Aikido is a martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba. AI means harmony, KI means physical and spiritual energy and DO means Way. Ueshiba, often referred to as O-Sensei (great teacher) by Aikido practitioners, was born in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan in 1883. He was active in Budo (martial arts) until his passing in 1969.
He was an extremely talented, some say the most talented, martial artist of his time. O-Sensei based his art on the techniques and principles of Daito Ryu Aiki jujutsu, together with a very strong spiritual influence from Onisaburo Deguchi. Deguchi was the spiritual leader of the Omoto Kyo, a Shinto group.
Aikido is not a religion or a sect. O-Sensei is known to have said that one did not need to follow his religious path to learn Aikido. However, the Shinto traditions are a natural part of the Japanese culture, as are Buddhist traditions as well, and learning about them is of interest to those, such as myself, who are fascinated by Japanese culture in all of its aspects and forms.
Morihei Ueshiba, referred to as O-Sensei (great teacher) or the founder by Aikido practitioners, was born on December 14, 1883 in Tanabe in present-day Wakayama prefecture. At the age of seventeen he had his first formal training in Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu. He joined the army in 1903. His affinity for the martial arts was particularly evident in his training; he excelled in bayonet practice. In the period during his military service, 1903-1906, O-Sensei trained in a Yagyu Ryu school in Osaka, possibly Yagyu Shingan Ryu. In the period after 1906, he trained Judo for a short time.
In 1915, O-Sensei met Sokaku Takeda, of Daito-ryu jujutsu for the first time. He soon became one of Takeda's best students. The techniques of Takeda's Daito-ryu became the foundation of O-Sensei's creation, what we now know as Aikido. The name most often used for this martial art during the pre-war years was Aiki Budo.
The other main influence on O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, not in terms of martial technique but rather in the spiritual sense, was Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Omoto (Shinto) religion. O-Sensei met Deguchi for the first time in 1919.
O-Sensei moved to Tokyo around the late 1920s, first teaching in private settings and finally establishing the Kobukan dojo in 1931. The dojo was situated in Shinjuku on the same site as the present Hombu Dojo.
O-Sensei had purchased land in Iwama in the late 1930s in preparation for his move out of Tokyo. In 1942, suffering from illness and wanting to leave behind the gruelling, war-torn Tokyo life, the founder retired to rural Iwama, where he engaged in farming, training and meditation.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, O-Sensei ventured away from Iwama more often, spending days in Tokyo, Osaka, Wakayama and many other places he was invited to.
In his later years, the founder's health was failing and he spent more of his time in Tokyo. O-Sensei could by this time begin to see the fruits of his labor, with Aikido gaining great popularity around the world. This was partly due to the first Japanese teachers sent abroad to spread the art, as well as the first foreigners who came to Japan to learn Aikido at its source.
O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba passed away on April 26, 1969, leaving behind the treasure he created called Aikido.