The Founder Of Aikido
1883 - 1969
The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, was born on
December 14, 1883, to a farming family in an area of the Wakayama
Prefecture now known as Tanabe. Among five children, he was the only
son. From his father Yoroku, he inherited a samurai's determination
and interest in public affairs, and from his mother an intense
interest in religion, poetry and art. In his early childhood,
Morihei was rather weak and sickly, which led to his preference of
staying indoors to read books instead of playing outside. He loved
to listen to the miraculous legends of the wonder-working saints "En
no Gyoja" and "Kobo Daishi," and was fascinated by the esoteric
Buddhist riturals. Morihei had even considered becoming a Buddhist
priest at one time.
To counteract his son's daydreaming, Yoroki would recount the
tales of Morihei's great-grandfather "Kichiemon," said to be one of
the strongest samurai of his day, and encouraged him to study Sumo
wrestling and swimming. Morihei became stronger and finally realized
the necessity of being strong after his father was attacked and
beaten by a gang of thugs hired by a rival politician.
School seemed to bore Morihei as his nervous energy needed a more
practical outlet. He took on several jobs, but they too seemed to
disillusion him. During a brief stint as a merchant, he finally
realized he had an affinity for the martial arts. He greatly enjoyed
his study of Jujutsu at the Kito-ryu dojo and Swordsmanship at the
Shinkage Ryu training center. But as luck would have it, a severe
case of Beri-Beri sent him home, where he later married Itogawa
After regaining his health during the Russo-Japanese War period,
he decided to enlist in the army. Standing at just under five feet
tall, he failed to meet the minimum height requirements. He was so
upset that he went immediately to the forests and swung on trees
trying desperately to stretch his body out. On his next attempt to
enlist, he passed his examination and became an infantryman in 1903.
During this time he impressed his superiors so much that this
commanding officer recommended him for the National Military
Academy, but for various reasons he declined the position and
resigned from active duty.
Morihei returned home to the farm. Having grown strong during his
time in the military, he was now eager to continue physical
training. His father built a dojo on his farm and invited the
well-known Jujutsu instructor Takaki Kiyoichi to tutor him. During
this time, young Ueshiba became stronger and found he possessed
great skills. At the same time he became more interested in
political affairs. In the Spring of 1912, at the age of 29, he and
his family moved into the wilderness of Hokkaido. After a few years
of struggle, the small village started to prosper. Ueshiba had grown
tremendously muscular, to the point that the power he possessed in
his arms became almost legendary.
It was during this time in Hokkaido that he met Sokaku Takeda,
grandmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Jutsu. After meeting Takeda and find
himself no match for his teacher, Ueshiba seemed to forget
everything else and threw himself into training. After about a
month, he went back to Shirataki, build a dojo and invited Takeda to
live there, which he did.
Upon hearing of his father's serious illness, Ueshiba sold off
most of his property and left the dojo to Takeda. He would not to
return to Hokkaido. On his journey home, he impulsively stopped in
Ayabe, headquarters for the new Omoto-kyo religion. Here he met the
master of the new religion, Deguchi Onisaburo. After being
enthralled with Ayabe and Deguchi, he stayed three additional days
and upon returning home, found that he had stayed away too long. His
father had passed away. Ueshiba took his father's death very hard.
He decided to sell off all his ancestral land and move to Ayabe to
study Omoto-kyo. For the next eight years, Ueshiba studied with
Deguchi Onisaburo, taught Budo, and headed up the local fire
A pacifist, Deguchi was an advocate of non-violent resistance and
universal disarmament. He was noted to have said, "Armament and war
are the means by which the landlords and capitalists make their
profit, while the poor suffer." It is intriguing that a man of this
nature could become so close to a martial artist such as Ueshiba.
However, it did not take long for Deguchi to realize that Ueshiba's
purpose on earth was " to teach the real meaning of Budo: an end to
all fighting and contention. "
The study of Omoto-kyo and his association with Onisaburo
profoundly affected Ueshiba's life. He once stated that while Sokaku
Takeda opened his eyes to the essence of Budo, his enlightenment
came from his Omoto-kyo experiences. During his early 40s (around
1925), Ueshiba had several spiritual experiences which so impressed
him that his life and his training were forever changed. He realized
the true purpose of Budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all
For the next year, many people sought Ueshiba's teaching, among
them Tomiki Kenji (who went on to make his own style of Aikido) and
the famous Admiral Takeshita. In 1927, Deguchi Onisaburo encouraged
Ueshiba to separate from Omoto-kyo and being his own way. This he
did and moved to Tokyo. Ueshiba's following had grown to the point
that he was moved to build a formal dojo in the Ushigome district of
the city (the present site of the Aikido World Headquarters). While
the dojo was being constructed, many high-ranking instructors of
other arts, such and Kano Jigoro, came to visit. They were so
impressed that they would dispatch their own students to study under
In 1931, the "Kobukan" was
finished. A "Budo Enhancement Society" was founded in 1932 with
Ueshiba as Chief Instructor. It was about this time that students
such as Shioda Gozo, Shirata Rinjiro and others joined the dojo. Up
to the outbreak of World War II, Ueshiba was extremely busy teaching
at the Kobukan, as well as holding special classes for the major
military and police academies. For the next 10 years, Ueshiba became
more and more famous and many stories began to appear in writing.
His only son, Kisshomaru, being the "bookworm" that he was, did much
of the writing and documenting of the evens of his life.
In 1942, supposedly because of a divine command, he longed to
return to the farmlands. He had often said that "Budo and farming
are one. " The war had emptied the Kobukan, and he was tired of city
life. Leaving the Kobukan in the hands of his son Kisshomaru, he
moved to the Ibaraki Prefecture and the village of Iwama. Here he
build an outdoor dojo and the now famous Aiki Shrine.
Iwama is considered by many to be the birth place of modern-day
Aikido, "the Way of Harmony." Prior to this move, his system had
been called Aikijutsu, then Aiki-Budo, still primarily a martial art
rather than a spiritual path. From 1942 (when the name Aikido was
first formally used) to 1952, Ueshiba consolidated the techniques
and perfected the religious philosophy of Aikido.
After the war, Aikido grew rapidly at the Kobukan (now called
Hombu Dojo) under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Morihei
Ueshiba had become famous as "O Sensei" or "The Grand Teacher," the
Master of Aikido. He had also received many decorations from the
Japanese government. Right up to the end of his life, O Sensei
refined and improved his "Way", never losing his dedication for hard
In early Spring 1969, O Sensei fell ill and told his son
Kisshomaru that "God is calling me...." He was returned to his home
at his request to be near his dojo. On April 15th, his condition
became critical. As his students made their last calls, he gave his
final instructions. "Aikido is for the entired world. Train not for
selfish reasons, but for all people everywhere."
Early on the morning of April 26th, 1969, the 86-year-old O
Sensei took his son's hand, smiled and said, "Take care of things"
and died. Two months later, Hatsu, his wife of 67 years, followed
him. O Sensei's ashes were buried in the family temple in Tanabe.
Every year a memorial service is held on April 29th at the Aiki
Shrine in Iwama.