The Daito-ryu of Nakatsu Heizaburo

The Takumakai organization aims at preserving the knowledge that Takuma Hisa acquired from Takeda Sokaku. Similarly, Nakatsu Heizaburo (read his biography here), who like Hisa, trained in the Asahi Journal dojo in Osaka, has transmitted his own technical knowledge obtained from that period in the Shikoku region. Nakatsu joined the journal in 1930, where he trained with Hisa under Ueshiba Morihei and Takeda Sokaku. He was appointed Representative Instructor (教授代理, kyoju dairi) in 1937 by Sokaku. Because Nakatsu’s background was in Judo, he was privately taught by Sokaku specific techniques to defeat an opponent within the confined space of a single tatami. We interviewed Tsugutaka Chiba Shihan from Ikeda, Tokushima prefecture, who is known to be the best student of Nakatsu, and asked him about Nakatsu Shihan and his techniques.

“Defeat your opponent within one tatami”

I started training under Nakatsu sensei when I was 20 years old. He was a bonesetter and he used his waiting room as a dojo. The room was 6 square meters or perhaps even less. We would train in pairs, and be as many as eight people at times. With that in mind, you should be able to guess what kind of techniques we did: standing techniques (立合い, tachiai). We would start with submission techniques (極め技, kiwamewaza), grappling techniques (固め技, katamewaza), and projection techniques (投げ技, nagewaza), but instead of throwing all the way, we would throw downwards, not horizontally but vertically, we would take down the opponent within one piece of tatami.

I worked on it so hard that I even dreamt about it. At night, I would jump three meters over my wife and kids who were sleeping beside me and come back! (laughs)

Before practice, Nakatsu would get me to help him treat his patients too. And after that, training. Whether it was one person, two or three, he would always watch us. We didn’t have a rule as to how many times a week we trained though.

During practice, he didn’t explain at all things in a way “do like this or like that”, but because he was a bonesetter, he initially taught us in details about the human body. Since he knew about the circulation system and pressure points, he talked about the effects of pushing certain points.

For example, he told us “if you attack this point, the opponent will die in 15 years”. Of course it would be illegal to do such a thing, so he was actually warning us against it, but sometimes, what you say is the opposite of what you actually mean to teach people. That said, even if we broke our bones, with his knowledge as a bonesetter, Nakatsu Sensei would be able to fix them on the spot. That was the kind of environment we trained in; his techniques were really tough, and it was really hard. He was also very short-tempered but also very cautious.

The judo that Jigoro Kano started became widely adopted was ultimately based on the idea of winning or losing. However, it wasn’t originally like that. When you chose to study a traditional fighting system (武術, bujutsu), it is actually about living or to dying. So I think that Takeda Tokimune Soke (the son of Takeda Sokaku and head of the Daito-ryu main line) turned that idea around and added the suffix “Do” (道, way) to the character “Bu” (武). “Bu” means to stop a spear, to stop fighting. He added the character “Do” to it.

nakatsu 3Takeda Sokaku with the Asahi Journal group. Back row, first from right: Nakatsu Heizaburo and middle: Takeda Tokimune

“Don’t become arrogant”

Nakatsu Sensei would often say: “Learning the techniques means forgetting about techniques”. When I heard that, I felt like he broke my nose. He was telling us to forget and not become a Tengu. [Note: In Japanese culture, the Tengu (天狗, "heavenly dog") is a mythological character whose one of the defining feature is arrogance, as represented by its unnaturally long nose. By saying that his nose was broken, Chiba Sensei says that Nakatsu Sensei cut down his arrogance.]

Tokimune Sensei told me that Sokaku Sensei taught the same thing. He told me that Sokaku Sensei once stopped by a sweet mochi dumpling shop that was run by an old lady. She would throw the dumpling sticks left by her customers over her shoulder and they would always land smoothly in the stick holder behind her, without watching. Sokaku Sensei realized that you will always have someone better than you I guess (laughs).

Sokaku taught individually

Sokaku Sensei tailored his lessons to individual students. Hisa sensei’s background was in Sumo, and so Sokaku Sensei taught him techniques that were similar to those in Sumo. Nakatsu Sensei’s was in Judo, so his posture (残心, zanshin) led to this kind of higher guard (Chiba Sensei raises both hands). What I learned from Nakatsu sensei is that kind of position. You would stand more firmly with your legs apart. The reason behind is that this position allows you to break your opponent’s balance with your legs, while being aware of other enemies surrounding you. If you keep your face at this level, you can see who is around you, 180 degrees. That’s what I first learned.

As you can see from the Soden’s pictures [Note: The Soden is an 11-volumes collection of pictures taken at the Asahi Newspaper from 1933 to 1939 showing the techniques demonstrated by both Ueshiba Morihei and subsequently Takeda Sokaku.] Nakatsu Sensei appears in the second half, from volume 8 or 9, which represent the techniques taught by Sokaku. The reason I think he appears in those volumes is that Nakatsu Sensei was the one who learned those techniques directly from Sokaku Sensei.

nakatsu soden 02Picture form the Soden featuring Nakatsu Heizaburo

Sokaku Sensei did not teach everything to everyone, instead, he taught according to the individual’s capabilities. So if his students such as Yoshida or Kawazoe did a demonstration now, you would see that instantly. Nakatsu Sensei himself also taught individually. So did Hisa sensei, and so do I.

guillaume chiba 03Chiba Tsugutaka teaching his techniques to Olivier Gaurin (uke: Guillaume Erard)

“You are definitely Nakatsu’s student”

I met Hisa sensei when Makita Soichi invited him to Tokushima (Komatsushima) in 1967. We had Hisa sensei do a demonstration, and we also did a demonstration in front of him. He looked at my demonstration and said “You are definitely Nakatsu's student. This is without a doubt Daito-ryu.” He then asked me to teach the in Osaka, and so he arranged seminars two or three times at a newspaper company in Osaka. I still get invitations sometimes.

The difference between learning by practice and learning from books

Nakatsu Sensei told me that Sokaku sensei would make the recipient of a proficiency certificate write their own technical catalog (目録は, mokuroku), and that he only signed the completed scroll (巻物, makimono) [Note: In classical martial arts, the upon being awarded a rank, the recipient is also given scrolls that catalog all the techniques that the student has learnt. The content of these scrolls is usually curated by the head of the school].

scrollsChiba Tsugutaka explaining the content of his makimono to Olivier Gaurin

Writing your own makimono was an integral part of you training. What the mokuroku really is is a sort of reminder of the techniques you have already learned. If you simply copy sentences like “strike from the right, return from the right”, you won’t know what they mean. This is is my own interpretation, but I think that makimono is written in such a way that you can never do it right by just following what is written there. Sometimes it says the opposite of what you are supposed to do, and sometimes the truth. Suzuki Shinpachi Sensei [Note: a prominent instructor of the Daito-ryu headquarters in Hokkaido who taught classes to Chiba Sensei when he went in Abashiri to train under Takeda Tokimune] also said that some parts were written in Aizu dialect [Takeda Sokaku was born in the Aizu (会津) domain, which is located in the westernmost of the Fukushima Prefecture].

Giving out makimono makes everyone happy, but you need to go through the actual learning process before that, and the important thing is to learn the waza.

nakatsu heizaburo kyoju dairi 1Nakatsu Heizaburo's kyoju dairi certificate

Daito-ryu: practical skills

Daito-ryu techniques comes from the battlefield. Nakatsu Sensei used to say; “There is no defense without attack. You cannot defend yourself if you don’t know how to strike.” He said that even when you fought with multiple opponents. You wouldn’t have ten of them coming at the same time, it usually would be three to four of them at most. More than that would result in them hitting each other when you dodged.

There is a story of Sokaku sensei fighting with 30 people during the Meiji era. If you have three people coming at you, you must deal with one of them first, and once you are dealt with that one, it gives you the appropriate distance (間合い, maai) with the other two. Daito-ryu comes from this kind of real fight.

“You can only feel it through your sixth sense”

Nakatsu sensei also talked about the case of a knife is coming from behind. When we said “Sensei, we don’t have eyes in the back though”, he said “We do have eyes, do you not feel them?” He was talking about something like a sixth sense. He said that women were more likely to feel it. So he said that he couldn’t train us for the case of being attacked by someone in the back. He said it was something we had to “feel”. Nakatsu sensei told us that kind of story to put things into perspective.

chiba tsugutaka guillaume erard 04Chiba Tsugutaka teaching in Wakimachi (uke: Guillaume Erard). Photo by Olivier Gaurin.

Because I was Nakatsu sensei’s student, I started absorbing the psychological aspects that came with the techniques as well, like his strictness.

I always say to my students “You are eggs. And there are two types of eggs, fertilized or unfertilized. If you want to become something, you'd better be fertilized egg. That way you can hatch, and grow.”

This article was initially published in Japanese in Aiki News n. 129 (May 2001). It was translated and reproduced here with permission of Chiba Tsugutaka Shihan.

Chiba Tsugutaka
Author: Chiba Tsugutaka
Chiba Tsugutaka was born in 1931 in the Tokushima prefecture. He joined Nakatsu Heizaburo’s dojo in 1946. He also trained in Hokkaido with Takeda Tokimune, the head of the Daito-ryu main line, and was recognized by Tokimune as a legitimate holder of the technical catalog of Takeda Sokaku from the late 1930's. As such, he was authorized to use the family crest of the Takeda clan. Nakatsu Heizaburo awarded him the certificates of Hiden mokuroku (秘伝目録), Hiden ogi (秘伝奥儀), Aikinojutsu (合気之術), and Goshin'yo-no-te (御信用之手). He is the Chief Priest of the Joko-ji Temple in Ikeda, Tokushima prefecture. To go further, read an interview with Chiba Sensei.

© 2017 Guillaume Erard. All Rights Reserved.