Although the technical influence of daito-ryu on aikido is still clear, according to Antonino Certa, a daito-ryu teacher in Milan, Italy, the two are now separate arts with different outlooks. Certa, a longtime student of aikido prior to taking up daito-ryu, stresses that genuine aikijujutsu is not simply “hard aikido” or “aikido plus strikes and weapons.”
For one thing, Certa found that the number of techniques in aikido is far fewer than in daito-ryu. Morihei Ueshiba distilled a core of about 20 main techniques — including shiho-nage, irimi-nage, kote-gaeshi, ikkyo and nikyo — as the basis for aikido. United Kingdom-based aikido instructor Dave Humm agrees but points out that aikidoka can use those core techniques to generate an infinite number of variations based on circumstances, situations and methods of attack. The ethos, he says, is to be able to make any one of those applications fit any given situation.
In daito-ryu, however, the approach is very different. The techniques number several hundred, and each is performed only in a small number of situations for which it’s deemed most suitable — for instance, when kneeling, when standing, when attacked from behind, when attacked by a taller person and so forth. No attempt is made to fit a technique to all situations.
Sogaku Takeda’s son and successor, Tokimune Takeda, sits with students in their dojo in Hokkaido, Japan.
Certa found that aikido practice is generally conducted in a more “free” way than aikijujutsu, with a continuous flow and the use of circles to bind movements and applications together. In contrast, daito-ryu uses mostly formal, two-person kata practice. The techniques are short and direct, and tend to be more linear and angular than circular.
Daito-ryu also tends to favor throwing with a dropping motion, rather than an outward projection as in aikido. The objective in daito-ryu is to keep the thrown enemy close so he can be finished off, if need be. Also, where aikido often favors controlling (osae) the opponent without causing excessive pain or injury, daito-ryu leans toward breaking (kansetsu).
Another important point is that daito-ryu doesn’t claim to be a purely defensive system: There are several formal techniques in which one makes a pre-emptive attack rather than waiting for the enemy to strike first.
Although much of aikido seems to be practiced as a defensive form, Humm believes that it can be employed proactively in real situations simply by changing the mind-set. His experience as a prison officer serving in high-security establishments has shown that while the application looks nothing like the techniques in the dojo, the principles behind the techniques (distancing, blending and unbalancing) are definitely valid and have served him well when he’s had to initiate encounters.
The martial and often brutal spirit of daito-ryu is illustrated by the explanations of Takeda’s son and successor Tokimune Takeda. In an interview in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, by Stanley Pranin, Tokimune states, “The essence of daito-ryu is to keep alert until you have cut the enemy’s throat.” In modern times, health and safety regulations and the hassle of lawsuits make it a little impractical to actually cut the throats of partners in training. Therefore, the essence of the final kill has been preserved in a symbolic way: The practitioner delivers a sword-hand strike to the downed opponent, accompanying it with a sharp kiai.
Daito-ryu features more use of atemi waza (striking techniques) than do most aikido styles. In the early days, aikido training did include a large amount of striking — Ueshiba is famously quoted as saying, “Atemi is 99 percent of aikido” — but this seems to have been de-emphasized in many styles as the years progressed. The atemi in daito-ryu use the fist, the edge of the hand, the elbow and the feet, and are crucial parts of many techniques.
There’s also a difference in the use of weapons. Some daito-ryu branches incorporate the classical sword style of ono-ha itto-ryu and consider kenjutsu important for understanding the daito-ryu system. In addition to the sword, some techniques involving the tessen (iron fan), jutte (truncheon), tanto (knife), shuriken (throwing stars) and other weapons are taught at the higher levels in some branches. A few substyles of daito-ryu are alleged to contain aiki nito (two-sword) and spear techniques, but they’re rarely seen today. Aikido, on the other hand, is largely an unarmed art, although some styles, notably the iwama style, do include some sword and jo (staff) training.
The advanced teachings of daito-ryu also include aiki no jutsu, which are throwing techniques that appear to have been one of Ueshiba’s specialties, forming the basis for the kokyu nage (breath throw) of aikido.
Certa regards aiki as an important …