Life of Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei), Founder of Aikido
Morihei Ueshiba was born December 14, 1883, in a village called Tanabe. His father, a retainer of the Kii family who were lords of the province now called Wakayama, taught the secret method of combat called Aioi-Ryuu and some Tai-jitsu and Kendo mixed in. This method which the boy learned from his father (beginning around the age of 10) lies at the root of present day Aikido.
When Morihei was 12 years old, his father served as chief of the village and as a member of the village council. Thugs hired by political opponents sometimes came to the house and assaulted him. These incidents of violence made a permanent impression on the boy and formed the edge of his resolve to become strong through the martial arts.
In 1901, when he was 18 years old, the young man worked on the streets in Tokyo in the wholesale business. There he studied the jujitsu of the Kito School (Tokusadura Tosawa); a style influenced by the Chinese Kempo techniques of striking the vulnerable parts of the body, but with a prominence for the arts of throwing an opponent.
After a few months in Tokyo, he developed a heart condition known as beriberi and had to return home. When he recovered, he was determined to strengthen his body. As a youth, his short body (he was only 5’2″ tall) had been rather slight, but now he became solid and muscular. His study of martial arts continued. He went to Sakai to study Yagyu School fencing (Masakatsu Nakai), finally receiving the certificate of that sect in 1908, his training having been interrupted by a period of military service.
At that time he loved to participate in the rice-cake making contests of his village. In these contests, a large quantity of rice is placed in a stone mortar and pounded with a heavy mallet until it becomes a rubbery paste that is laid out in flat cakes to cool before eating. Ueshiba would invariably win these contests to pound out the most rice, in his own and other villages and finally, as the story goes, he ended up by breaking the mallet itself.
This story suggests that he still possessed an ample measure of competitive spirit in those days. In spring of 1910, Ueshiba went as a settler to Hokkaido, the northern island, which at that time was still a frontier. His study of Martial Arts continued. Sokaku Takeda, a master of the Diato Jujitsu sect was in Hokkaido then. Ueshiba became his pupil, practicing mostly on his own and receiving a lesson only once in a while. He had to pay his teacher between three and five hundred yen for each technique (one yen was worth about half a dollar) and besides that, to cut the master’s wood and carry his water before receiving the lesson.
In the spring of 1918 the event of his father’s death had a profound effect on his spirit. “Of what use is it to perfect one’s self in the arts of self-defense if one must inevitably be defeated by death?” “After all, what does fighting to win mean? If I win today, the time will inevitably come when I must lose. What will I have accomplished if I waste my entire life and all my spiritual power on such things as these? What will I have gained? The universe is absolute; is there no absolute victory?”
He then began to seek an answer in meditation and prayer.
He moved to Ayabe where he lived and studied until 1926. In this period, his son Kisshomanu was born. The master also occupied himself with the study of Shinkage jujitsu, with the arts of the spear along with the day-to-day tasks associated with simple farm work.
In the spring of 1925, a naval officer, who was a professor of fencing, came to visit the master at Ayabe. During their conversation, they disagreed over something and agreed to have a contest with wooden swords. The officer attacked but the master dodged each blow and his opponent, unable to touch him, finally gave up. Wanting to rest after this encounter, the master went out into the garden alone. Suddenly a remarkable liberating experience (what in Zen is called satori) struck him. Here is his own description:
“I felt that the universe suddenly quaked and that the golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body and changed it into a golden one. At the same time, my mind and body became light. I was able to understand God, the Creator of the universe.” “At that moment I was enlightened. The source of Budo (martial arts) is God’s love, the spirit of loving protection for all beings. Endless tears of Joy streamed down my cheeks. Since that time I have grown to feel the whole earth is my house and the sun, the moon and the stars are all my own things. I had become free from all desire, not only for position, fame and property, but also to be strong. I understood, Budo is not felling the opponent by our force; nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature. I understood that the training of Budo is to take God’s love, which correctly produces, protects and cultivates all things in nature and assimilate and utilize it in our own mind and body.”
This remarkable insight was the beginning of Aikido.
This ethic is reflected in the technique, which the master taught. Therefore, instead of trying to block an attack and reply to it, or avoid an attack and reply, the technical aim is to harmonize the will with the will of the opponent and to conduct his will and his movement so that they cause no harm.
In 1927 the master moved to Tokyo and began to teach. A large house on a hill was rented to serve as a temporary headquarters. Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, came to visit along with several of his senior pupils. Kano is said to have remarked on seeing the master’s Aikido, “This is my ideal Budo.” He sent several high-ranking students from the Kodokan to study with Ueshiba.
The training was rugged and the pupils became very strong. He kept strict control over the admission of new students, requiring from each the recommendation of two persons of high standing. The result was that a majority of the pupils were Budo experts, nobles, military and business leaders, or children of such families. The master strove to preserve the great repute of his new budo by ensuring that his pupils were of a certain position or of a certain personal level.
The outbreak of the Second World War dispersed O’Sensei’s pupils, calling many of them into military service. The master left the emptying headquarters dojo and retired to the site of the Aiki shrine at Iwama to engage in farming and private practice and teaching. The master’s son, Kisshomaru, took charge of the headquarters dojo at this time.
After the war, in 1948, the new Aiki Association was launched.
Following the war, the master had come to feel that the principles of Aikido were essentially international and should be offered freely to all as a way of filling the spiritual vacuum of the modem world. Accordingly, instructors were sent out to all parts of the globe and the special restrictions controlling the acceptance of pupils for the new martial art were removed. Since that time, Aikido has spread widely outside of Japan.
On April 26, 1969, at 86 years of age, the master died in his sleep after two months of sickness.