asagao-blueTo prepare for TDD #1, let us study Asagao 朝顔 あさがお. Most Aiki folks think of Asagao as a hand posture. It is so much more than just a hand posture. The first character “asa” means morning, and the second character “gao” means face. In the West the flower is known as “Morning Glory.”

First, if one observes an Asagao blooming one notices that the petals open equally in opposite directions. This is equivalent to Aiki #2, where when two lines joined at a common vertice open equally there is rotation happening in both lines. Also, the petals do not just open, they spiral open each around its own central axis. An Asagao opens in a coaxial spiral, creating Aiki #3. It closes in a similar manner creating a Yin/Yang cyclical pattern.


vitruvian-manSecond, if one studies at the distinctive pattern of the Asagao one will notice a pattern of five lines moving out from, or into, a common center point.  It isn’t difficult to recognize the shape of a human in these five lines.  The implication being that a human can, and with Aiki should, open and close from one’s central point in coaxial spirals.

These two things alone are enough to focus, and practice upon as one develops the ability to generate Aiki in the body. This movement is demonstrated by the Asagao and and emulated in TDD #1.

One can open and close their hand in a similar fashion, and it will not only form the shape of an Asagao but will follow the movement pattern of an Asagao opening and closing.  Note Asagao isn’t an affected movement (a movement one copies), but the natural resulting motion of the hand when it revolves around a central axis point at its fullest range of motion.  This movement isn’t particular to Daito Ryu, and in other arts using the same means of locomotion it is known by different names.

pentwithphiIf one connects the five lines of the Asagao together it forms the “magic circle” of a circumscribed pentagon.  One of the interesting qualities of a regular pentagon is that, if one cross connects the points of the regular pentagon a 5 pointed star is formed, which in it has another pentagon, which has a star, etc. The pattern can continue infinitely outward and inward.  This mirrors the equal and opposite directions of Yin Yan.  If they both go out infinitely then any point reflects equal amounts of out and in (Yin/Yang) in it.

golden10_42981_lgThe 5 pointed star is also significant in that, within the star there are lines reflecting the “golden ratio” or “golden section.”  This is important because from this ratio certain natural progressions occur.  For example, this progression reflects the proportionality of the human body.  The same progression is present in logarithmic spirals.  This is pertinent when one considers that, due to the ratio of the human body parts, it lends itself to certainspiral movements.  Consequently, certain self-generated spiral movements will occur in one’s own body, and certain predictable spiral movements will occur in others in response to contact with those movements.  All of this relates to Aiki in general and the Aiki body in particular.

gorintou-drawing-1If we venture a littlefurther down the esoteric rabbit hole, it iseasy to note that the number five representsthe five elements, an example being the Buddhist “sharito” or stupa.  5 element theory can be its own study so let’s leave  that alone for now.

As far as practical physical application, I suggest concentrating first on generating Aiki #2 as it occurs in TDD#1 and then Aiki #3.




There are interesting other “asides” relating to the Asagao that have no particular relationship to the physical practice pointed to by the flower. If you are an Aiki X-file/Dan Brown/nerd, then read on and let’s have some fun!


Before we can enjoy the following string of implications, we must first acquire a general knowledge of the Boshin War, the Aizu clan’s plight, and the later flight of Tokugawa loyalists to Hokkaido.

Boshin_war.svgThe Boshin Senso (Boshin War) was a civil war in Japan that took place from 1868 to 1869.  It involved the rulingTokugawa Shogunate, and those remaining loyal to it, in opposition to forces wishing to return power to the Imperial Court (Imperial Forces).  This civil war had several incredible twists and turns. But, simply put, due to the adoption and availability of modernized military technology from the west, the Imperial forces quickly gained the upper hand over the Tokugawa forces and took over Edo (later Tokyo) the seat of Tokugawa power.

Those die hards, still loyal to the Tokugawa shogunate, retreated to northern Honshu.  A cadre of domains in the North formed an alliance of resistance in support of the Aizu clan.  These were the domains of Sendai, Yonezawa, Aizu, Shonai and Nagaoka.  The Battle of Kokuetsu was a particularly hard fought battle that ended in an Imperial victory, next the Shinsengumi fell at the Battle of Bonari Pass which set up the eventual attack on the castle of Aizuwakamatsu and the tragic story of the Byakotai.  [There is plenty of further informationavailable about this time of Japanese history.]

IMG_5707It is during this time that the history of Takeda Sokaku, then a mere child,  and the tragedy of his family (Spoiler Alert:  The entire family committed suicide thinking that the patriarch had died in battle.  He hadn’t.) unfolds in concert with the fate of what remained of the Aizu clan. [I suggest learning about this time and the role that Takeda Sokaku’s family played.]

The remaining loyalists that were able (mostly navy), escaped to Hokkaido via Sendai. (Takeda later often taught in Sendai.)  In Hokkaido they set up the Republic of Ezo.  This ill-fated republic, patterned on the American model, was the first elected government in Japan.  Imperial forces soon continued their pursuit.

Hakodate_Goryokaku_Panorama_1It was during this brief autonomous period, that in 1855, the Goryokaku (five sided/pentagon fort) designed by Takeda Hisaburo was built in Hakodate City,  and it was there that the last battle of the Edo Period took place and the Meiji government began to rule over all Japan.

GoryokakuPlanLargeWait! Did you get that?  TAKEDA Hisaburo designed a PENTAGON shaped fort.  (BTW, it looks like as star but its name means five side fort, so . . . there you go!  A pentagon with a five pointed star inside.)

But wait!  There’s more!! Are you ready?  Here we go!


The name Hakodate might ring a bell for readers. In 1904 Takeda Sokaku, requested by the Municipal Court of Hakodate to help with security, began the visit that lead to his famous “gangster showdown.” [You should look that up too.] Daito Ryu being practiced in Hakodate before 1904 by Hakodate prosecutors, court employees and policemen shows a connection between the early settlers of Hokkaido (Tokugawa Loyalists) and Takeda Sokaku.

If one studies the life of Takeda Sokaku it becomes clear that he spent a large part of this time teaching in areas that were strongholds of Tokugawa Shogunate loyalists. This ought not be surprising considering his family history.

So, where is the illuminati (like) connection?


As mentioned earlier, within the Asagao are five lines forming a pentagon, these five lines can also be connected to form the character 大 (It means “big or great” the character is based on a person holding their arms out.) The Asagao, the pentagon, the 5 sided star, and the 大 all conform to the shape of the Hakodate fort designed by Takeda Hisaburo, a Tokugawa loyalist.

Could this all be just a coincidence, or is there a hidden relationship?

大 happens to be the first character in the name Daito Ryu 大東流. The second character in Daito Ryu is “東” which means east, as in “Tokyo” 東京 (Edo) or Eastern capital, the Tokugawa Shogunate capitol, which the Aizu remained loyal to, and who’s loyalists prepared to lay down their lives for in Hakodate (think Alamo) in a showdown that marked the end of Edo period.

Could it be that the 大東 name (as in 大東流) is an unspoken homage ((historical) In feudalism, the formal oath of a vassal to honor his or her lord’s rights.) to the Tokugawa Shogunate from a “dyed in the wool” loyalist?

Where did Takeda Sokaku’s allegiances lie? In 1875, Sokaku learned of the Satsuma rebellion and at once left to lend his sword in support of the rebels. Takeda never made it to the battle, but his actions speak volumes as to where his allegiance lied.

So, is that the end of our story? Maybe not.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch . . .

In 1914 Sagawa Yukiyoshi began studying Daito Ryu in Hokkaido under Takada Sokaku after being taught by his father Sagawa Nenokichi, a Kyoju Dairi in the art. In 1915, Yoshida Kotaro (a journalist with many ties to ultra-nationalist and other “below the radar” organizations) introduced Ueshiba Morihei, who was living in Shirataki Hokkaido, to Takeda Sokaku at the Hisada Inn in Engaru Hokkaido. Ueshiba left Hokkaido in 1919, met Onisaburo Deguchi in 1920 and stayed. Joined in Ayabe by Takeda Sokaku in 1922, Ueshiba later received Kyoju Dairi in Daito Ryu. Onisaburo Deguchi left with Ueshiba a few others in 1924 with the goal of establishing a “utopian community” in Mongolia.

We know of Takeda’s political leanings. We know of Yoshida’s political activities. But what of Onisaburo Deguchi? Where does he fit in? Was he simply Ueshiba’s religious mentor or there more ties that bound these individuals together?

Onisaburo, Toyama, Uchida

Here is a picture of Onisaburo Deguchi (Omoto Kyo primary leader and mentor to Ueshiba Morihei), Toyama Mitsuru (a founder the Genyosha “Black Ocean Society,” a nationalist secret society, after fighting as a youth in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1874. This is the same uprising against the new Meiji government, that Takeda Sokaku tried to join. The Genyosha attracted disaffected ex-samurai and members of organized crime. It planned and executed violence against and assassination of foreigners and liberal politicians) and Uchida Ryohei (founder of the Black Dragon Society a prominent paramilitary, ultranationalist right-wing group which picked up where the Genyosha left off) What did these fellows have in common? They all had Pan-Asian ambitions, often claiming the aim of freeing the people of Asia from Western domination. These movements involved overt and covert activity in Manchuria/Siberia/and Korea, an could boast membership of leading members of government, military, business, intelligence communities, and organizations specializing in “off the books” endeavors.

Now we see the common ties binding these diverse individuals. We know what happened to Takeda. We can easily look up what happened to Toyama and Uchida. But wait, wasn’t the Omoto Kyo persecuted and their leadership put in jail by the ruling government? Yes. The Omoto Kyo under the leadership of Onisaburo Deguchi grew so powerful that the government felt threatened, destroyed buildings, seized assets, and imprisoned leaders including Deguchi for Lèse-majesté. But what of Ueshiba?

Ueshiba was catapulted to prominence in Tokyo via a newly found association with, and support of, “Leading members of government, military, business, intelligence communities and members of organizations specializing in “off the books” endeavors.”


Toyama Academy 1931

This was the “Kobukan” (皇武館道場, imperial warrior hall dojo) period. This period found Ueshiba traveling back to Manchuria, but this time not to establish a utopian community.


The ground had already been cleared for a “new utopian society” by the Japanese military units utilizing intelligence and capitalizing on the covert actions of the spy networks already mentioned. The establishment of Manshukuo was the natural extension of the colonization of Korea and “liberation” of other Asian territories.


#6 is Ueshiba Morihei.  For more information visit Aikido Sangenkai

Ueshiba went Manchukuo to lend support to further “development of the community” that was actively being established under the leadership of Japan. Ueshiba’s new art was already being taught by his student Tomiki Kenji in a Manchukou University that focused on developing “right minded” future community leaders. Ueshiba’s support should come as no surprise. All one need do is look at virtually any publication (film or print) associated with Ueshiba during this period “Kobukan” (皇武館道場, imperial warrior hall dojo). The verbiage reflects pro-military zeal of the time clearly stating that wherever the Imperial Japanese Military went, the great Yamato spirit went as well, reflecting the will of the Kami.

Kenkoku Daigaku Manchuria 1942

So it seems that during this time, many of these associated individual’s goals were coming to fruition in the establishment of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Japanese: 大東亜共栄圏).


Oh look! There is 大東 again! (Twilight Zone begins playing in the background.)

After the unconditional surrender of Japan just about everything mentioned, or in anyway associated with, any of the above became instantly unpopular. In order for the new generation to be successful they had to reinvent themselves, most often times burying any association with the glorious military past, yamato damashi and supportive kami.

They say time heals all wounds. They also say those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The interesting thing about history is that we all play a part in the shaping of it . . . now.

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11 thoughts on “ASAGAO

  1. Hi Allen,

    Thanks for the great post. I read Takeda Tokimune referred to the Asagao as a kuden teaching of daito ryu. Your post explains why.

    The fortress of Goryukaku might simply be a copy of western designs.

    The still extant dutch fortress of Bourtange

    is also a five sided star, but not derived from the Asagao but the fortification principles of Vauban.

    A certain size of fortress comes out 5 pointed, A larger one six or more pointed.



  2. Hi Allen,

    Actually if it was build around 1850, artillery still used solid shot and the vauban system worked. Explosive shells after 1865 started to make the vauban system obsolete.

    So it might have been right when it was designed, but the technological advances in artillery of the 1860’s made it obsolete.



  3. Great post. Thanks again Allen.

    It irks me that people refer to Asago as a hand posture. To use the very overused saying, it’s the journey (spiral motion) not the destination (static position). The half way house is where the forearm is turned, but the hand remains extended throughout. “But it’s spiralling.” Yeah.

    The complexity of loyalties you’ve raised is very interesting. There seems to be surface contradictions between earlier support for pro-Shogunate vs. later support for the Empire. But you’ve stated the underlying common thread that really does pop up everywhere. Interesting stuff!


    1. Hi Vincent,

      If you are asking in the context of comparison to all of the content in my blog the answer is, “Yes and No.” All of the content was covered in many ways at many times. They were not specifically related to Asagao in each of those places and times. Obviously the hand posture was covered as well.

      At a certain point, it became clear to me the natural overlap. For example, sensei would teach, “If it comes, greet it. If it leaves, send it on its way. If it opposes, harmonize. Never chase after leaving things.” Every one of these phrases are about the application of Aiki. They also specifically relate to the use of Asagao (hand referent) , but they are not restricted to the hand. The teaching referred to in the phrases and referred to with Asagao can be applied universally.

      Specific application is of far less value than broad truisms. I am always looking for the simplest broadest way. I call it, looking for a “super string theory.” Why?

      When I leverage specific knowledge gives more “bang for the buck” learning wise. And, in combat specific knowledge requires specific thought processes. Specific thought processes not only are difficult if one experiences an adrenaline dump, but they also tend to lead to “tunnel vision” like thinking. And tunnel vision like thinking almost always leads to failure.

      Great question!

      Thank you for asking,


  4. Hi Allen,

    On an interesting comparative track there was a development in fencing in the 1970’s.

    Traditionally fencing was taught based on complicated theories and models.

    Emil Beck, by traininig a hair dresser with a passion for fencing developed a system called the TBB fecht lektionen. This simplified the teaching and learning system to a series of “kata” that could be practised easily using large number of repetitions.

    This actually created basic reflexes for defence and attack that bypassed consious thinking. I suppose the Mushin comes in here. This was very succesful for many years and the basis for a lot of modern fencing teaching.

    A route that looks not dissimilar from yours.



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