The art of Aikido evolved from a variety of classical Japanese combative arts. Many forms and movements in Aikido stem from sword, knife, stick, spear, or archery movements. However, the majority of Aikido comes from an extremely effective open-hand fighting art called Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu.
The development of Aikido from a purely combative art to a study of the way of harmony can be followed from the founding of the roots of Aikido in the ninth century to the teachings today.
The very early history is not completely clear, but the roots of this art are found in the ninth century in a fighting style developed by Prince Sadazumi, the sixth son of Emperor Seiwa. This art, still in simple form, was passed down in their family, the Minamoto, to Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, who developed and organized the fundamental principles of Daito-ryu. Yoshimitsu allegedly gained insight by watching spiders subdue their prey. To develop more effective techniques, he also studied the anatomy of joints and tissues by dissecting cadavers.
Yoshimitsu’s second son, Yoshikiyo, moved to the Kai region of Japan and established the Takeda family and clan. The family’s very sophisticated fighting art was passed down through the Takeda group in secrecy. Eventually this art took on the name of Daito-ryu (or Daito-style). The title “Daito” is said to come from the name of Yoshimitsu’s Daito mansion. It is also attributed to a twenty-fifth generation Takeda retainer, Daito Kyunosuke. Throughout the history of the clan, only a select few were allowed to study Daito-ryu.
In 1574, after the Takeda clan was defeated in a war, Takeda Kunitsugu fled to the Aizu region, bringing the art of Daito-ryu with him. The art was still only practiced by a chosen few and was one of the secret Aizu Otome-waza, a group of secret martial arts in Aizu. Eventually called Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, it was to remain completely unknown to the general public until three centuries later.
In the late nineteenth century, as Japan was evolving from a feudal Samurai culture to a more Westernized modern society, a descendent of the Takeda family, Takeda Sokaku, brought Daito-ryu to the public for the first time in nearly a thousand years.
Takeda Sokaku traveled through Japan demonstrating Daito-ryu and refining his techniques through actual combat by challenging other martial artists—or anyone willing to fight. He finally settled in Hokkaido to teach his secret techniques. Takeda Sokaku’s descendants still follow his example and continue to teach Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu today at their Daitokan Dojo in Abashiri, Hokkaido.