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The Life of Morihei Ueshiba And The Birth of Aikido


Morihei-Ueshiba_smallMorihei Ueshiba Sensei (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969) was among the four greatest martial art masters of the 20th century. He is valued to be equal with Funakoshiga Gichin (船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957), the creator of modern karate, Kanoga Jigoro (嘉納 治五郎, 28 October 1860 – 4 May 1938), the creator of Judo, and Sokaku Takeda (武田 惣角; October 10, 1859 – April 25, 1943), distributor and developer of jujutsu Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu.

Morihei Ueshiba had an extremely interesting and eventful life. Japan's recession in the first half of the century, wars with Russia, Korea and China, World War II, colonization of Japanese northern islands, and a lot more took place during his lifetime. Until the end of the last war Japan was a highly military and nationalist, and thus very aggressive country, wanting badly to expand.

Morihei Ueshiba was born in a fishing village of Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, on December 14, 1883, in the family of Yoruku and Yuki Ueshiba. His father, a prosperous farmer and local politician, descended from a well-known samurai family. Morihei was a physically weak child, and reportedly nervous and restless by nature. In 1890 he was sent to the local temple to study, but it seemed extremely boring to him. He wanted to do other things. In order to train his son, so he would gain strength, Yoruku encouraged Morihei to participate in sumo wrestling, running and swimming.

In 1896 Morihei entered Tanabe Elementary School, but due to his restless character the school-life was so unacceptable, uncomfortable and boring to him that he left school after one year. As he was seriously interested in mathematics, he joined Abacus Academy. After graduating he got a job in local tax office and was so good in this job, he got promoted and was transferred to one of the Tokyo offices.

Instead of accepting the offered position, he started to work for local fishermen, who were under serious economic pressure, and had just began to protest against a new government regulation. Morihei Ueshiba's skills to handle tax regulations helped fishermen a lot, but the outcome of the made efforts is unknown. What is known is the fact that Morihei's involvement in such movement brought disapproval to his father in political circles, whereupon the latter granted him financial support to get a decent job.

Thus, in 1901, at the age of eighteen, Morihei went to Tokyo and opened a small shop, but soon after he fell ill due to malnutrition and went back to Tanabe to heal. During his short stay in Tokyo, Morihei managed to try Shinyo Tenjin-Ryu Jujutsu, and visit Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Jujutsu Dojo. Just at the same time he became seriously interested in one girl, a childhood friend Hatsu Itogawa (植芝 はつ; Ueshiba Hatsu, née Itokawa Hatsu; 1881–1969), and in 1902 they married.

In 1903 Morihei Ueshiba received a call to military service, but was rejected due to short stature – 1.52 cm. This was a serious blow to Ueshiba; he was extremely disappointed. He started to take regular walks in the woods to stretch his spine. For example, he hung from the branches with weights attached to his legs, and practiced other physical excercises.

By the end of the year he was able to live up to the requirements and in December he joined the Wakayama 61st Infantry Regiment, where he stood out as a good soldier. He also became the Regimental champion in sumo and bayonet-fight – Yu-kendo. During military service he also studied martial arts whenever possible, and spent a lot of time in Yagyu Shinkage Jujutsu School in Sakai near Osaka.

In 1904 the Russo-Japanese War broke out, and Morihei Ueshiba was sent to the front in Manchuria (Eastern China) for a year and a half, from where he was called back in 1905. It was a terrible war with huge losses on both sides, and, as Kisshomaru Ueshiba said in his book "BUDO," it is believed that Morihei Ueshiba participated in combat. After he was released from the army in 1906, and when the war ended in 1907, Ueshiba Morihei suffered from depression despite the fact that Japan had won the war. However, he continued to practice Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Jujutsu in Sakai, while living in Tanabe.

In 1908 Morihei's father built a dojo on his land and started to call well-known martial arts masters to give lessons there. He hired a very good Judo teacher, and Morihei Ueshiba took to regular trainings. At that time he also received a certificate on Yagyu-ryu Jujutsu. It is a recorded fact that during this period Morihei Ueshiba was very restless and nervous. In 1909 he joined protest movement against currently implemented Act on Unification of Temples, and with that fell under the influence of a remarkable person, Minakata, who had studied physics in the U.S., visited Cuba and Western India, and lived in England for a long time, where he had become the professor of Japanese Department in the Cambridge University. Minakata contributed a lot into reasearches on Japanese archaeology, anthropology and oriental religions. Minakata was an internationalist. In 1910 Morihei's first child – daughter Matsuko – was born.


Going to The Periphery – Hokkaido

In 1910 Morihei met a friend who had visited the northernmost island of Japan – Hokkaido, and spoke very enthusiastically about the great opportunities there due to the Government's desire to colonize this "wild zone" once and for all. Ueshiba thought it to be very interesting, went to investigate the situation, and found a suitable area for colonization in the northeast part of the island, near Shirataki. He met with the Governor of Hokkaido to discuss further options.

Having returned to Tanabe, he introduced the villagers the possibilities offered on Hokkaido, and started recruitment campaign with the aim to get together enough people to migrate to the area of Shirataki. Finally, he managed to persuade 52 families and 84 people to go to north with him. In March 1912, they left for Hokkaido. The journey took two months and was very difficult. When they arrived in Shirataki, they cleared the land of the forest and sowed grain, but the crop was very little during the first years, and many settlers were dissatisfied with the whole venture.

Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, who was the leader of this brilliant project, worked day and night in order to improve the situation and circumstances. After a couple of years the harvest was already much better, and timber trade went very well, but there were also very hard times, e.g. in 1917 fire destroyed the whole village. But people worked tirelessly and the village was built up again. In those years Morihei Ueshiba was elected the village elder.

In 1915, when Morihei was visiting Engaru village on Hokkaido, he heard about a martial art seminar currently held in the village, and immediately hurried to take part in it. There he first met his teacher for the next 20 years, Sokaku Takeda, who, despite being much older, won him in a fight with ease. Morihei was so impressed by Takeda's skills that he decided to stay in Engaru for a whole month, although he was badly needed in Shirataki. The villagers did not know, whether he was alive or lost in the snow storm and dead, until he finally came back.

After returning to Shirataki, he immediately started to set up a dojo, and after it was ready, he called Sokaku Takeda to teach there. Morihei also built a house for the teacher. Since then he trained very hard under the guidance of Takeda Sensei, and accompanied him on his trips in Hokkaido. During that period Morihei Ueshiba's wife Hatsu gave birth to two sons.

In 1919 Morihei got a message that his father is dying, and this gave him official ground for a decision to leave Hokkaido, although it can be assumed that there were other reasons involved. Shirataki village was flourishing and secure by that time, and colonization could be considered a success despite serious setbacks. Morihei's restless soul and news about a new religion Omoto-Kyo, not far from his homeland, might have been a considerable argument for him to leave Hokkaido forever.

First, he sent his wife and children back to Tanabe and then left himself, leaving behind his martial art teacher, the rest of the family, other families and friends.


Meeting Onisaburo Deguchi in 1919


On the way back to Tanabe, Morihei met a man on the train, who told  him of the new religion, Omoto-Kyo, and the center of this religion in Ayabe, near Kyoto. Ueshiba decided to make an excursion to Ayabe to learn more about the new religion everybody spoke about.

In Ayabe, Morihei was deeply impressed by the Omoto-Kyo center as well as meeting its religious leader Onisaburo Deguchi. He stayed there for a few days, and then rushed to Tanabe, only to learn that his father had died in the meantime. The next few months Ueshiba acted as if he had lost his mind — he often ran into the forest in the middle of the night and was extremely restless. When he finally came out of this period, he declared he is going to Ayabe to live there with his family.

In spring 1920 he moved to Ayabe with his family — wife and three children. There he directed all his energy into Omoto-kyo. For example, he studied calligraphy, painting, and composing poetry. At the same time he also became responsible for certain agricultural work, and trained the fire brigade.

Little by little Onisaburo Deguchi learned more and more of Morihei Ueshiba, and also of his skills in martial arts. So he asked or commanded Ueshiba to teach Daito-ryu Aikijutsu to the devotees of Omoto-Kyo in order to strengthen their character, but also to get himself a group of bodyguards. Thus, Ueshiba Morihei opened his first dojo, which was called "Uehiba Juku", which was the only happy event for him in this year. His two sons died of illness.

In 1921 a new son was born to him, who was named Kisshomaru. At the same year the first incident in Omoto-Kyo took place (see Oomoto-Kyo), but it did not break Morihei's commitment; he continued to help his spiritual leader and teacher Deguchi. In spring 1922 Sokaku Takeda with his family arrived in Ayabe, probably invited by Ueshiba Morihei. He stayed there for six months and taught together with Ueshiba in Ueshiba Juku Dojo. Then he left, having received farewell presents from Morihei.

It is known that Onisaburo Deguchi did not like Takeda at all, probably because of his pragmatic views, and between the two of them was their student Morihei Ueshiba, who tried to make the best of the situation.

However, by that time, already certain disagreements between Takeda and Ueshiba began to appear, which might have risen due to the fact that Ueshiba had started to change the old Daito-ryu Aikijutsu techniques and methods. Another change was Ueshiba's involvement with the Omoto-Kyo religious and philosophical elements – the idea of global unity and brotherhood, where everyone wants to join, etc. There was no place for such ideas in Daito-ryu Aikijutsu.

In 1924 Morihei Ueshiba, Onisaburo Deguchi and three other people went on a journey, first through Manchuria and Korea, and then Mongolia, to spread Omoto-kyo outside Japan. During their journey they were attacked several times, but miraculously, they were always able to come out of this alive. In Baian Dalai they were arrested and put among 130 people, who were to be executed the next day.

The next morning their fellow prisoners were taken out one by one, and shot, but the group of Uehiba and Deguchi were spared, probably because the local officers realized that it would mean problems and revenge from Japanese Army, which at that time was only looking for reasons for military intervention. After five days in custody they were released and were free to return to Japan, where Uehiba continued with farmwork and teaching Daito-ryu Aikijutsu in Ayabe.


The First Vision of Morihei Ueshiba


The turning point in Morihei's spiritual voyage were the three visions. He had the first one in 1925, being 42 years old. Having just won the fight against a master swordfighter, avoiding all his strikes and strokes, while being unarmed himself, he went into his garden. "Suddenly, the earth shook. Golden steam burst out of the ground and engulfed me. I felt becoming a golden statue and my body seemed light like a feather. Suddenly I realized the inner nature of Creation – the Road of a Warrior (Budo) is to declare divine love, the spirit that embraces everyone and takes care of everybody. The tears of gratitude and joy flowed down my cheeks. I saw the whole Earth as my home, and the Sun, the Moon and the stars as close friends. All ties of material world vanished." It is said that after this revelation he could foresee every attack.

During this period Morihei made regular visits from Ayabe to Tokyo to teach Daito-ryu Aikijutsu in different places, and finally, in 1927, after eight years in Ayabe, he let Admiral Takeshita and other authorities to convince him that it is better to leave Ayabe and move permanently to Tokyo.

Ueshiba's family bought land in Wakamatsu Cho, Tokyo and started to build a large dojo. Many influential people supported him financially. At the same time, Ueshiba taught Daito-ryu Aikijutsu in many parts of Tokyo. The new dojo, Kobukan, was opened in 1931. Ueshiba's reputation was so high by then that he was considered the best martial artist in Japan, and he was famous all over Japan. Thus, many people came and waited for the chance to train with him, but Morihei seemed to be very selective. Each person who wanted to become a member of the club, had to submit an application, he had to have letters of recommendation, two sponsors and in addition he had to perform well on the interview.

In 1935 the second Omoto-kyo incident took place. Among the arrested was Morihei Ueshiba, who was also interrogated, but due to personal connections in the police he was soon released. Persecution and oppression of Omoto-kyo sect was among the most cruel ones in the history of Japan.

In the 1930s Morihei Ueshiba was a well-known public figure; he even went to the universities in Kenoku, Manchuria lecturing, training and giving demonstrations.

In 1936 Morihei Ueshiba regularly taught Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in Asahi News Center. One day Sokaku Takeda appeared there, and asked for Ueshiba, but he was not present at the moment. Takeda Sensei said that it would be right for him to teach in Asahi News now, because Morihei Ueshiba is just his student. This statement led to disagreements between Takeda and Ueshiba, and after that they never met again. From that moment, Ueshiba stopped calling his art Aikijujutsu, and started to call it Aiki-budo, Ueshiba-ryu, and with other names. Sometimes in the 1930s Morihei Ueshiba bought land in Iwama and it is of knowledge that while continuing to teach others, he himself learned KatoriShinto-ryu for a couple of years.


The Second Vision of Morihei Ueshiba

Ueshiba had the second vision in December 1940. "About two o'clock in the morning, when I was doing the purifying ritual, I suddenly forgot every martial art technique I had ever known. All techniques that I had received from my teachers appeared as completely new. Now they had become the means of developing life, knowledge, values and mind, not he means of throwing and twisting other people."

It is quite clear that in the 1920s and 30s, Japan was an extremely militant and nationalist country. Morihei Ueshiba taught in many military academies, police schools and divisions, having himself totally different views at the same time, which he had obtained from Omoto-Kyo: views that contrasted him to killing.

In 1941 Japan, without warning, attacked Pearl Harbor and set to conquer entire Pacific region and Asia.

There is reason to believe that Morihei Ueshiba got bored of all this military aggressiveness, and teaching Aiki-budo to military, so they can better wound or kill those who oppose them.


The Third Vision of Morihei Ueshiba

Ueshiba had his third vision in 1942, during atrocious time of the World War II and the dark period for mankind. Morihei had a vision of the Great Spirit of Peace, the path that can lead to disappearance of disagreements, and reconciliation of humanity. "The meaning of the Warrior's Way has been understood wrong – as the killing and destroying of others. Those, who seek competition and rivalry make a serious mistake. Crushing, damaging and destroying are the worst sins that a person can accomplish. The real Warrior's Way is to prevent massacre, it is the art of peace, the power of love." Morihei turned to seclusion, and after returning devoted every minute of his life to refine and disseminate Aikido – the Art of Peace.

Suddenly, in 1942, at the age of 59, during the heat of the war, he decided to renounce all his public responsibilities and positions, and move to Iwama to start farming. In 1942 another significant event in terms of Aikido happened – the name Aikido was officially registered. Before that Ueshiba used various names for his art, such as "Ueshiba-ryu Jujutsu", "Aiki-jujutsu", "Daito-ryu Aikibujutsu", "Asahi-ryu Jujutsu" and "Aiki Budo", the latter more than others. A surprising thing is that Ueshiba played no role in making Aikido(合気道 aikidō) the official name. This was the year, when once again the Japanese unifying organisation of martial arts Dai Nihon Butokai had a meeting. Standardization of the names of modern martial arts had begun earlier already. The names of Judo, Kendo, Naginata, Iaido, Karate-do and others had already been fixed. But Ueshiba's art called Aiki-budo was a problem, because it contained the word Budo, which marked martial arts in general. Thus, the Board of Dai Nihon Butokai Board, where among the members was also Minoru Hirai, the manager of Morihei Kobukan Dojo, decided to remove the BU-syllable, making the name of Morihei Ueshiba's martial art Aikido. Morihei himself was in Iwama at that time, recovering from a serious intestinal illness, not knowing anything about the doings of bureaucrats.

In 1943 died his long-time teacher and role model Sokaku Takeda. Morihei built a simple house, Aiki Shrine and Dojo in Iwama. After the war, occupying American forces banned practicing all forms of martial arts until 1948, when it was allowed again.
Aikido developed step-by-step in Iwama, as well as in Tokyo, where the dojo, which nevertheless operated, was officially reopened in 1949. During the 1950s, Morihei Ueshiba's first students were sent abroad. At the same time, his pre-war students found their own courses, such as Tomiki Aikido or Yoshinkan Aikido.

The first post-war Aikido demonstration took place in 1956 and in the few films that have preserved, a major change in Morihei Ueshiba's Aikido before and after the war can be observed. Before the war it was much more serious and much tougher, but after the war it had become more circulating and non-hostile, although the intensity of the exercises still made it very difficult.

Morihei Ueshiba began touring again in Japan, to teach and give demonstrations. However, praying and reading, and farming and training Aikido took most of his time. Besides Iwama, he also spent a lot of time in Tokyo.

In 1960, Japanese Government awarded Ueshiba with a Purple Ribbon Medal.
In 1961 he made a trip to the U.S., Hawai, and stayed there for 40 days.
In 1964 Japanese Government awarded Morihei Ueshiba, the creator of Aikido, the the Order of the Rising Sun.
In 1967 the current headquarters of Aikido, the three-storeyed Hombu Dojo, was built in Tokyo.
On January 25, 1969, Morihei Ueshiba, despite suffering from liver cancer, gave his last demo of Aikido. Just three months later, on April 26, he died at the age of 86. His wife, Hatsu Ueshiba, followed him two months later. Morihei's son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, became his successor – the second Aikido Doshu.


After the death of Kisshomaru Ueshiba on January 4, 1999(植芝 吉祥丸 Ueshiba Kisshōmaru, June 27, 1921 – January 4, 1999), his son Moriteru Ueshiba became the next Doshu(植芝 守央 Ueshiba Moriteru, born April 2, 1951).

KisshomaruUeshiba_small MoriteruUeshiba_small
Kisshomaru Ueshiba Moriteru Ueshiba