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Founder of Aikido

The founder, Morehei Ueshiba

"The Art of Peace begins with you.  Work on yourself and your appointed task in  the Art of Peace.  Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be  trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow.  You are here for no other  purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate  enlightenment.  Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that  you encounter." 
Morihei Ueshiba, O'Sensei


Master Morihei Ueshiba, O'Sensei

Morehei Ueshiba, now called O'Sensei (Great Teacher), was born on December 14, 1883 in the area of Tanabe in Kii Province (present day Wakayama Prefecture), Japan.   One of five children of a farming family, he was the only son.  From his father Yoroku he inherited a samura's determination and interest in public affairs and from his mother Yuki an interest in religion, poetry and art.  He was a weak and sickly child and preferred to spend his time indoors reading and listening to the legends of the saints.  He was fascinated by the esoteric Buddhist rituals.  His father told him tales of his great grandfather "Kichiemon" one of the strongest samurai of his day.  He also encouraged him to study Sumo wrestling and swimming and Morehei began to become stronger.   He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning to become strong after seeing his father often assaulted and beaten by thugs hired by a rival politician.  

School bored Morihei and he needed a more practical outlet for his energy.  He worked at several jobs but none seemed to be what he was seeking.  While working as a merchant he realized he had an affinity for the martial arts.  He sought out and studied under various masters of many traditional martial arts and became an expert at a number of styles of jujitsu (unarmed combat), kenjustu (sword fighting), and sojitsu (spear fighting).   While studying at the Kito-ryu dojo and the Shinkage Ryu training center he developed a severe case of Beri-Beri and was sent home where he met and later married Itogawa Hatsu.

After he regained his health during the Russo-Japanese War period, he attempted to join the army, but at just under five feet tall he failed to meet the minimum height requirements.  On his next attempt in 1903, he passed his examination and became an infantryman.  He did very well in the army was recommended for the National Military Academy but he declined and resigned from active duty.

Morihei returned home to the farm and having grown strong in the military he was eager to continue physical training.  His father built a dojo on the farm and invited jujutsu instructor Takaki Kiyoichi to tutor his son. Young Ueshiba found he had great skill and grew stronger still.  He also became interested in political affairs and in the spring of 1912, at the age of 29, he and his family moved to the wilderness of Hokkaido.  After a few years of struggling the village began to prosper and Ueshiba had become physically powerful.  It was while he was in Hokkaido that he met Kokaku Takeda, grandmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Jutsu.  Ueshiba found himself no match for his teacher and he threw himself into training.  After a month, he went back to Shirataki and built a dojo.  He invited Takeda to live there.

When he heard of his father's illness Ueshiba sold off most of his property and left the dojo to Takeda as he would not return to Hokkaido.  On his journey home he stopped in Ayabe, headquarters for the new Omoto-kyo religion, where he met Deguchi Onisaburo, the master.  He stayed for 3 days and found when he got home that his father had died.  Ueshiba took his father's death very hard.  He sold off all his ancestral and in 1922 moved to Ayabe.  He lived there for the next eight years and was active as an Omoto believer and close supporter of Deguchi, and taught Budo. Ueshiba was profoundly affected by his study of Omoto-kyo and his association with Deguchi who was an advocate of non-violent resistance and universal disarmament.  He was troubled at the conflict that arose from his martial arts skills and his spiritual training.  He felt strongly that winning at someone else's expense was not really winning.  To resolve this conflict he began a period of intense study, practicing movements, exploring them deeply, and sitting long hours in meditation.  Around 1925 he realized the true purpose of Budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all beings and began to teach the real meaning of Budo:  an end to all fighting and contention.
The founder, Morehei Ueshiba
Many people sought out Ueshiba's teaching. Among them Tomiki Kenji and Admiral Takeshita.  In 1927, Deguchhi Onisaburo encouraged Ueshiba to separate from Omoto-kyo and begin his own way.  Ueshiba relocated to Tokyo and continued to teach in several locations.  His following continue to grow and in 1931 he established the Kobukan Dojo in the Ushigome district of the city (the present site of the Aikido World Headquarters).  A "Budo Enhancement Society" was founded in 1932 with Ueshiba as Chief Instructor.   The dojo was the center of his activities over the next 11 years where he was extremely active as a teacher of Daito-ryu Akijujutsu.  He gradually separated himself from Sokaku Tededa and began calling his art Aik Budo.   Over these years Ueshiba became famous and his only son, Kisshomaru, began documenting the events of his life.

In 1942 he returned to the farmlands. Due to the war the Kobukan was empty and he was tired of city life.  He left the Kobukan in the hands of his son Kisshomaru and moved to the Ibaraki Prefecture to the village of Iwama.   During and immediately after the war he remained in Iwama and devoted himself to intensive training, meditation and farming.   He stated that it was at Iwama that he perfected modern Aikido.   Iwama is considered to be the birthplace of modern day Aikido.  Prior to this move his system was 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.  Here in Iwama he built an outdoor dojo and the famous Aiki Shrine.

After the war, Aikido grew rapidly at the Kobukan (now called Hombu Dojo) under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Morihei Ueshiba became famous as O'Sensei(The Great Teacher), the Master of Aikido.  In the mid-50's he began to spend considerable time in Tokyo and also traveled.  In 1960 Ueshiba received the Medal of Honor with the Purple Ribbon from the Japanese government.

His last years were spent primarily in Tokyo where his health gradually became frail.  Even so O'Sensei continued instructing and refining and improving his "Way", never losing his dedication for hard training.  Observers marveled at his martial abilities, vitality, and good humor.   He continued teaching through early February 1969 when he fell ill and was admitted to Keio University Hospital.  He was returned to his home at his request to be near his dojo.  On April 15th he became critical and gave his final instructions, "Aikido is for the entire world. Train not for selfish reasons, but for all people everywhere. O'Sensei and his wife Hatsu

Early on the morning of April 26, 1969, the 86-year-old O'Sensei told his son "Take care of things" and died of liver cancer.  Hatsu, his wife of 67 years followed him two months later.  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.  After his death the Japanese government posthumously declared Morihei Ueshiba a Sacred National Treasure of Japan.

O'Sensei's son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, inherited the title Doshu (Leader of the Way).  He continued his father's work at Aikido World Headquarters (Hombu Dojo) until he passed away in 1999.  Today, O'Sensei's grandson, the third Doshu,  Moriteru Ueshiba, continues to enlighten the lives of men, women and children  from over seventy countries.

O'Sensei taught tens of thousands of students during his teaching career which spanned some 50 years and is noted for his ethical and humanistic view of the martial arts which holds the concept of non conflict, rather than the defeat of an adversary, as the ideal.   Aikido is based on the harmonious resolution of conflict in all its varied forms.

more O'Sensei Photos

Sources:  Article Past to Present, Midwest Aikido Center,  Founder of Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba,  Encyclopedia of Aikido by Stanley Pranin, Aikiweb Article History of Aikido, by Eric Sontak,  Aikikai Foundation Web Site

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