Birth of the Founder
O'Sensei Morihei Ueshiba was born on the14th of December 1883 in the city of Tanabe, located in Wakayama Prefecture. He was the fourth child of the family and the only boy.
His father,Yoroki Ueshiba was a wealthy farmer and active member of the council. His mother Yuki Itokawa was a descendant of a noble family of the Takeda clan.
The young Morihei apparently was a child born prematurely, with a weak constitution and often sick. His father took great pains to help improve his health and encouraged him to strengthen his body. At the age of seven, he enrolled in a swimming and sumo school where he was taught Aioi –ryu, a secret martial art, a mixture of Tai- Jitsu and Kendo . Being witness of many attacks from bandits to his father , Morihei was determined to become strong. Therefore he worked with fishermen on boats and participated in all the wrestling contests.
The education of young Morihei began with the study of Buddhist texts and classic texts of Confucianism at Jizodera , a Buddhist temple near the Shingon sect . He was graduated at the " Yoshida Abacus Institute and then he worked until 1902 at the office of taxes of Tanabe at the investment income service.
At the age of seventeen, the teenager left home to open a stationery shop in Tokyo with the help of wealthy parents and he founded the " Ueshiba Trading Compagny" specialized in the distribution of school materials. During this brief visit to Tokyo he deepened his knowledge of martial arts in the evening classes, at the school of jujutsu «Tengin Shinyo -Ryu», headed by Sensei Tokusaburo Tojawa and at the Kenjutsu school " Shinkage Kenjutsu."
The passage in the army
Less than a year later, after having contracted the beriberi, Morihei had to leave Tokyo and returned to his hometown of Tanabe for treatment. The same year he married Hatsu Itokawa (born 1881), a distant relative he knew since his childhood.
Learning from his adventure in Tokyo, the young Morihei had realized that he was not made for trade. Infatuated by the adventures, he decided in 1903 to enlist in the army, which was recruiting to meet the need in men.
First they refused him because he was too small. Mortified, Morihei tied a heavy weight to his legs and hung on a tree branch for hours to lengthen his spine. Finally, he was enlisted in the 37th Regiment of the fourth division of Osaka .
His great skill in martial arts was revealed during training with the bayonet in which he proved to be a particularly soldier. So they gave him the nickname " God of the soldiers " because of his great skill in bayonet and Juken -Jutsu and also because of his determination to work and his honesty.
In 1904 he was sent to the front during the Russo-Japanese War and returned with the rank of sergeant.
The trip to Hokkaido
Morihei gradually developed interest in a government plan to colonize the northern island of Hokkaido . In March 1912 he became head of a group of fifty-four families, more than eighty people , that he ‘ll bring and install in a remote northern part of the island and where he’ll build the village of Shirataki near Yobetsu .
Shirataki village in Hokkaido
The life of the settlers was Spartan. The group, named Kishu, devoted himself mainly to agricultural and forestry work. Morihei seemed to thrive in these difficult living conditions where winters were harsh and work heavy. He also participated in local politics as territorial adviser. At that time a fact made a deep impression on Morihei’s life and influenced in some way the development of the future of Aikido : in February 1915 he met, in the city of Engaru , the eccentric .Sokaku Takeda Sensei , specialist in Daito Ryu jujutsu, who was installed on the island of Hokkaido that he traveled regularly in order to conduct the jujutsu training .
Morihei Ueshiba was then only thirty two. He was already very skilled in martial arts but not as much as Takeda Sensei, who was at that time in the prime of life.
Morihei was fascinated by the number, the complexity and the power in the techniques practiced by Takeda. Therefore he devoted much time and money on the learning of them. He even invited Sokaku to live at home in order to receive private tutoring. As all these private lessons were expensive , his father helped him financially by sending him funds from Tanabe .
Morihei became very quickly one of the best students of Takeda and received a degree in education at the first level of Daito- ryu in 1917. The teaching transmitted to him included hundreds of highly sophisticated techniques, consisting of arm locks, projections and neutralization techniques. All these techniques will be the basics for what would later become the Aikido of Ueshiba Sensei. It was also at this period that his first son Takemori was born.
The meeting with Deguchi Onisaburo
In November 1919, Morihei received a telegram informing him that his father Yoroku was seriously ill . He then terminated abruptly his stay in Shirataki and his training in Daito- Ryu and hastily left Hokkaido Tanabe to win and go to the bedside of his dying father. Morihei quickly put his affairs in order , bequeathing all his possessions, his modest house and furniture to his master Sokaku Takeda.
During the journey back to Tanabe, Morihei Ueshiba heard from a traveling companion about extraordinary healing powers of a religious leader named Onisaburo Deguchi. Morihei then changed abruptly his route to visit the small town of Ayabe , near Kyoto , to meet the religious leader and ask him to pray for the recovery of his father.
Just like his encounter of Sokaku Takeda Sensei , the meeting with Onisaburo , a charismatic personality of the Omoto - kyo religion, famous for its Chikon Kishin ( meditation technique ), which should lead to mental serenity and closer to the divine ) , upset his life.
Master Ueshiba was as much influenced by Sokaku Takeda ‘s jujutsu techniques as by Onisaburo Deguchi ‘s ideology and spiritual concepts of life. Morihei finally spent a few days in Ayabe which was the spiritual center of the Omoto religion, before returning to Tanabe.
When Morihei reached Tanabe , his father Yoroku ,sixty –six years old , had already died since January 2.
The adventure in Mongolia
The Onisaburo Deguchi projects to increase the influence of the Omoto religion were numerous and magnificent . They exposed to Ueshiba and a handful of friends a very secret utopian design that consisted of applying a religious state in Mongolia where the Chinese and Japanese armies confronted each other and in creating a Sino-Japanese alliance.
February 13, 1924 Onisaburo ,Ueshiba and a group of relatives left for the mainland and joined their fates , to achieve their goals with a rebel soldier , Lu Chang K'uei commander operating in the area.
It was during this trip that we had the famous episode where Ueshiba , threatened with death by enemies, armed with guns, saw in the form of rays of light , the direction of the bullets coming towards him and could thus avoid them with no harm done to him. But unfortunately they were soon captured by Chinese troops and sentenced to death . They owed their survival to the intervention in extremis of the Japanese consulate. Several photographs taken during their captivity demonstrate their painful experience.
The return to Japan
Ueshiba returned to Ayabe . He resumed teaching martial arts at the Ueshiba academy and worked also at the Tennodaira farm. At this period he was particularly interested in teaching Sojutsu ( the art of spear) , Ken- jutsu and jujutsu . He counted among his students in Daito- ryu, a number of naval officers such as the distinguished admiral Seiko Asano, also a follower of the Omoto religion.
Gradually, the news, that master Ueshiba performed feats of martial arts, spread. Seiko Asano praised Ueshiba, to his colleagues in the marine, and encouraged another Admiral Isamu Takeshita , to come to Ayabe to discover the martial art taught by Morihei . Admiral Takeshita was very impressed and did his best for Morihei to demonstrate and conduct training in Tokyo. His exceptional skills in jujitsu and his charisma soon made him a highly regarded instructor within the military and political elite of Tokyo.
In 1925 came an event that radically changed the vision of Ueshiba on martial arts. A naval officer and Kendo master challenged him in combat. Ueshiba accepted and won the fight without actually fighting. He didn’t use his sword but avoided or deflected each shot of the officer as he was able to visualize the trajectory of these shots before the officer got to him. After the battle, Master Ueshiba, exhausted, retired in his garden for a dip at the well. On that moment he felt a great sense of peace and serenity . It suddenly struck him that he was bathed in a golden light descending from heaven. His body and his mind seemed of gold. This intense and unique experience was his personal revelation, the Satori.
Ueshiba said: " I was suddenly feeling that the universe trembled and a golden energy rose from the earth and surrounded my body with a veil , turning it into a golden body. At the same moment my body and my mind became bright. I could understand the songs of the birds and I was aware of the spirit of God "...
" Suddenly I understood the nature of creation , The Warrior's Way , which was to spread divine love " Aikido was born! He pointed to this teaching as the Aiki - Budo rather than Aiki Bujutsu.
The subducting character of ‘do’ to ‘jutsu’ completely changed the spirit of the study: one passed from the " martial Aiki technique " to " the martial way of Aiki ".
The Tokyo property
At the beginning of his installation, Ueshiba taught in private homes of several of his patrons. His students were military officers, politicians and business leaders. Among them, was Admiral Takeshita, a very passionate student: He had chaired the Sumo Association, and supported Ueshiba. He had studied Daito- ryu for over ten years and had lectured in his home. Admiral Takeshita took great pains to make Ueshiba and his art known in various media . This support was certainly decisive in the success that Ueshiba experienced in Tokyo.
In 1930, a fundraise allowed the opening of a dojo in Ushigome , Shinjuku , that he’ll name the ‘Kobukan’ . Currently it was still here that the headquarters of the Aikikai took place .In October 1930, it was visited by Jigoro Kano Sensei, master Kokodan , founder of the Judo . Master Kano was so impressed by the techniques of Ueshiba that he sent many of his best students to learn Aikido. The Kobukan dojo was then known as the "Hell Dojo".
Among the students in this time were renown practitioners such as Yoichiro Inoue , Kenji Tomiki , Minoru Mochizuki , Tsutomo Yokawa , Shigemi Yonekawa , Gozo Shioda and Rinjiro Shirata .
Between 1939 and 1940, in addition to his teaching at Kobukan , Morihei was hired to teach martial arts in various military academies such as the school for officers in Toyama, the Nakano spies school , the naval school, etc. . But in reality the teaching was often delegated to advanced students from Kobukan as the employment time of Ueshiba was overloaded.
During part of this time, Ueshiba was employed to teach the techniques of Daito- ryu Aiki - jujutsu - and delivered the written diplomas on rollers. However, his relationship with Takeda Sensei had deteriorated and he gradually had distanced himself from his former teacher . Morihei seemed to have had no contact with Sokaku Takeda after the mid- thirties.
In 1931 the "Association for the promotion of martial arts"was created under the auspices of the Omoto religion at the instigation of Onisaburo This association was created in order to promote the work of Morihei in martial arts. Antennas of this school were established throughout Japan and organized training in martial arts in parallel with local meetings of the Omoto religion. This type of organization will be effective from 1931 until the end of 1935, when the Omoto - kyo religion will suddenly be banned by the Japanese military government.
In 1939, Morihei was invited to Manchuria to make a public demonstration. There he fought former sumo wrestler Tenryu and nailed him to the ground with one finger. From then Tenryu became his pupil. He then made several visits to Manchuria , the last in 1942 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the creation of the state of Manchuria. That day, he made his demonstration in the presence of Emperor Pu'Yi.
April 30, 1940, the Kobukan obtained the status of " Recognized Training by the ministry of health and hygiene ." The first president was Admiral Isamu Takeshita.
This demonstration had a great impact on foreign dignitaries. Although Morihei never was a supporter of this kind of exhibitions, he realized that Japan entered in a new era and that was why he let it take place. On 7 August 1952, a great festival was held at the Iwama Aiki temple to celebrate the sixty years of practice of Morihei , and in 1964 he received a special award from the Emperor Hirohito in recognition of his outstanding contribution to martial arts.
On 14 March 1967, the first stone of a new Hombu dojo, three-storey building , was placed. It will be completed on 18 December of the same year. Morihei Ueshiba kept the use of only one piece, to work and to sleep.
The Aikikai today enjoys a privileged position in the aikido world. More than half of the national organizations of aikido remain affiliated with the Aikikai Tokyo which acts as the International Aikido Federation.
Other forms of aikido are practiced today:
- Yoshinkan Aikido created by Gozo Shioda, which focuses on a powerful style dating from before the war.
- Shinshin Aikido Koichi created by Tohei Toitsu, is a method of health care that includes aikido techniques based on the concept of KI.
- Tomiki Aikido, developed by Kenji Tomiki, involves some form of competition.
- Aikido Yoseikan, created by Minoru Mochizuki, is a set of techniques where there are mixed elements of aikido, judo, karate and kenjutsu.
Iwama Aikido Shrine
In the late thirties, the Japanese army was heavily involved in the war. Most young students of Morihei Ueshiba were conscripted into the army. This conscription reduced the ranks in the Kobukan dojo , which involved a reduction of the activity in the dojo when the Pacific War began. In 1942, after falling ill following a severe intestinal condition, Master Ueshiba decided to establish a new basis for the organization of Aikido in Ibaragi Prefecture, in the village of Iwama where he purchased some land a few years ago. He then left the charge of the dojos in Wakamatsu -cho to his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba. In Iwama , Morihei began the construction of what he called the Ubuya ( birthplace) , the sacred circle of Aikido : An assembly comprising the altar of aiki with a dojo outside. This was completed in 1964 by a group of beautiful sculptures:Forty-three guardian deities of Aikido. The dojo, now known as the Ibaragi Dojo, was completed in 1945 just before the end of the war. There, far away from the bustle which reigned in Tokyo because of the war, he invested in agriculture , training and meditation.
These years in Iwama proved decisive for the development of modern aikido. Morihei , with an utmost concentration involved himself in intensive training in order to perfect his martial art dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
At the end of the war, the founder had few students in Iwama, the prewar disciples being dispersed throughout Southeast Asia .
It was at this time, during the summer of 1946 , that a young man employed at the Japanese Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, enrolled at Iwama dojo . Morihiro Saito became one of the closest students of the founder and later his technological successor.
It was at this time that the founder detailed study of the sword called in Aikido ‘Aiki Ken’ and the study of the stick : Aiki Jo . He considered that it was essential to know the handling of these weapons to execute techniques properly with bare hands.
He then prepared a complete Aikido program including weapons practice and practice with bare hands. It was also at this time that the young Saito was used mostly as training partner for Master Ueshiba, which enabled him to discover many techniques that the founder taught very rarely. During this part of his past life in Iwama , Ueshiba defined the concept of TAKEMUSU AÏKI , which corresponds to the spontaneous execution of an infinite number of suitable techniques on attacks whatsoever. During the fifties Ueshiba traveled extensively throughout Japan to meet countless requests addressed to him. He also spent a few days a month in Tokyo before going back to Iwama. It was, at that time, very difficult to predict from one day to another, where Master Ueshiba was and even to know when they would cease to run a course at the Aikikai Tokyo. Many students, who began training after the war and had the opportunity to see the founder teach or conduct demonstrations, were excited by the energy and beauty of his movements, as well as by his ethics of martial arts. At that time his technique flowed like a river of his mind, without limitation, fundamentally different from the extremely harsh practice that highlighted the physical strength that characterized his early years. During the last years of his life, when his health began to deteriorate, Ueshiba moved slower and less freely, so he adopted his techniques in shortening them. He projected his students with a quick gesture or a small hand movement and sometimes without touching them. This part of his life coincided with the beginnings of the international development of aikido by public demonstrations and dissemination of films that are causing many imitators who did not understand that this aikido , was a natural result of past experiences and the results of more than sixty years of practice, not a beginning. Morihei Ueshiba died of liver cancer on 26 April 1969. He received the same day his last posthumously distinction from Emperor Hirohito . His ashes rest in the temple of the Ueshiba family atTanabe and strands of his hair are preserved as relics on the altar of the Iwama Aiki, at the family cemetery Ayabe and at the high altar Kumeno . Kisshomaru his son succeeded him as the second Doshu of Aikido.