Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of Aikido
The founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, was born in Tanabe City, Japan. He started training for martial arts at an early age, and starting studying various martial arts when he turned 19. He then invented his own unique martial art based on his experiences. He named his new martial art “Aikido” in 1922, which gained popularity both domestically and internationally. Tanabe City thus awarded him the status of an honorary citizen in 1969 to celebrate his accomplishments.
“Aikido” is known for its technique to defeat one’s opponents at the instant of first contact. However, it is different from most other sports or martial arts, in that it is neither about defeating the opponent by force, nor about competition. Ueshiba always said, “Aikido is not about defeating one’s enemy. It is the way to unite human beings and guide the world toward harmony.” He also stated that Aikido is the martial art that focuses on developing ones’ inner self through training with and improving each other. In other words, Ueshiba believed that “Aikido is a guide for one to achieve one’s given fate. It is the path to reach harmony and love.”
His ideals have spread beyond Japan and developed into one of the most important schools of martial art throughout the world. In 1988, the 5th International Aikido Congress took place here in Tanabe and the 10th International Aikido Congress will be held here in October 2008. Ueshiba’s bronze statue was also built in Ogigahama Park as a monument to the 1988 event. The Ueshiba family’s grave, Ueshiba Morihei’s old resident, monument and other related sites were also preserved to celebrate his accomplishments.
Ueshiba Morihei was born on December 14th, 1883, in Nisihitani Village, Nichimurou County, Wakayama Prefecture (currently known as Motomachi, Tanabe City). He was the eldest son between a farmer, Ueshiba Yoroku, and his wife, Yuki. After finishing elementary school, he went to Wakayama Daini Junjo middle school. However, he dropped out of middle school after finishing his freshman year. Instead, he entered Yoshida Abacus Academy to study the abacus, and became a tax official using the skill sets he obtained there.
However, in 1901, new fishery acts were established and led to heavy taxation on the local fishermen. Ueshiba set aside his duty and sympathized with the fishermen and participated in strikes with them, which eventually led to his resignation. As a result, he decided to work in Tokyo and moved when he turned eighteen.
The Road Toward Martial Arts
Despite experiencing hardship while living in Tokyo, Ueshiba studied Kitou School of Judo and started training for Shinkage School of Kendo. However, he had to return home due to his health conditions. After recovering at home, he married his childhood friend Hatsu Itogawa (born in 1881). Then he joined the military under the fourth division of Osaka, 37th regiment.
Ueshiba participated in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. He was then recommended to go to military academy due to his outstanding performance. However, Ueshiba left the army and returned home to succeed his family business. While farming and training at home, he met Kodokan Judo Master Takagi Kiyoshi who visited Tanabe at that time. Ueshiba then reformed part of his house into a dojo for Takagi to train him with the local youths. Meanwhile, the Meiji government declared the policy to merge local shrines. With help from naturalist Minagata Kumagusu, Ueshiba and the local youth campaigned against the policy, which helped contain the damage of many historical shrines to a minimum.
Settlement in Hokkaido
In spring 1910, Ueshiba Morihei found out about the recruit for new settlements in Hokkaido. He gathered volunteers from 54 local families, which add up to about 80 people. Ueshiba organized the volunteers to form “Kishu Group”, and led them to settle in Kamiyuubetsu Village (currently Shirataki Village, Monbetsu County). The settlement took 2 years due to the harsh conditions, but eventually succeeded. Ueshiba Morihei was thus called “King of Shirataki” from the villagers. Even in such harsh situation, Ueshiba Morihei’s devotion to martial arts did not wither. While in Hokkaido, he met Takeda Sokaku, master of Daito-ryu Jujutsu at a hotel in Engaru County and invited him to the village for training. On May 23rd 1917, a huge fire struck Kamiyuubetsu Village and destroyed nearly all the settled area. Ueshiba Morihei and the villagers cooperated on rebuilding the village. In 1918, Ueshiba Morihei became a representative of the village. However, he received a telegraph about his father’s critical illness and returned home leaving his position and property behind.
The Ueshiba Training School in Ayabe, Kyoto
On the return trip home, Ueshiba Morihei heard that there is a place in Ayabe to pray for one’s recovery. He stopped by and met the spiritual leader of Omoto-kyo, Deguchi Onisaburo, who lectured him on ways of living. Sadly, when Ueshiba arrived in Tanabe, his father has already passed away.
In 1920, Ueshiba moved his family to Ayabe, Kyoto. He continued training with both his body and mind, and founded “Ueshiba School”. He trained with his followers under the fundamental idea of the Ueshiba School, which combines martial art and agriculture. This is also when Aiki-bujutsu, the martial art that unites one’s heart, body and spiritual energy, slowly takes on its current form.
The Rising of Aikido
As Aikido gained reputation, Admiral Takeshita Isamu invited Ueshiba and his pupils to demonstrate Aiki Bujutsu in Tokyo. Their performance affected even the members of the Imperial household Agency, which led to a special lecture that lasted 21 days. After the great success of the demonstration, Ueshiba Morihei received many invitations from celebrities and marine officers for more demonstrations. As a result, Ueshiba Morihei decided to move his family to Tokyo in 1927 and set up a temporary Dojo in his new resident. While teaching Aikido, he also worked as a instructor of martial arts in Marine College, spreading the ideal of Aiki bujutsu. Due to the growing popularity, Ueshiba Morihei started to build his own dojo. At the same time, he opened another temporary dojo in Shimo Ochiai, Mejiro. When Kano Jigoro, the founder of Koudoukan Judo, visited this dojo, Aikido’s balanced training of the mind, the body and spiritual energy really impressed him. He thus sent his own pupils to Ueshiba Morihei’s dojo for training in Aikido as well.
In April 1931, the first official Dojo located in Ushigome Wakamatsu Town (currently known as Wakamatsu town, Shinjuku Ward), Kobukan (currently known as Aikikai Hombu Dojo), finally opened. It was called the “Hellish Dojo” of Ushigome, which housed many of Ueshiba’s top private pupils. Following Kobukan, he built many other dojos in Tokyo and Osaka, and changed the name “Aiki bujutsu” to “Aiki Budo”. On April 30th, 1940, the Ministry of Health and Welfare licensed Aikido under the name “Kobukai Foundation”. In 1942, “Aiki Budo” had its final name-change, and finally became “Aikido” as known today.
Agriculture and Martial Arts as One
In order to reach the ideal that martial art and agriculture share the same roots, Ueshiba moved to Iwama town, Ibaraki prefecture. While reclaiming the forest into farmland, he spent two years from 1943 to build the Aiki Shrine and the Aiki training ground. This became the new stronghold of Aikido after WWII. In 1948, the Ministry of Education certified the “Aikikai Foundation”.
The Essence of the Martial Art of Harmony
After mastering the way of Aikido in Iwama town, Ueshiba Morihei once again started promoting martial arts in 1950. In his 70s, his techniques were so mature and well rounded that it perfectly demonstrated the ideal or harmony.
In 1956, Ueshiba invited ambassadors and ministers from all over the world for his demonstration, which was also the first one after WWII. The Nippon Television Network Corporation produced the show “The Throne of Aikido” in 1960. Ueshiba received the Shiju Medal for his achievements. In addition, he also received in 1964 a Kyokujitsu small medal.
Ueshiba Morihei's final days
In 1969, he was awarded honorary citizen of Tanabe City, Wakayama and honorary citizen of Iwama town. He passed away on April 26th of the same year at age 86. He then received Seigoi Gunsantou Zuiho medal (Orders of the Sacred Treasure) as his final award. On May 2nd, Tokyo, Iwama Town and Tanabe City all held memorial service for him. His remains were buried in Kozan-ji Temple, Tanabe City, which Aikido followers from all over the world come to visit even today.