Student Guide

History of Aikido

Aikido was formalized as a modern martial art during the first half of this century. Tracing roots back over 700 years, this method of Budo (martial way) was refined by Master Morihei Ueshiba. O'Sensei (or Great Teacher, as he is now known) was born on December 14, 1883 in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. While young he studied sumo wrestling and swimming to improve his slight frame. In 1901 he had moved to Tokyo, setting up his own stationery and school supply store (Ueshiba Trading). It was there he first began to study the martial arts, learning jujitsu and kenjutsu. Late in 1902 he left Tokyo and returned to Tanabe, marrying Hatsu Itokawa (b. 1881).


Morihei spent 1903 through 1907 fighting in the Russo- Japanese war. When he returned it was said that he had strengthened his five-foot, one-inch frame to a rock hard 170 pounds. After the war he returned to Tanabe, where his father hired Kiyoichi Takagi to teach his son Judo. O'Sensei lived and worked in Tanabe for the next three years, then formed a settlers group and, with fifty-four households, moved to settle at Shirataki. During this time he met and studied with Sokaku Takeda, master of Daito-ryu. Morihei eventually earned a certificate in Daito-ryu jujitsu.


Mid-November 1919 brought news to Morihei that his father was seriously ill. He left Shirataki to return to Tanabe, but along the way detoured through Ayabe when he heard of the new religion Omoto-kyo, famous for its meditation techniques that "calmed the spirit, returning it to the divine". He eventually got home, but his father died on January 2, 1920 at age 76. This was a great blow to Morihei, and he returned to Onisaburo Deguchi (leader of the Omoto-kyo sect) in search of a more spiritual life. Morihei spent eight years with Onisaburo, during which time he converted part of his house into an eighteen-mat dojo (practice hall).


It was during this period that his martial arts started to take on a more spiritual character. By 1922 his approach was known as aiki-bujutsu. In 1924 he was part of an ill-fated trip to Manchuria in search of a holy land, and was only returned to Japan, out of the hands of the Chinese army, through the intervention of the Japanese consular staff. After his return he became interested in sojutsu (spear technique), refining an intuitive sense of knowing where an attack was coming from.


The spring of 1925 proved to be an important one for O'Sensei. During this time he met the challenge of a naval officer, a master of Kendo. The officer was defeated without actually fighting, as Morihei could sense and avoid each attack as it came. After this encounter he went to a well to clean up, where he later described "being bathed in a golden light pouring down from the heavens". This complete serenity of body and spirit led him to the philosophical principles upon which modern Aikido is based.


It was also at this time he changed the name of his art to aiki-budo (from the martial art of aiki to the martial way of aiki). By 1927 Morihei had moved to Tokyo in order to devote all of his energies to the teaching of his martial art. In April of 1931 a full- scale, eighty-mat dojo was inaugurated. Aiki-budo flourished over the next ten years, attracting many students from all different walks of life. World War II saw a reduction in the number of students, and a change where O'Sensei moved to the Ibaragi Prefecture leaving his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, in charge of the Tokyo dojo. It was also during this time that the term Aikido began to be used for the first time.


After the war the practice of Aikido moved to Iwama, where the new Aiki Shrine and Dojo were established. On February 9, 1948 the Ministry of Education granted permission for the reestablishment of the Aikikai under a revised charter. The headquarters of Aikido was moved to Tokyo in 1954, where it took the official title Aikikai Foundation: The Hombu Dojo of Aikido. Morihei continued to practice and give demonstrations, visiting Hawaii for the first time in February of 1961.


January 12, 1968 saw the completion and commemorative ceremony of the new three-story, Hombu dojo building. Later that year O'Sensei gave what was to be his last demonstration in honor of the completion of the new building. Morihei Ueshiba passed away peacefully on April 26, 1969. He was 86 years old.