It is believed that the art of Daito Ryu comes from the family of emperor Seiva (who ruled from 858 to 876). According to oral transmission, this combat system was developed by one of his descendants, Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, during the 11th century. With the goal of fully learning the human anatomy, he visited battlefields and execution sites to dissect and study the bodies of the dead soldiers and executed criminals. By that, Yoshimitsu found out what strike was the most effective, what grappling technique would be the most damaging, what lock is the hardest to release from and so on. To go even deeper into the mystery of aiki or harmonized energy, Yoshimitsu spent hours just watching spiders attack their victim stuck in their net. As a talented musician, he often followed dancers, playing his sho (a kind of wind instrument), by which he understood the connection between good rhythm and transition between motions. All this he integrated in his family’s martial art, and subsequently transmitted this advanced and extended system to his son. That was how the new system, later to be known as Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, was born. Yoshimitsu’s oldest son, Yoshikyo, moved to the village Takeda in Koma (nowadays Yamanashi prefecture) and found the Takeda branch of the Minamoto clan. Afterwards, the Daito Ryu tradition of Yoshimitsu was transmitted in secret to the coming generations of the Takeda family. Towards the end of the 16th century, the clan led by Kunitsugu Takeda, moves it’s base to the Aizu district (nowadays Fukushima prefecture). There, the practice of this system was also continued as o-shiki-uchi or “indoor practice” or o-tom-bujutsu or “clan’s martial art”. These two terms point to it’s great secrecy and almost jealous keeping of the Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu techniques. This way, the art was secretly transmitted only to the Aizu (Takeda) clan samurai, all the way to the fall of the Shogunate in 1868. Even in the 19th century, when the martial arts genius Sokaku Takeda began publicly giving lectures, this art became famous throughout Japan.
Sokaku was born in 1859 in Aizu, where from his earliest years was taught to the traditional family o-shiki-uchi arts. His teacher was his relative Tanomo Saigo (1829 – 1905). Sokaku is considered the 35th soke of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, starting from Kunitsugu Takeda. He studied other traditional martial arts as well, and because of his pride and specific character he gained a lot of street fighting experience. Towards the end of the 19th century, Sokaku began publicly teaching the art, by which he becomes the first member of the Aizu (Takeda) clan who “opened” the art to those interested. Moving to the Hokkaido island in northern Japan, he managed to travel the entire Japanese territory, teaching everywhere. During that time, he was often challenged to duels, but not once was he defeated by any of his challengers, even though he was only 152 centimeters tall and weighted only 52 kilograms. From the opening of the art, to his death, Sokaku Takeda taught more than 28.000 people, from which about 20 got teaching licenses. Some of them achieved great results. Among the names of the students, there are a lots of government officials, admirals, judges, and many other kinds of high officials from the army and police of Japan.
After the death of Sokaku Takeda in 1943, the art was inherited by his second son, Tokimune Takeda (1916 – 1993). He founds the main dojo (Hombu) of the art in the city of Abashiri in Hokkaido. In 1953, Tokimune decides to reorganize the entire legacy from his father, creating a net of schools (dojos) through the country. All techniques and kata, which were to that moment learned by heart and only transmitted by word of mouth (out of fear not to be stolen), Tokimune wrote them down and sorted them in the form of a catalog (mokuroku). He named the organization Daito Ryu Aikibudo and in it were taught the family martial arts of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and Ono ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu – Takeda Den (the sword school which was taught to the Takeda family).
During his career as a policeman, Tokimune was many times awarded for arresting a lot of criminals. Each of his arrests he did without the use of a weapon – he only used Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu techniques.
The most famous student of Sokaku Takeda was Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) the founder of Aikido. He meets Sokaku in 1915 and practices with him until 1922, when he gets a teaching license (menkyo kaiden). Influenced by Onisaburo Deguchi (1871-1948), the leader of the religious sect Omoto Kyo, Morihei adopted and simplified the techniques of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and added a spiritual dimension to it, founding the Aikido art in the process. During the years, this art became vastly popular in the world and it has many followers today.
In 1991, searching for the roots of Aikido, the Italian Antonino Certa departs for Japan. He goes straight to the Hombu dojo in Abashiri, where he becomes a personal student to Tokimune Takeda (the 36th soke of Daito Ryu). He is the first and only non-Japanese that was accepted as a personal student of Tokimune, as well as the first and only non-Japanese that gained a Shihan title (master teacher). After Tokimune Takeda’s death, Antonino Certa practiced as the personal student of the best masters of Abashiri: the Shihan Kato, Sano and Arisawa.