Sokaku Takeda: “Is This Photo Faked?”, by Stanley Pranin

“A doctored photo? What do you think?”

Take a look at this highly unusual photo of Sokaku Takeda, disseminator of Daito-ryu jujutsu and teacher of Morihei Ueshiba. First, allow me to provide some background information. This photo was taken about 1939 in Osaka, probably at the Asahi News dojo, during the period when Sokaku was teaching Daito-ryu to employees of the newspaper.

The Asahi dojo had an interesting background. Its first instructor was none other than Morihei Ueshiba from 1933-1936, and then Sokaku Takeda from 1936-1939. Sokaku took over instruction duties at the Asahi dojo under rather strange circumstances which you can read more about here. Several of the few surviving photos of Sokaku were taken in Osaka because the trainees had access to the facilities and equipment of the newspaper, one of Japan’s largest.

Now let’s examine the photo itself. Sokaku has raised a student onto his shoulders prior to executing a twisting throw characteristic to Daito-ryu. The photo appears posed as Sokaku is stiff-legged and standing still. Also, notice that the body of the student appears to be supported by Sokaku’s outstretched arms. Sokaku’s extended right arm is clearly visible while his left hand seems to be supporting the student’s right leg. But perhaps the most condemning detail is the fact that the student is gazing leisurely into the camera and seems quite undistressed in this position. Believe me, if Sokaku were actually applying the technique, uke would be in extreme pain!

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  1. I believe Mr.Threadgill gives the best interpretation.

  2. The impatient look on Mr Takeda’s face and that of the uke suggest one of them just thought, if not said, “Is this pose OK? So hurry up with those dam gadgets, I can’t stay like this all day..”
    He was probably also thinking, “I can still do it at my age but what a bore just to show off for posterity. Hope it turns out after all this histrionics ..”
    Slow aperture speed and lots of fiddling, they would have had to hold the position if not repeat several takes.

  3. By definition, any portrait is staged or faked! People are asked to stand a certain way, lighting is manipulated, timing is made up, etc. All fake. Nothing spontaneous, real, authentic, on the spot capturing of a real event as it actually happens.

    On this basis the word “faked” does not carry any malicious connotations at all. Who is being misled? Everyone can look and draw their own conclusion. The title evoked a response. It did its job to capture attention. The article per se contained no “muckraking” at all. It posed some valid questions, using freedom of speech to evoke freedom of thought. Sensible people responded with sincerity at the front door and not obliquely. What a lovely thing.

    Even in the case of cinéma vérité or reportage by definition is fake. The only authentic shot would be raw footage in battlefield. (Even then, the bulk of what has been published since WW1 turned out to be faked for propaganda purposes purposes.)

  4. George Szaszvari says:

    As Nev says, the photo take is necessarily staged, assuming the technique is the Mountain Drop throw (akin to kata guruma in judo), or similar. There is no reason for the uke aloft to be showing pain whether a static pose or in flight.

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