Aikido, a martial art that uses the approach of circular technique to blend with an attack rather than clash with it, originated with Morihei Ueshiba who is also commonly known as O-Sensei (Great Teacher). The following is a brief history of his life.
Morihei Ueshiba, was born on December 14, 1883 in the mountain and sea enveloped city of Tanabe, Japan. Tanabe, a well regarded center for spiritual exploration, is home to many shrines and temples of Kumano and to Mount Koya, a center of Shingon, the Tantric Buddhism of Japan.
When Morihei (who's name means "abundant peace") was born, the time of samurai had gone. However the Ueshiba clan had warrior blood in them and many of Morihei's ancestors had been known for their great strength. But Morihei was born prematurely. Due to this, he was rather frail until he reached his teens, where he he grew to strength in part because of the luxuries his family could afford such as a good diet and regular exercise.
Being born and raised in such a pious location, Morihei, since the age of five, rose in the early morning to accompany his mother to her daily worship of the local gods. He also spent a good deal of his youth going on pilgrimages to mountain shrines and temple to practice misogi.
Morihei is said to have experienced a number of mystical experiences from an early age. One such experience was when he was walking on a pitch-dark path it suddenly became lit by a ethereal light; and another documented experience was that once he had the sensation of feeling light as bird soaring high above the peaks of the mountains of his home.
As a youngster, Morihei was sent to a temple school to learn Confucian classics, but apparently his mind continued to wander toward the rites of Shingon Buddhism. Eventually he left school at the age of 14. He did graduate from an abacus academy and took a job working for a local tax office.
The tax office position did not last long and eventually with the help of his wealthy family he moved to Tokyo and started a stationary business. While this, once again, did not last long, he experienced the opportunity to study bujutsu while in Tokyo.
In 1903, having been married only a year before that, Morihei joined the army. War was appearing more likely than not between Japan and Russia. After failing the army's initial physical exam because of his height (Morihei was only 1.56 meters tall, a little over 5 feet tall), he spent time hanging from trees with heavy weights to stretch himself enough to make the 5'2" requirement. Morihei became a model soldier once he was finally allowed to enter the army. When war did break out between Japan and Russia, he was sent to the Manchurian Front in 1905. Due to the fact that Morihei was an only son, he was spared from being sent to the main battlefields, and was assigned to the military police seeing action against Chinese bandits.
The war ended quickly in Japan's favor, but with high casualties on both sides. Morihei was offered a position to continue his military advancement in Officers Training School. He declined the offer saying later that while he appreciated serving, he believed, even then, that there was something intrinsically wrong with war.
At a loss for what to do, Morihei focused primarily on practicing martial arts and building his strength. His father even took the opportunity to build Morihei a dojo on the family property. Morihei trained in judo mainly but several others as well. In 1908 he received a yagyu ryu jujutsu certificate.
In 1912, Morihei led a group of explorers from Tanabe into the undeveloped location of Hokkaido. Once there, the group started a village from scratch in the remote Shirataki. Morihei led the group in the struggle to make this effort a success, constructing buildings and cultivating land for crops. But after several major set backs such as crop failure and a major fire that burned down most of the village the experiment was abandoned.
In 1915, Morihei came under the tutelage of a notorious grand master of daito ryu aiki jutsu by the name of Sokaku Takeda. The martial arts training that Morihei received under Sokaku was both effective and brutal coming from years of real, fight to the death combat.
In 1919, Morihei was heading home to see his ailing father when he made a detour to headquarters of the Omoto-kyo religion. A few months after his father's death, Morihei moved his family to the Omoto-kyo compound in Ayabe and became a disciple of Onisaburo Deguchi, the chief spokesman of the Omoto-kyo religion.
During his first year in Ayabe, Morihei lost two sons to illness, however he was able take pleasure in the fact that his first training hall was built on the grounds of the Omoto-kyo compound. In 1922, Sokaku and Morihei were reunited. However as Onisaburo was an activist for peace and Sokaku was renowned for his might with a blade, tense relations between Sokaku and Onisaburo led to Sokaku departing within six months.
Morihei and Onisaburo left Ayabe to find Shambhala in 1924. The excursion was wrought with strife and struggle. The two survived floods, hailstorms, near starvation and capture by the Chinese army. When faced with the firing squad of the Chinese army, Morihei had another "mystical experience."
As we neared Tungliao, we were trapped in a valley and showered with bullets. Miraculously, I could sense the direction of the projectiles -- beams of light indicated their paths of flight -- and I was able to dodge the bullets. The ability to sense an attack is what the ancient masters meant by anticipation. If one's mind is steady and pure, one can instantly perceive an attack and avoid it -- that, I realized, is the essence of aiki.
The Art of Peace
Morihei Ueshiba, p.10-11
When they were finally able to return to Ayabe, Morihei was a changed man. He intensified his training in martial arts and focused specifically on the honing in on the art of aiki. He was further changed when he faced a challenge made by a kendo master. When in the battle Morihei avoided all attacks by making certain he was one step ahead of his oppenent at all times. Eventually the battle was won by Morihei and not a blow was landed on either opponent. The kendo master ended the battle due to exhaustion. Once again facing a revelation, Morihei set off on his mission as a prophet of the Art of Peace.
Following this revelation, Morihei soon became known throughout as the "Masters of Masters," and in 1927 he moved to Tokyo and opened a permanent dojo in 1931. It was not until 1942 that Morihei had developed the martial art that he had been teaching enough to call it Aikido, the Art of Peace (or the way of harmony and love).
At the end of World War II, Aikido and all other martial arts, with the exception of Karate, were banned by the American occupation authorities and Morihei moved out to the country again. There a small group of disciples lived and quietly trained with Morihei. Five years later, Aikido training resumed in Tokyo and over the following two decades Aikido spread around the world.
On April 26, 1969 Morihei died at his home in Tokyo. His last testament consisted of the Five Principles of Aikido:
- Aikido is the Great Path that traverses the universe and its domains. It encompasses and harmonizes all thinks.
- Aikido functions in accordance with the truth received from heaven and earth. It should be the basis of all activity.
- Aikido is the principle of unifying heaven, earth, and humankind.
- Aikido allows each individual to follow a path suitable for him or her, enabling every human being to achieve harmony with the universe.
- Aikido is the Way of supreme, unbounded, perfect, and inexhaustible Love that binds and sustains the universe.
The Art of Peace, Morihei Ueshiba, translated by John Stevens. Copyright 2002 Shambhala Publishing, Inc. 1-57062-964-1.
The Shambhala Guide to Aikido, John Stevens. Copyright 1996 Shambhala Publishing, Inc. 1-57062-170-5.
The Aikido Student Handbook, Greg O'Connor. Copyright 1993 First Frog, Ltd. 1-883319-04-8.