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An ancient system of unarmed and armed combat founded by Shinra Saburo Minamoto during the Heian period (794-1156) and perfected in battlefield warfare. The techniques were most fully systematized (some say modified) by Sokaku Takeda with sword and unarmed techniques practiced together. It was the first and only tradition focused upon aiki-jujitsu. While it has inspired many succeeding disciplines, including aikido founded by Morihei Usehiba (Takeda's student from 1911-1918), daito-ryu proponents suggest that while the other systems share aiki jujitsu nomenclature, the understanding of aiki, as well as the techniques themselves, they may in fact be very different. See: aiki, Daito-ryu aiki jujitsu.
Daito Ryu lays claim to being the oldest aiki-jujitsu in Japan. It is a cultural treasure that in addition to being the progenitor of modern aikido has greatly influenced many modern other cognate budo disciplines (disciplines derived from warrior arts). It began its development when Shinra Saburo no Minamoto (1045-1127), a relation of the Emperor Seiwa who was to become the governor of Kai (modern Yamanashi Prefecture), studied the body's secrets by dissecting cadavers. He researched the body's weak points in order to discover how most effectively to attack them with a sword and how to apply locks to its joints. He further learned how muscles support the skeletal structure. The knowledge was passed to his descendants in the Takeda family of Kai and Daito Ryu was further developed there until the death of the family's most famous
General, Takeda Shingen in 1573.
In the mid-seventeenth century Takeda Kunitsugu, a relative of Takeda Shingen, became a senior counselor to the son of Tokugawa Hidetaka, Lord Hoshina Masayuki of the Aizu Han. Daito Ryu was combined with the Aizu Han's oshiki uchi techniques and became the method of self-defense for all Daimyo of the Aizu and those responsible for their protection. Daito Ryu continued to be passed from generation to generation within the Takeda family.
Takeda Sokaku Sensei formalized and named modern Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu. With his knowledge and skill in Daito Ryu and Ono-ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu (Sokaku den), he traveled all over Japan on foot, teaching and meeting all challengers until his death in Aomori Prefecture in 1943 (Showa 18) at the age of 89. In Sokaku's 70 years of martial travels he remained undefeated, leaving behind an exceptionally rich curriculum of techniques and his mark on the history of Japanese Classical and Modern Martial Arts. Takeda Tokimune Sensei, Takeda Sokaku's son, organized the curriculum of some 2884 techniques into a more readily teachable syllabus. Techniques up to the 5th degree black belt level are included in the Shoden (beginning level techniques) syllabus of 118 techniques plus many. These techniques are executed from both sitting and standing positions as well as against attacks from behind. Each level requires knowledge of a different set of essential principles if one is to master the techniques.
In addition, Daito Ryu waza are categorized as Hiden Okugi, Chuden, Okuden, Goshingo no te, Aiki no Jutsu, Daito Ryu Nito Ryu Hiden, Kaishaku Soden, Soden, and Kaiden. Only a very few Daito Ryu teachers have extensive knowledge of these techniques, and as of this writing all of these men are Japanese. Tokimune Takeda Sensei passed away in 1993. The present Soke (head of a school or tradition) of Daito Ryu is Takeda Seishu.