Morihei Ueshiba was born on December 14, 1883 in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan and died on April 26, 1969 at 96 years old. He was a famous martial artist and founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido. He is often referred to as Kaiso, meaning "founder", or Ōsensei, "Great Teacher".
The only son of Yoroku and Yuki Ueshiba's five children, Morihei was raised in a somewhat privileged setting. His father was a wealthy landowner who also traded in lumber and fishing and was politically active. Ueshiba was a rather weak, sickly child and bookish in his inclinations. At a young age his father encouraged him to take up sumo wrestling and swimming and entertained him with stories of his great-grandfather Kichiemon who was considered a very strong samurai in his era. The need for such strength was further emphasized when the young Ueshiba witnessed his father being attacked by followers of a competing politician.
Ueshiba is known to have studied several martial arts in his youth but he did not train extensively in most and even his training in Yagyū Shingan-ryū was sporadic due to his military service in those years. Records show that he trained in Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū jujutsu under Tozawa Tokusaburō for a short period in 1901 in Tokyo; Gotō-ha Yagyū Shingan-ryū under Nakai Masakatsu from 1903 to 1908 in Sakai, and judo under Kiyoichi Takagi 1911 in Tanabe. However, it was only after moving to the northern island of Hokkaidō in 1912 with his wife, as part of a settlement effort, that his martial art training took on real depth. For it was here that he began his study of Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu under its reviver Takeda Sokaku. He characterized his early training thus:
At about the age of 14 or 15. First I learned Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū Jujutsu from Tokusaburo Tozawa Sensei, then Kito-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, Aioi-ryu, Shinkage-ryu, all of them jujutsu forms. However, I thought there might be a true form of budo elsewhere. I tried Hozoin-ryu sojitsu and kendo. But all of these arts are concerned with one-to-one combat forms and they could not satisfy me. So I visited many parts of the country seeking the Way and training, but all in vain. ... I went to many places seeking the true budo. Then, when I was about 30 years old, I settled in Hokkaido. On one occasion, while staying at Hisada Inn in Engaru, Kitami Province, I met a certain Sokaku Takeda Sensei of the Aizu clan. He taught Daito-ryu jujutsu. During the 30 days in which I learned from him I felt something like an inspiration. Later, I invited this teacher to my home and together with 15 or 16 of my employees became a student seeking the essence of budo. Did you discover aikido while you were learning Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda? No. It would be more accurate to say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.
The technical curriculum of aikido was undoubtedly most greatly influenced by the teachings of Takeda Sokaku and his system of aiki-jūjutsu called Daitō-ryū. Although disputed by some, the ledger books of Takeda clearly show that Ueshiba spent a great deal of time training in Daitō-ryū between 1915 and 1937. He received the majority of the important scrolls awarded by Takeda at this time including the Hiden Mokuroko, the Hiden Ogi and the Goshin'yo te. Ueshiba received his kyoju dairi certificate, or teaching license, for the system from Takeda in 1922. Takeda had not yet implemented a menkyo license, or highest level of achievement license, into his system at this time. He also received a Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū sword transmission scroll from Takeda in 1922 in Ayabe. Ueshiba then became a representative of Daitō-ryū, toured with Takeda as a teaching assistant and taught the system to others under the Daitō-ryū name.
The basic techniques of aikido seem to have their basis in teachings from various points in the Daitō-ryū curriculum. A source of confusion is the different names used for these techniques in aikido and in the Daitō-ryū system. In part this is because Takeda Tokimune added much of the nomenclature after the period in which Ueshiba studied. In addition the names ikkajo, nikkajo, sankajo used in both Daitō-ryū and the early years of aikido, latter supplanted by terms such as ikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo, were really generic names translating to "first teaching", "second teaching", and so on. In Daitō-ryū these usually refer to groupings of techniques while in aikido they usually refer to specific techniques and joint manipulations.
In the earlier years of his teaching, from the 1920s to the mid 1930s, Ueshiba taught the aiki-jūjutsu system he had earned a license in from Takeda Sokaku. His early students' documents bear the term aiki-jūjutsu. Indeed, Ueshiba trained one of the future highest grade earners in Daitō-ryū, Takuma Hisa, in the art before Takeda took charge of Hisa's training.
The early form of training under Ueshiba was characterized by the ample use of strikes to vital points (atemi), a larger total curriculum, a greater use of weapons, and a more linear approach to technique than would be found in later forms of aikido. These methods are preserved in the teachings of his early students Kenji Tomiki (who founded the Shodokan Aikido sometimes called Tomiki-ryū), Noriaki Inoue (who founded Shin'ei Taido), Minoru Mochizuki (who founded Yoseikan Budo), Gozo Shioda (who founded Yoshinkan Aikido) and Morihiro Saito (who preserved his early form of aikido under the Aikikai umbrella sometimes referred to as Iwama-ryū). Many of these styles are considered "pre-war styles", although some of the teachers continued to have contact and influence from Ueshiba in the years after the Second World War.
Later, as Ueshiba seemed to slowly grow away from Takeda, he began to implement more changes into the art. These changes are reflected in the differing names with which he referred to his art, first as aiki-jūjutsu, then Ueshiba-ryū, Asahi-ryū, aiki budō, and finally aikido.
As Ueshiba grew older, more skilled, and more spiritual in his outlook, his art also changed and became softer and more circular. Striking techniques became less important and the formal curriculum became simpler. In his own expression of the art there was a greater emphasis on what is referred to as kokyū-nage, or "breath throws" which are soft and blending, utilizing the opponent's movement in order to throw them. Many of these techniques are rooted in the aiki-no-jutsu portions of the Daitō-ryū curriculum rather than the more direct jujutsu style joint-locking techniques.
After Ueshiba left Hokkaidō he came under the influence of Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Ōmoto-kyō religion in Ayabe. In addition to the effect on his spiritual growth, this connection was to have a major effect in introducing Ueshiba to various elite political circles as a martial artist. The Ueshiba Dojo in Ayabe was used to train members of the Ōmoto-kyō sect. He was involved in the first Ōmoto-kyō Incident, an ill-fated attempt to found a utopian colony in Mongolia. Although Ueshiba eventually distanced himself from both these teachers, their effect on him and his art cannot be overstated.
The real birth of Aikido came as the result of three instances of spiritual awakening that Ueshiba experienced. The first happened in 1925, after Ueshiba had defeated a naval officer's bokken (wooden katana) attacks unarmed and without hurting the officer. Ueshiba then walked to his garden and had a spiritual awakening.
| . . . I felt the universe suddenly quake, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. At the same time my body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the creator of the universe. At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God's love - the spirit of loving protection for all beings... Budo is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.[
His second experience occurred in 1940 when,
"Around 2am as I was performing misogi, I suddenly forgot all the martial techniques I had ever learned. The techniques of my teachers appeared completely new. Now they were vehicles for the cultivation of life, knowledge, and virtue, not devices to throw people with."
His third experience was in 1942 during the worst fighting of WWII, Ueshiba had a vision of the "Great Spirit of Peace".
|"The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter - it is the Art of Peace, the power of love."
In 1927, Ueshiba moved to Tokyo where he founded his first dojo, which still exists today under the name Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Between 1940 and 1942 he made several visits to Manchukuo (Japanese occupied Manchuria) to instruct his martial art. In 1942 he left Tokyo and moved to Iwama in the Ibaraki Prefecture where the term "aikido" was first used as a name for his art. Here he founded the Aiki Shuren Dojo, also known as the Iwama dojo. During all this time he traveled extensively in Japan, particularly in the Kansai region teaching his aikido.
Morihei Ueshiba died on April 26, 1969.
Honors Ueshiba was posthumously awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
Ueshiba is remembered by his pupils as a master of the martial arts whose studies transcended technical matters to include a moral and philosophical view of the world based around harmony in the face of aggression. The many branches of aikido in existence today virtually all trace their lineage back to him.
Many stories exist about Ueshiba's martial skill. It is said for example that he was able to escape a tight ring of students that surrounded him with swords and attacked simultaneously. Many of these students would later say they had not even seen him go by them. Another story is that he was able to knock someone off their feet with the force of his kiai.
There is debate in the aikido world over some of these sensational stories; some dismiss them as myth generated around a genuinely brilliant but human martial artist, whereas others believe that Morihei Ueshiba truly achieved such feats.
To this day, Ōmoto-kyō priests oversee a ceremony in Ueshiba's honor every April 29th at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama.
Over the years, Ueshiba trained a large number of students, many of whom have grown into great teachers in their own right. Some of them were uchideshi, or live-in students. There are roughly four generations of students. A partial list follows:
First (pre-war) Generation
Second (war) Generation
Third (post-war) Generation
Fourth (and last) Generation
(born 1920) since 1933
(born 1910) since 1931
Takuma Hisa (1895–1980) since 1934
(1902–1994) since c.1921, nephew of Morihei Ueshiba
(born 1909) since 1930, 9th dan Aikikai
Hisao Kamada (1911–1986) since 1929
Minoru Mochizuki (1907–2003) since 1930, 10th dan (received from the International Martial Arts Federation)
Aritoshi Murashige (1895–1964) since 1931
(1915–1994) since 1932, founder of the Yoshinkan Aikido
Rinjiro Shirata (1912–1993) since 1933, 9th dan
Isamu Takesita (1869–1949) since c.1925
(1900–1979) since 1926, was the first 8th dan awarded in aikido in 1942.
Shigemi Yonekawa (1910–2005) since 1933
Tsutomu Yukawa (1911–1942) since 1931
(1926–1984) since 1942, 6th dan
(1903–1998) since 1939, founder of the Korindo style.
(1911–1991) since 1941, 9th dan
(born 1923) since 1942, 9th dan
(1912–1988) since 1936, 9th dan
(1903–1989) since 1939, he was a famous sumo wrestler
(born 1920) since 1939, only 10th dan awarded by Ueshiba and approved by Aikikai
(1923–2004) since 1937, 10th dan (verbally awarded by Ueshiba), opened Shingu's Kumano Juku in 1951
(when he was 7th dan)
(born 1915) since 1952, 10th dan
Sadateru Arikawa (1930–2003) since 1947, 9th dan
(born 1935) since 1954, 8th dan
Yasuo Kobayashi (born 1936) since 1954, 8th dan
(born 1932) since 1954, 6th dan
Mutsuro Nakazono (born 1918) 7th dan
Shoji Nishio (1927–2005) since 1951, 8th dan
André Nocquet (1914–1999) since 1955, 8th dan, the first European uchideshi
(born 1935) since 1955, 6th dan, founder of kinomichi
Morihiro Saito (1928–2002) since 1946, 9th dan
(born 1937) since 1955
(born 1929) since 1945, 9th dan
Nobuyoshi Tamura (born 1933) since 1953, 8th dan
Seigo Yamaguchi (1924–1996) since 1951, 8th dan
(born 1940) since 1958, 8th dan
Terry Dobson (1938–1992) since 1960, 5th dan
(born 1942) since 1964, 8th dan
(born 1940) since 1964, 7th dan
(born 1950) founder of Nippon Kan and was the last uchideshi Ueshiba trained before he died.
Norihiko Ichihashi (1940–2001) since 1960, 8th dan
(born 1938) since 1959, 7th dan
Mitsunari Kanai (1939–2004) since 1959, 8th dan
(born 1940) since 1959, 6th dan
(born 1936) since 1954, founder Aikido Yuishinkai International
(born 1940) since 1959, 6th dan, founder of Kokikai
(born 1936) since 1962, 8th dan
(born 1937) since 1962, 7th dan
(born 1940) since 1963, 8th dan
(born 1940) since 1961, 8th dan
(born 1939) since 1959, 8th dan
(born 1942) since 1964, 8th dan
(1929–1999) since 1956, 8th dan
(born 1942) since 1961, 7th dan
(born 1938) since 1956, 8th dan
Hirokazu Kobayashi (1929–1998) Kobayashi aikido
Morihei Ueshiba regularly practiced cold water misogi, as well as other spiritual and religious rites. He viewed his studies of aikido in this light. As a young man, Ueshiba was renowned for his incredible physical strength. He would later lose much of this muscle, which some believe changed the way he performed aikido technique.
Ueshiba was said to be a simple but wise man, and a gifted farmer. In his later years, he was regarded as very kind and gentle as a rule, but there are also stories of terrifying scoldings delivered to his students. For instance, he once thoroughly chastised students for practicing jō (staff) strikes on trees without first covering them in protective padding. Another time, as students sneaked back into the dojo after a night of drinking and brawling, he smashed the first one through the door over the head with a bokken, and proceeded to scold them.