Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was born in Japan on December 14,
1883. As a boy, he often saw local thugs beat up his father for
political reasons. He set out to make himself strong so that he
could take revenge. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning
and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving
certificates of mastery in several styles of jujitsu, fencing, and
spear fighting. In spite of his impressive physical and martial
capabilities, however, he felt very dissatisfied. He began delving
into religions in hopes of finding a deeper significance to life,
all the while continuing to pursue his studies of budo, or the
martial arts. By combining his martial training with his religious
and political ideologies, he created the modern martial art of
Aikido. Ueshiba decided on the name 'Aikido' in 1942 (before that he
called his martial art 'aikibudo' and 'aikinomichi').
On the technical side,
Aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern
judo is also derived), in particular daitoryu-(aiki)jujitsu, as well
as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may
say that Aikido takes the joint locks and throws from jujitsu and
combines them with the body movements of sword and spear fighting.
However, we must also realize that many Aikido techniques are the
result of Master Ueshiba's own innovation.
On the religious side, Ueshiba was a devotee of one of Japan's
so-called 'new religions,' Omotokyo. Omotokyo was (and is) part neo-shintoism,
and part socio-political idealism. One goal of omotokyo has been the
unification of all humanity in a single 'heavenly kingdom on earth'
where all religions would be united under the banner of omotokyo. It
is impossible sufficiently to understand many of O Sensei's writings
and sayings without keeping the influence of Omotokyo firmly in
Despite what many people think or claim, there is no unified
philosophy of Aikido. What there is, instead, is a disorganized and
only partially coherent collection of religious, ethical, and
metaphysical beliefs which are only more or less shared by
Aikidoists, and which are either transmitted by word of mouth or
found in scattered publications about Aikido.
There is still insufficient data available,
concerning the full history of Aikido and its origins, and while
more will, no doubt be discovered, the following is a brief outline
of what has been learned to date.
The Rise and Fall of the Imperial System
(4th-12th Century AD)
Japanese History is the embodiment of Imperial
History. Its story begins with the Yamato race which established
itself in a small province in central Imperial Japan during the 4th
century. In the course of about the next 300 years, the Yamato
family gradually gained control over the numerous warring tribes and
clans in the surrounding provinces.
It was by way of trade connections with Korea and China (under
the Han Dynasty) that Japan gained the political and cultural
foundation upon which Japanese culture was built. However, as
cultural contact with China was interrupted towards the end of the
9th century, Japanese civilization began to take on its own special
characteristics and form. Life in the capital was marked by great
elegance and refinement. While the court gave itself up to the
pursuits of the arts and social pleasures, its authority over
martial clans in the provinces became increasingly uncertain.
Effective control passed into the hands of two rival families,
the Minamoto and the Taira, who both traced their descent from
previous Emperors. The Minamoto finally prevailed, annihilating the
Taira clan in 1185. This Minamoto victory marked the end of the
Imperial Throne as the effective political power in Japan, and the
beginning of seven centuries of feudal rule.
The Feudal Age And The Samurai
At the onset of the feudal age, the Samurai were
peasant farmers who fought for their Lords as well as they could
when the occasion arose. As conflict between landlords became more
frequent, it became necessary to train armed groups to protect the
respective boundaries. At this time, these armed groups were called
Samurai or Bushi, but their status in society was not established
until a military government was formed by the Minamoto family in
1192. This military government (the Shogunate) encouraged austerity
and the pursuit of martial arts and related disciplines for the
Samurai. These studies were eventually codified and called Bushido -
The Way of the Samurai.
Early Development of the Martial Arts (Bugei)
As the feudal era advanced, the Samurai came to
occupy the uppermost strata of Japanese society. Their principal
duty was to learn and practice many martial arts, the skills
necessary to fulfil their allegiance to the feudal lord for whom
they were expected to fight and die.
There were numerous martial arts which the Bushi were required to
learn: Kenjutsu (sword), Bajutsu (horsemanship), Kyujutsu (archery),
and Sojtsu (spear) constituted the principal combat arts. A
favourite saying among Bushi at that time was 'Master Eighteen
Martial Arts'. Additionally, it was necessary that the Bushi learn a
secondary system of combat techniques to support their armed
fighting methods. These unarmed techniques were referred to as
Kum7iuchi and involved a form of grappling techniques which evolved
from Sumo (combat wrestling). Throughout the feudal era, the
distinction between armed and unarmed techniques became greater.
Development of Unarmed Techniques and Aiki-Jujutsu
By degrees, unarmed combat techniques developed
into different systems and styles (ryu). Varying battlefield
situations and the technical requirement of feudal warfare led to
the establishment of various ryu which were controlled by, and
passed down through, the larger powerful families. One of these
systems was Aiki-Jujutsu. It is not completely clear where Aiki
techniques originated, but it is said to have originated with Prince
Tei Jun, the 6th son of the Emperor Selwa (850-880), and passed on
to succeeding generations of the Minamoto family. By the time the
art reached Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, the younger brother of Yishite
Minamoto, it seems that the foundations of modern Aikido had already
Yoshimitsu was a man of exceptional learning and skill, and it is
said that he devised much of his technique by watching a spider
skilfully trap a large insect in its fragile web. His house, Daito
mansion has given its name to his system of Aiki-Jujutsu which came
to be called Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu.
Yoshimitsu's second son lived in Takeda, in the province of Kai,
and his family became known by the name Takeda. Subsequently, the
techniques of Daito Ryu were passed on to successive generations as
secret techniques of the Tekeda house and were made known only to
family members and retainers. When Kunitsugu Takeda moved to Aizu in
1574, the technique came to be known as Aizu-todome (secret
During the 16th century, Japan was embroiled in civil wars. Each
feudal Lord (Daimyo) struggled to maintain a powerful, independent
position within the country. In order to do so, each Daimyo had to
create a stable, unified force of his own, which required a very
strong bond between the lord and his Bushi. Bushido, the code of the
Samurai, encouraged the development of combat techniques; cultivated
the qualities of justice, benevolence, politeness and honour; and
above all inculcated the idea of supreme loyalty to lord and cause.
It was during this period of independence and feudal isolation that
combat forms developed into numerous ryu.
Aiki-Jujutsu and its Social Background
The next two and a half centuries (Tokugawa
period) were relatively peaceful for Japan. Though they continued to
practice, the Samurai as a class, saw little combat, and refined the
various martial arts of Kenjutsu, Iai jutsu, Bajutsu, and forms of
Jujutsu. Ju is a Chinese word meaning pliable, harmonious, adaptable
or yielding, Jutsu means technique. As a collective term applied to
all fighting forms, Jujutsu came into existence long after the forms
it describes originated. Jujutsu's golden age extended from the late
17th century to the mid 19th century.
As the martial arts and all Japanese culture became strongly
influenced by Buddhist concepts, the fighting arts were transformed
from combat techniques (Bugei) into 'ways' (Budo), inculcating
self-discipline, self-perfection and philosophy. The dimensions of
the martial arts expanded beyond the simple objective of killing an
enemy to include many aspects of everyday living. Particularly after
the decline of the Samurai class, the martial 'techniques' became
martial 'ways' and great emphasis was placed upon the study of Budo
as a means of generating the moral strength necessary to build a
strong and vital society.
At the time, Aikido was known by many names, and remained an
exclusively Samurai practice handed down within the Takeda family
until Japan emerged from isolation in the Meiji period. The Meiji
Revolution (1868) brought not only the return of Imperial supremacy,
but also a westernised cultural, political and economic way of life
The Bushi, as a class, virtually disappeared under a new
constitution that proclaimed all classes equal, but the essence of
Bushido, cultivated for many centuries, continued to play an
important part in the daily lives of the Japanese. Budo, being less
combative and more concerned with spiritual discipline by which one
elevates oneself mentally and physically, was more attractive to the
common people of every social strata. Accordingly, Kenjutsu became
Kendo, Iai jutsu became Iaido, Jojutsu became Jodo and Jujutsu
O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba: The Founder of Modern
As a young man, Morihei Ueshiba (born 14th
December 1883) had an unusual interest in the martial arts,
philosophy and religion. The environment of his youth, one of
religious discipline and tradition, had an enormous effect on the
course of his later life.
In the year 1898, Ueshiba left his home village outside Osaka and
travelled to Tokyo, seeking instruction in the martial arts. He
actively investigated dozens of arts, but was eventually drawn to
specialize in three: the sword style known as Yagyu Shin-Kageryu,
the staff style known as Hozoin-ryu and Tenjin Shinyo Jujutsu.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904) provided Ueshiba with a real
situation to develop himself mentally and physically, in accord with
the principles he had learned during his martial arts training.
Ueshiba the soldier, spent most of the war years in the harsh
climate of Northern Manchuria and by the end of the war, his health
had deteriorated considerably. With characteristic vigour, he
regained his vitality by the way of long hours spent in outdoor
labour. Soon, Ueshiba was engaged by the government to lead a group
of immigrants to Hokkaido (the Northern Island of Japan).
Another adventurous young man also made the move to Hokkaido, his
name was Sokaku Takeda, head of the Takeda family. Ueshiba and
Takeda met in 1905 and Ueshiba began his study of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu
under Takeda Sensei. In addition, he continued to practice the other
arts he had learned in Tokyo, particularly Kenjutsu and Jojutsu.
Travelling home to visit his ailing father, Ueshiba met Onisaburo
Deguchi, leader of the Omotokyo religion. Ueshiba was very impressed
with Deguchi and subsequently became one of his disciples. Although
his commitment led him to further develop his mind, his martial arts
studies were not neglected. In 1925 Ueshiba organized his own style
of Aiki Jujutsu, largely for his own spiritual and physical
During the next decade, Ueshiba's students ( Tomiki, Mochizuki,
Shioda and others) were active in building a foundation for present
day Aikido. Ueshiba, however, was interested in seeking the true
martial way, the essential spirit of Budo. In his search he left the
dojo to work at farming. Through his closeness with nature and
continued training, he tried to unify his spiritual and physical
being. In 1950, Ueshiba returned to the Tokyo dojo with a mature,
modified art which he then called Aikido.
The evolution of martial 'arts' to 'ways', Bugei to Budo. Ueshiba
diligently applied himself to the reworking of the techniques he had
taught, and synthesized them into a form that taught harmony and
love rather than violence and decimation. In this way he was able to
integrate his spiritual beliefs and his great technical proficiency.
Ueshiba proclaimed that the true Budo way (the way of the
warrior) was the way of peaceful reconciliation. He dedicated
himself to the design of an art that would teach technical prowess
and strength, and commitment to the self-discipline needed for
personal growth. He dubbed this new form Aikido.
Ueshiba continued to instruct until his death in 1969, earning
the respect and admiration of all who met him. Before his death he
received a government award as the designer of modern Aikido, and
general acclaim for his efforts to bring peace and enlightenment to
all. As his concern and energy touched the lives of his students he
worked with, several styles of Aikido evolved. The most notable of
these styles are Yoshinkan, Tomiki, Aikikai and the most recent
Shinshin Toitsu. The founders of these styles are all dedicated men
committed to the precepts set down by Master Ueshiba. Each has
developed certain elements of O Sensei's teachings, so each style
differs from the others while maintaining an essential sameness.