Morihei Ueshiba was born in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan on 14 December 1883. During his childhood, the Ueshiba family lived in Maizuru (Kyoto Prefecture). His interest in martial arts stemmed from witnessing the beating of his father, which affected him deeply. However, it was only after moving to the northern island of Hokkaido in 1912 with his wife, as part of a settlement effort, that his martial arts training took on real depth, for it was here that he began his study of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu under its reviver, Takeda Sokaku.
After Ueshiba left Hokkaido, he came under the influence of Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Omoto-kyo religion in Ayabe. In addition to the effect on his spiritual growth this connection had, it also introduced Ueshiba to various elite political circles as a martial artist. The Ueshiba Dojo in Ayabe was used to train members of the Omoto-kyo sect, and he was involved in the first Omoto-kyo Incident, an ill-fated attempt to found a utopian colony in Mongolia.
Although Ueshiba eventually distanced himself from both of these teachers, their effect on him and his art cannot be overstated. The real birth of Aikido came as the result of the three Enlightenment experiences of Ueshiba. 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:
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,. This dojo 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 this time, O’Sensei also traveled extensively in Japan, particularly in the Kansai region, where he continued to spread knowledge about the art of Aikido.
Morihei Ueshiba passed away on April 26, 1969.