Master Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 in the town of Tanabe, Japan. Because of a fragile constitution and illness during infancy, his father encouraged him to seek to fortify his body very early. It was at the age of 17, during a quick trip to Tokyo, that he began his training in martial arts in the ju-jutsu Tengin Shinyo-ryu school. In 1903, he joined the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese conflict. It was then that he learned and excelled in bayonet techniques. When he was stationed near the town of Osaka, he also studied the Yagyu-ryu school.
Portrait of Master Morihei Ueshiba
In 1912, a time when the Japanese government was strongly encouraging the population to move to the island of Hokkaido, he moved there with his family. Here, along with other families, he would found the village of Shirataki. A little later, in 1915, he met Master Sokaku Takeda of the ju-jutsu Daito-ryu school. This meeting with this eccentric, high-level master was a pivotal moment for Morihei Ueshiba. He invested time and money in an apprenticeship with Master Takeda and achieved the first degree in this school. The techniques and principles of the Daito-ryu school would be the base of what would become aikido.
Portrait of Master Sokaku Takeda of the Daito-ryu ju-jutsu school
He left abruptly left Hokkaido in 1919 when he received a telegram informing him that his father was dying. At the time of his return trip to Tanabe, a passenger spoke to him of the curing abilities of a chief of a religious group called Onisaburo Deguchi. He decided to go to meet this man to ask him to cure his father. Thus he made a detour to the town of Ayabe, situated near Kyoto. Morihei Ueshiba was strongly impressed by the charismatic leader of the Omoto religion and spent a few days with him.
The reverend Onisaburo Degushi and Morihei Ueshiba
When he arrived in Tanabe, his father was already dead. Morihei Ueshiba was so strongly shaken by his death that his behavior became abnormal and troublesome. He decided to go to live in Ayabe with his family so that he could carry out an ascetic life in the Omoto religion within the community of Reverend Degushi. While there, Reverend Degushi became so impressed with Ueshiba‘s martial arts talents that he asked him to teach this art to the members of his religion.
In 1922, he invites Master Sokaku Takeda to live in his home, like family, for nearly six months. Onisaburo Degushi developed a distaste for the eccentric budo master, which placed Master Ueshiba in a very uncomfortable situation. Nevertheless, Master Takeda taught the members of the community during this time. At his departure, he gave an official teaching diploma from his school to Morihei Ueshiba.
Master Sokaku Takeda
In 1924, Morihei Ueshiba left with Onisaburo Degushi for a utopian project to create a religious state in Mongolia. The experience proved to be a disaster and the group was arrested and condemned to die by the Chinese authorities. Saved at the last moment by the intervention of the Japanese consulate, the members of the group left the experience profoundly marked, both physically and mentally. It is suspected that during the time of his adventure in China that he encountered certain local martial arts like ba gua zhang which influenced his conception of the art of combat.
He returned to Japan and again established himself in Ayabe where he would begin training many students of the elite Japanese military, including the eminent admiral Seikyo Asano, who was also a follower of the Omoto religion. He then directed many training courses for the military in Tokyo, who greatly appreciated the charismatic Ueshiba‘s great capacities in Daito-ryu. In 1927, he decided to definitively move to Tokyo to teach martial arts full time.
Master Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating a technique of aiki-budo
At this time his art went by different names and he taught in the residencies of his affluent students who were of a high level in the military. His teaching became more and more popular in Tokyo. In 1931, the kobukan dojo was created in the shinjuku quarter. Many important student frequented this dojo, like: Kenji Tomiki, Minoru Mochizuki and Gozo Shioda. At this time, he also taught, with the aid of certain of his students, in many military academies.
Following an illness, Master Ueshiba established himself in Iwana in 1942. He invested himself totally to the deepening of his art. His art was given the name aikido and he began developing sword techniques (aiki ken) and stick (aiki jo).
Master Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating a technique of aikido
He traveled a lot to different Japanese towns during the fifties for the diffusion of his art. In the sixties, aikido developed more and more abroad and the image of old Master Ueshiba giving demonstrations of near magical techniques which would be diffused throughout the would and remain engraved in the imagination of future adepts.
In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba passed from liver cancer. His son, Kisshimaru Ueshiba became his official successor in the Aikikai. Many of his better students created, in turn, their own schools of aikido such as the Yoshinkan aikido of Master Gozo Shioda, the Shishin Toitsu aikido of Master Koichi Tohei, the Tomiki aikido of Master Kenji Tomiki and Yoseikan aikido of Master Minoru Mochizuki.
Master Morihei Ueshiba