Morihei Ueshiba (The Founder of Aikido) was born on 14 December 1883 in Tanabe, Japan. He was the son of a wealthy farming landowner and local politician of samurai descent. The only son amongst five siblings, he was a weak and feeble child and so his father encouraged him to begin sumo and other activities such as swimming. He saw his father physically attacked by political opponents and this influenced him to become stronger.
Morihei had little interest in school and after trying his hand at accountancy and as a merchant he couldn’t seem to settle into a career. He was much more at ease with the study of Ju jitsu and also spent time studying the sword at the Shrinkage Ryu school. In fact he travelled throughout the country in search of “the true budo” that would satisfy his desire. In 1903 he married Itogawa Hatsu who he had known since his childhood and later that year joined the Japanese army seeing action in the Russo Japanese war. Even as a young man, Morihei began building a reputation as a strong and accomplished martial artist. He left the army in 1907.
After a brief visit to Hokkaido the northern island of Japan in 1910 he returned there in 1912 with his wife and one year old daughter Matsuko as leader of a group of pioneer settlers. It was here in 1915 he met the Daito-Ryu Aiki Jutsu master, Sokaku Takeda who was to become a massive influence on Morihei’s martial arts. Morihei built a dojo and home for his family and invited Sokaku Takeda to live with him.
In 1919 Morihei finally left Hokkaido to visit his gravely ill father on his deathbed and left his dojo and other possessions to Sokaku Takeda. However on his way home he stopped off in Ayabe, where he met Deguchi Onisaburo the master of the new Omoto-Kyo religion. He was so taken by the teachings of Deguchi Onisaburo, he stayed with him for several days. Sadly, by the time he arrived in Tanabe his father had already died.
Morihei returned to settle in Ayabe with his family where he studied with the Omoto-Kyo and taught martial arts at the groups dojo.
In 1920 Morihei’s first two sons both died in infancy at the ages of 5 months and 3 years and in 1921 his third son Kisshomaru was born.
Morihei’s outlook on life changed both during his time with Deguchi Onisaburo and after he had encountered several spiritual experiences. These events had a deep impact on his life and the meaning of Budo. He concluded, “The true purpose of Budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all beings”.
In 1927 Morihei moved to Tokyo and established a dojo where he taught his martial art. Eventually building the Kobukan dojo which is the original site of the current Aikikai World Honbu Dojo. Many students developed under the teaching of Ueshiba and several such as Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki and Koichi Tohei went on to ultimately create their own interpretation of Aikido, opening dojos all over the world.
Morihei held the belief that Budo and farming went hand in hand so in 1942 at the age of 58 he left his son Kissomaru in charge of the Kobukan in Tokyo and moved to Iwama where he had acquired a small farm. Here he built the Aiki Shuren Dojo. It was around this time that he named his art “Aikido”, which had up until now held various names including, Aiki Bujutsu, Ueshiba Aiki Jutsu and Aiki-Budo.
After the outbreak of World War 2 the Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo declined and later became a refuge for families that had been left homeless by the war.
After the war had ended all martial arts where banned in Japan by the allied occupation authorities. Eventually the ban was relaxed and Aikido began to grow rapidly.
Morihei practiced and lived in Iwama whilst still travelling extensively teaching Aikido. He continued to teach until March 1969 when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Moreihei Ueshiba died on 26th April 1969.
During his lifetime, Morihei received many decorations and accolades from the Japanese government and became known as O Sensei (great teacher).
After Morihei Ueshiba’s death his close student, Morihiro Saito (1928–2002) continued as head of the Aiki Shuren Dojo and as guardian of the Aiki Shrine in Iwama. Morihei’s third son, Kisshomaru (1921 –1999) took over as 2nd Doshu of the Aikikai Foundation.