’s action.

Daitoryu’s Aiki

Finally, I would like to consider how Daito-ryu’s aiki was practically thinking about controlling the moment of the opponent’s action, as far as I can tell from the material.


Takuma Hisa, who learned from Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda at the Asahi Shimbun, said, “I studied and trained with Morihei Ueshiba in Aiki-jutsu, a jiu-jitsu that features a reverse-joint technique.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


And in his own book, “Ueshiba-sensei also modified it for the general public by reducing the amount of bending techniques to the reverse joint, which is the quintessence of Daito-ryu, and focusing on the Aiki-nage style…”

Because of this, there were many dangerous techniques, such as bending the joint in reverse of the joint after applying aiki.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


Takuma’s student, Mori Hakaru, describes Aiki (Kokyu) this way.

Scientifically speaking, I think the word “kokyu” probably means the center of gravity.
Kokyu is a contemporary term for timing.

At the same time, there are truths and lies in those movements, even if they are moving in the same way, and there are all sorts of tricks for putting in and out of force and so on. All of these things are combined to form the name “kokyu”.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


We can see that aiki is related to kokyu (timing).


(※)Kokyu in Kanji

From the following statement, it seems that he was taught the idea of moving first, like Aiki and Kiai, to move before the opponent, and to move first in accordance with the opponent’s movements.

The first syoden move you will learn is to jump in and receive the attack when the opponent is about to attack.

Then this would be “go-no-sen”. It’s not like we’re attacking them, so it’s at least “after”.

Furthermore, it is probably “go-no-sen” because it takes “sen” at that time.

It’s the same “go-no-sen” when it comes to souden techniques, but it’s a technique that can be done even if it’s late. I think this is closer to Aiki.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


kamoto Seigou, who is particularly famous in Daito-ryu, analyzes the meaning of kokyu in this way.

In Aikido, the technique is applied according to the direction of the opponent’s attack.
I have the impression that Okamoto Sensei’s technique breaks the timing and rhythm of the attacking opponent in the opposite direction in an instant.
What is the principle?

That’s right. That tendency is stronger when it comes to Randori, which is a practical practice. My timing is that I have to bring my opponent close to me. It’s a bit difficult at a distance. The moment you try to grab it ninety-nine percent, I’ll screw up your timing.
If I do this too soon, you will stop attacking. If you try to shock them with a few hundred volts of current instead of pushing them with force, your opponent will have a conditioned reflex.

And then there’s the really softening technique. It’s true aiki.
You have to do it with the intention of breathing with your whole body. You can’t just be a minion. You end up equating the other person’s kokyu with your own. When that happens, the opponent stiffens up and becomes a part of our body. This means that you can move without feeling too heavy on your opponent.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


Daito-ryu has also adopted the idea of matching Qi and kokyu, and it is felt that it is doing it with the same kind of idea as Aikido.


Of course, the detailed techniques for taking the “sen” must have been developed in various ways, but I think this is the limit of the text because it is no longer possible to understand it just by looking at it.


Aiki-jutsu is a technique that is easier said than done. No matter how much you talk about it, if you can’t do it, it’s a pie in the sky.


However, I believe that Sokaku’s ability to bring this to a practical level in the martial arts was due in large part to the fact that he had studied so many different types of martial arts.

(※)oh my god.

One of the reasons for the inconsistent meaning of the word “aiki” is that Takeda Sokaku did not want this technique to be passed on to many people.


I think the importance of Aiki-jutsu, compared to ordinary jiu-jitsu techniques, is that by taking the “sen” you are able to achieve things that were previously thought to be impossible.


For example, Aiki-Jutsu explains that you can win before you even fight, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.


But if you think about chess, there is a situation where whatever you do afterwards becomes a checkmate. In a match between two people of close ability, the outcome may be decided even before the actual checkmate is made.


(※)Conflict can only occur between people on the same level.

It may be easy to imagine that trying to do this with a human being is a kind of “sen” feeling.


In 1989, Seigo Okamoto released a book with a video titled “Maboroshi no Shinjutsu: Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu”, which was sold so cheaply that he said he didn’t consider it profitable, and many people became interested in Daito-ryu, Aikido, and Aiki.


To be honest, I don’t know if Okamoto Seigo-sensei is great or not because the person receiving the technique is exaggerating.


However, some of the teachers at the dojo I attend say that Okamoto Seigo is exceptional, so I think he must have something very special.


My sensei is influenced by Okamoto sensei, so if it wasn’t for Okamoto sensei, I wouldn’t be doing aikido.


So, I would like to conclude with a few words from Okamoto Seigo.

There are many people who say that the etymology of aiki is because the word “Qi” fits together, or that it is aiki because of the skill involved, but I think they are all right. I think it is expressed differently by those people.

Reference: Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


For this reason, my current interpretation of aiki in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu is that it is a generic term for the various techniques of taking “sen”.


So, see you next time for the final goal of this aiki adventure, Morihei Ueshiba’s Aiki.

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