Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943) was the martial artist responsible for spreading Daito-Ryu and impacting the development of modern Aikido. He was born into the Takeda Clan, the second son of Sokichi Takeda. He grew up in the Aizu domain (present day Fukushima Prefecture) during the Boshin War. He is frequently referred to as the founder of Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu although he more technically the “reviver” of this art.
It is believed that Sokaku received his first martial arts training from his father who had a dojo on their property. Sokichi was apparently expert in the use of both sword and spear, and had once been a sumo wrestler of Ozeki rank. It seems that Sokaku Takeda was exposed to the teachings of Hōzōin-ryū Takada-ha and Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, schools of spear and swordsmanship.
Sokaku was captivated by the idea of musha-shugyo and left to go on a period of austere training. During this time he travelled, fought and trained at many schools, a common practise of the time. Apparently, during this period, Sokaku spent some time as a live-in student of Kenkichi Sakakibara, headmaster of the Jikishinkage-ryū. He was considered to have been one of the most famous and skilled swordsmen of the era. In fact, Sokaku’s sword skills were so extraordinary and fearsome that he was referred to as “the little demon of Aizu.”
He was less than 150 centimeters tall, but is said to have had piercing eyes, skills that reached a level that seemed almost divine, and an ability to know a person’s past, present and future even before meeting him.
When the Samurai class was outlawed and the carrying of swords was prohibited, Sokaku seems to have decided to emphasize the empty-handed jujutsu techniques of his ancestral art. These were oshiki-uchi (“inside the palace”), or secret teachings of the Aizu clan. He combined these with the other skills he had acquired and created an art which he called Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu.
Sokaku lived the life of an itinerant, travelling throughout the country and giving seminars to military officers, police officers and martial arts enthusiasts. He left extensive records of those he taught and we know from these that during his lifetime he taught about 30,000 students, including many famous martial artists as well as a wide array of politicians, military officers, judges, policemen, and other persons of high social standing from all over Japan.
Some of his most important students included Yukiyoshi Sagawa, who some believe was the most talented of his early students, Kodo Horikawa, whose students established the Kodokai and the Roppokai, Kotaro Yoshida, Hosaku Matsuda and Tomekichi Yamamoto.
His most famous student, however, was the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. In fact, the resurgence of interest in Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu today is largely thanks to the popularity of Aikido.