The Origins of Aikido

Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969), an extraordinarily skilled and profoundly spiritual master. Morihei, commonly referred to as O-Sensei (Great Teacher) by aikido students, grew up in Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Tanabe is about 200 miles south of Osaka, situated along the Pacific Ocean and bordering the mountain mandala of Kumano.

Morihei Ueshiba synthesized aikido from various martial arts which he learned as a young man. Many of these arts date back more than 700 years to the time of the Genji and Heike regimes. O'Sensei's studies include, among others:

  • Jujutsu - Kito School, under Master Tokusaburo Tojawa (1901)
  • Fencing - Yagyu School, under Master Masakatsu Nakai (1903)
  • Jujutsu - Daito School, under Master Sakaku Takeda (1911-1916)
  • Jujutsu - Shinkage School (1922)
  • Spear Fighting - (1924)
  • Zen philosophy - Priest Mitsujo Fujimoto of the Shingon School of Buddhism at the Jizo-ji (1890-1893)
In later years Morihei became deeply involved with the religious school of Omoto-kyo, founded by Rev. Wanisaburo Deguchi.

Master Ueshiba himself marks 1925 as the year in which his search for a deeper meaning in martial arts came to an end and the year which marks the beginning of the development of aikido. One spring day in this same year the forty two year old Morihei was challenged to a fight by a young naval officer and kendo teacher who was visiting Ayabe. Morihei tried to explain the theory of his “Aiki” to the young man but it seems that the visitor had come for a fight. In the end Morihei consented. The officer was unable to touch Morihei. He would dash forward to attack with his wooden training sword but each time Morihei was able to dodge the weapon with ease. After this Morihei went out into the garden and, standing under a persimmon tree he was suddenly overcome with a feeling which he had never experienced previously. He could neither walk no sit. He was rooted to the gound in great astonishment. In his own words:

I felt that the universe suddenly quaked, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled me, and changed my body into one of gold. At the same time my mind and body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the Creator of this universe. At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God’s love – the spirit of loving protection for all beings. Tears of joy steamed down my cheeks.

Since that time I have grown to feel that 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: 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.

It is this experience that revolutionized his life and gave birth to the martial art of Aikido.