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 rituals. 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 Hatsu.
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
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 brigade.
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 beings.
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 Ueshiba.
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 events 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 training.
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 entire 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.