Takeuchi Hisayoshi, the Little Warrior

by Wayne Muromoto

The two could not have been a more unlikely pair. Takeuchi (or Takenouchi) Hisayoshi faced off against the giant Takagi Umanosuke. Hisayoshi was the grandson of Takeuchi Hisamori, the founder of the Takeuchi-ryu martial arts school. Like his grandfather, Hisayoshi was a diminutive warrior, barely clearing five feet tall, with no bulging muscles or fearsome features. Umanosuke, on the other hand, was reputed to be some six feet tall, as big as a sumo wrestler, and able to punch metal coins into tree trunks with his thumbs.

It was the early 1600s, when Tokugawa Ieyasu had just defeated the last organized rebellion of the Toyotomi faction. He had been just declared the "Barbarian-quelling Generalissimo," or Sei-i-tai-shogun. Remnants of the Toyotomi rebels still hid out in various provinces, and the need for warriors to be trained in self-defense and military arts was still a very life-and-death necessity.

Takeuchi Hisayoshi, in the midst of that turmoil, had decided to go on a journey, a musha shugyo, in which he would travel across the unsettled provinces and test his skills against the best bugeisha, or martial artists, of the land.

Travel in those days lacked modern conveniences, of course. There were no airplanes, modern bullet trains, automobiles, or fast food restaurants. A country samurai like Hisayoshi had to live by his wits, scrounging food through bit labor or donations, and finding refuge in temples, shrines, and with supporters, or even sleeping out in the open while traveling between provinces. Besides the actual duels, the very nature of travel made musha shugyo a never-ending trial of one's spirit, body and mind.

Hisayoshi's reputation had preceded him, so when he entered the castle town of Tsuyama, in Mimasaka province, its lord Mori Nagatsugu proposed a martial arts duel between Hisayoshi and one of his retainers, Takagi Umanosuke. To anyone seeing the two, it would have seemed a physical mismatch. Yet, Mori Nagatsugu was curious about the prowess of the young man from the hinterlands of Mimasaku province. Was he as good as he was reputed to be? Could he defeat the powerful martial arts instructor of the clan?

The match was held in the castle grounds of Tsuyama castle, before Nagatsugu. According to one account, Umanosuke charged Hisayoshi and grabbed him in a bear hug around his chest.

Hisayoshi only chuckled. "I've heard of your great strength, Umanosuke-dono, but is this all the energy you've got?"

The words enraged Umanosuke, as Hisayoshi had planned. Umanosuke let go of his bear hug and attempted to wrap his arms around Hisayoshi's head, squeezing it to a pulp. But as soon as Hisayoshi felt the pressure release on his chest, he dropped down to his knees, spun around and slammed the base of his fist into Umanosuke's groin. Then he grabbed Umanosuke and threw him to the ground.

Before Umanosuke could recover from this sudden turn of events, Hisayoshi took a length of rope and tied him up in the wink of a eye. Umanosuke regained his senses and fought to get out of the bindings. Using his extraordinary strength, he flexed his arms and broke off two of the rope strands. The last length of rope held, and Hisayoshi drew out his short sword, called in the Takeuchi-ryu a kogusoku, and placed it against Umanosuke's neck.

"I let you continue after it's clear I defeated you twice, but in our style of grappling, if you continue to fight after clearly losing, then the third time I will take your life."

"Matte!" Lord Mori raised his hand. "Wait! That is enough, Hisayoshi-dono. It is my decision that you have won. There is no need for bloodshed."

Hisayoshi sheathed his dagger, sat down and bowed to Mori Nagatsugu.

Umanosuke, dejected, shook off the rope bindings and did an unusual thing for someone of his great repute. He blinked back his tears, and then sat in front of Hisayoshi and bowed deeply.

"You have beaten me fair and square, Lord Hisayoshi," he said, "No one, using strength or skill, has ever been able to best me until you. And you have even spared my life. I beg you to let me be your humble student."

Hisayoshi smiled and replied, "It takes a great man to make that request, Lord Umanosuke. I will gladly accept you as a deshi."

Umanosuke learned his lessons well. He was given a license and introduced to the upper level secrets of the Takeuchi-ryu. Combining the Takeuchi-ryu with his own previous jujutsu training, Umanosuke recast his style, the Takagi Hontai Yoshin-ryu, which flourishes even to this day. (In the Hontai Yoshin-ryu, Umanosuke is listed as the second master of the system, after Takagi Oriuemon.)

The record of that match is retained in the Hontai Yoshin-ryu to this day, as recounted to me when I visited the main dojo of the Hontai Yoshin-ryu in Japan and the instructors found out that I was a student of the Takeuchi-ryu. Although some of the details are different, the Hontai Yoshin-ryu does acknowledge the defeat of Umanosuke and his subsequent incorporation of many "softer" more technically efficient elements of grappling into the ryu.

Hisayoshi continued on his eventful musha shugyo for some ten years, managing to defeat many challengers without taking their lives (although there are notes that some duels did end up as fatal for his challengers). His skill and compassion led many of the defeated to become his students, like Umanosuke.

Besides students who went on to open branches of the Takeuchi-ryu in their provinces, other students founded their own systems, based upon the Takeuchi-ryu and their own innovations. Araki Mujinsai, another of Hisayoshi's students, founded the Araki-ryu jujutsu. One of Mujinsai's students, Nakamura Taizo Yukiharu (a retainer of Hosokawa Morihiro), founded the Takenouchi Santo-ryu. Other ryu that can be traced back to the Takeuchi-ryu include the Takeuchi Une-ryu, Ninoue-ryu, Takagi-ryu, Rikishin-ryu, Oie-ryu, Tonteki-ryu, Yano-ryu, and Sosuishitsu-ryu. From these ryu sprang subsets, including the Araki Shin-ryu, Kashin-ryu, and Seishin-ryu. There were several well-known martial artists who are said to have studied the Takeuchi-ryu, including Saito Denkibo, Takeda Motsugai, Horibe Yasubei, Itagaki Shunsuke, and others.

As the Tokugawa government quelled the land, it laid down iron-fisted laws against rebellion and conflicts. In due time, the government's restrictions also extended towards shinken shobu, or duels to the death between martial artists. Such duels, if continued to the death and/or injury of one or more of the combatants, often led to a series of blood feuds. This fighting was anathema to the new government, which was trying to bring peace to a war-ravaged land. For the Takeuchi-ryu, Hisayoshi became the third and last master to engage in shinken shobu. After three masters had tested their art in actual battlefields and in to-the-death matches, the restrictions of the shogunate and the maturation of the ryu led to a family rule: no one would engage in matches against other schools, unless by permission of the headmaster. Nor should any student speak ill of other schools.

The days when martial arts was simply a means to kill others in order to survive had passed. Now martial arts became a way to protect oneself, and to train others so that they could become stronger mentally and physically. Or, as the Zen priest Takuan now instructed the swordsman Yagyu Munenori, the martial arts should no longer be the Sword that Kills (Setsuninto), but the Sword that Gives Life (Katsujinken).

Hisayoshi returned to his family domain in Kumegun, Haga Village, Mimasaka, farmed the land and raised a family. But his exploits weren't quite over. In 1663 Hisayoshi led his two sons with him to Kyoto. Through the offices of the Kanpaku (imperial advisor) Takatsukasa, he was given the privilege of performing a demonstration before the Emperor Reigen. The demonstration was so impressive that he was given the imperial title of Kusaka Toride Kaizen, or, roughly translated, the "greatest grappler in the land." In addition, he was also given the privilege of using the honorific titles of Kaganosuke Toichiro.

Hisayoshi, the third master of the Takeuchi-ryu, died at the age of 69 in Kambun 11. He carried on the legacy that his grandfather founded, and through successive generations, the ryu has continued to this day as one of the most revered and honored grappling and composite weaponry schools in Kansai (Western) Japan, the Takeuchi-ryu.


Most of the information was drawn from the article, "Mappo No Jokake, Takenouchi Hisayoshi," by Habu Michihide, pages 376-379, in the collection titled Nihondensho Bugei Ryuha, Shinjinbutsu Oraisha, Tokyo, Japan, 1994. The other sources of information concerning the life of Takeuchi Hisayoshi are from oral traditions passed on to the author from seniors and instructors of the Takeuchi-ryu.

Copyright ©1999 Wayne Muromoto. All rights reserved.

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