Morihei Ueshiba

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In this Japanese name, the family name is “Ueshiba“.
Morihei Ueshiba
植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei
Morihei Ueshiba
Born December 14, 1883
Tanabe, WakayamaJapan
Died April 26, 1969 (aged 85)
Iwama, IbarakiJapan
Nationality Japan Japanese
Style Founder of Aikido
Teacher(s) Takeda Sōkaku
Children Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969) was a famous martial artist and founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido. He is often referred to as “the founder” Kaiso (開祖) or Ōsensei (大先生/翁先生), “Great Teacher”.


Early years

Morihei Ueshiba was born in TanabeWakayama PrefectureJapan on December 14, 1883.[1][2]

The youngest son of Yoroku and Yuki Ueshiba’s five children, Morihei was raised in a somewhat privileged setting. His father was a rich landowner who also traded in lumber and fishing and was politically active. Ueshiba was a rather weak, sickly child and bookish in his inclinations. At a young age his father encouraged him to take up sumo wrestling and swimming and entertained him with stories of his great-grandfather Kichiemon who was considered a very strong samurai in his era. The need for such strength was further emphasized when the young Ueshiba witnessed his father being attacked by followers of a competing politician.[3]

Ueshiba is known to have studied several martial arts in his life but he did not train extensively in most and even his training in Yagyū Shingan-ryū was sporadic due to his military service in those years. Records show that he trained in Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū jujutsu under Tozawa Tokusaburō for a short period in 1901 in Tokyo; Gotō-ha Yagyū Shingan-ryū under Nakai Masakatsu from 1903 to 1908 in Sakai, and judounder Kiyoichi Takagi 1911 in Tanabe.[1] However, it was only after moving to the northern island of Hokkaidō in 1912 with his wife, as part of a settlement effort, that his martial art training took on real depth. For it was here that he began his study of Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu under its reviver Takeda Sokaku.[1] He characterized his early training thus:

At about the age of 14 or 15. First I learned Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū Jujutsu from Tokusaburo Tozawa Sensei, then Kito-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, Aioi-ryu, Shinkage-ryu, all of those jujutsu forms. However, I thought there might be a true form of budo elsewhere. I tried Hozoin-ryu sojitsu and kendo. But all of these arts are concerned with one-to-one combat forms and they could not satisfy me. So I visited many parts of the country seeking the Way and training, but all in vain. … I went to many places seeking the true budo. Then, when I was about 30 years old, I settled in Hokkaido. On one occasion, while staying at Hisada Inn in Engaru, Kitami Province, I met a certain Sokaku Takeda Sensei of the Aizu clan. He taught Daito-ryu jujutsu. During the 30 days in which I learned from him I felt something like an inspiration. Later, I invited this teacher to my home and together with 15 or 16 of my employees became a student seeking the essence of budo.
Did you discover aikido while you were learning Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda?
No. It would be more accurate to say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.[4]

Takeda Sokaku and Daitō-ryū

Retouched photograph of Takeda Sokaku c.1888

The technical curriculum of aikido was undoubtedly most greatly influenced by the teachings of Takeda Sokaku and his system of aiki-jūjutsu called Daitō-ryū.[1] Although disputed by some, the ledger books of Takeda clearly show that Ueshiba spent a great deal of time training in Daitō-ryū between 1915 and 1937. He received the majority of the important scrolls awarded by Takeda at this time including the Hiden Mokuroko, the Hiden Ogi and the Goshin’yo te. Ueshiba received his kyoju dairi certificate, or teaching license, for the system from Takeda in 1922. Takeda had not yet implemented a menkyo license, or highest level of achievement license, into his system at this time. He also received a Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū sword transmission scroll from Takeda in 1922 in Ayabe. Ueshiba then became a representative of Daitō-ryū, toured with Takeda as a teaching assistant and taught the system to others under the Daitō-ryū name.[1]

The basic techniques of aikido seem to have their basis in teachings from various points in the Daitō-ryū curriculum. A source of confusion is the different names used for these techniques in aikido and in the Daitō-ryū system. In part this is because Takeda Tokimune added much of the nomenclature after the period in which Ueshiba studied. In addition the names ikkajonikajosankajo used in both Daitō-ryū and the early years of aikido, latter supplanted by terms such as ikkyonikyosankyo, were really generic names translating to “first teaching”, “second teaching”, and so on.[5] In Daitō-ryū these usually refer to groupings of techniques while in aikido they usually refer to specific techniques and joint manipulations.

From aiki-jūjutsu to aikido

In the earlier years of his teaching, from the 1920s to the mid-1930s, Ueshiba taught the aiki-jūjutsu system he had earned a license in from Takeda Sokaku. His early students’ documents bear the term aiki-jūjutsu.[6] Indeed, Ueshiba trained one of the future highest grade earners in Daitō-ryū, Takuma Hisa, in the art before Takeda took charge of Hisa’s training.[7]

The early form of training under Ueshiba was characterized by the ample use of strikes to vital points (atemi), a larger total curriculum, a greater use of weapons, and a more linear approach to technique than would be found in later forms of aikido. These methods are preserved in the teachings of his early students Kenji Tomiki (who founded the Shodokan Aikido sometimes called Tomiki-ryū), Noriaki Inoue (who founded Shin’ei Taidō), Minoru Mochizuki (who founded Yoseikan Budo), Gozo Shioda (who founded Yoshinkan Aikido). Many of these styles are considered “pre-war styles”, although some of the teachers continued to have contact and influence from Ueshiba in the years after the Second World War.

Later, as Ueshiba seemed to slowly grow away from Takeda, he began to implement more changes into the art. These changes are reflected in the differing names with which he referred to his art, first as aiki-jūjutsu,[6] then Ueshiba-ryū,[8] Asahi-ryū,[9] aiki budō,[10] and finally aikido.[11]

As Ueshiba grew older, more skilled, and more spiritual in his outlook, his art also changed and became softer and more circular. Striking techniques became less important and the formal curriculum became simpler. In his own expression of the art there was a greater emphasis on what is referred to as kokyū-nage, or “breath throws” which are soft and blending, utilizing the opponent’s movement in order to throw them. Many of these techniques are rooted in the aiki-no-jutsu portions of the Daitō-ryū curriculum rather than the more direct jujutsu style joint-locking techniques.

Onisaburo Deguchi’s spiritual influence

After Ueshiba left Hokkaidō he came under the influence of Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Ōmoto-kyō religion in Ayabe. In addition to the effect on his spiritual growth, this connection was to have a major effect in introducing Ueshiba to various elite political circles as a martial artist. The Ueshiba Dojo in Ayabe was used to train members of the Ōmoto-kyō sect. He was involved in the first Ōmoto-kyō Incident, an ill-fated attempt to found a utopian colony in Mongolia.[1] Although Ueshiba eventually distanced himself from both these teachers, their effect on him and his art cannot be overstated.

The real birth of Aikido came as the result of three instances of spiritual awakening that Ueshiba experienced. The first happened in 1925, after Ueshiba had defeated a naval officer’s bokken (wooden katana) attacks unarmed and without hurting the officer. Ueshiba then walked to his garden and had a spiritual awakening.

Onisaburo Deguchi
… I felt the universe suddenly quake, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. At the same time my 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 the universe.
At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God’s love – the spirit of loving protection for all beings …
Budo is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to 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.[12]

His second experience occurred in 1940 when,

“Around 2am as I was performing misogi, I suddenly forgot all the martial techniques I had ever learned. The techniques of my teachers appeared completely new. Now they were vehicles for the cultivation of life, knowledge, and virtue, not devices to throw people with.”[13]

His third experience was in 1942 during the worst fighting of WWII, Ueshiba had a vision of the “Great Spirit of Peace”.[2]

“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”[14]

In 1927, Ueshiba moved to Tokyo where he founded his first dojo, which still exists today under the name Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Between 1940 and 1942 he made several visits to Manchukuo (Japanese occupied Manchuria) to instruct his martial art. In 1942 he left Tokyo and moved to Iwama in the Ibaraki Prefecture where the term “aikido” was first used as a name for his art. Here he founded the Aiki Shuren Dojo, also known as the Iwama dojo. During all this time he traveled extensively in Japan, particularly in the Kansai region teaching his aikido.

In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba became ill. He died suddenly on April 26, 1969 of cancer.[15] Two months later, his wife Hatsu (植芝 はつ; Ueshiba Hatsu, née Itokawa Hatsu; 1881–1969)[16] died in turn. His son Kisshomaru Ueshiba carried forward.


In an interview Shoji Nishio reported : “At that time, a former Karate sensei of the Butokukai named Toyosaku Sodeyama who was running Konishi Sensei’s dojo and also teaching there came up to me and said: “I met someone who is like a ‘phantom’. I couldn’t strike him even once.” I was amazed that there was someone that even Sodeyama Sensei couldn’t strike. It was O-Sensei.”[17]

To this day, Ōmoto-kyō priests oversee a ceremony in Ueshiba’s honor every April 29 at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama.

Over the years, Ueshiba trained a large number of students, many of whom have grown into great teachers in their own right. Some of them were uchideshi, or live-in students. There are roughly four generations of students. A partial list follows:[18][19][20]

First (pre-war) generation
Second (war) generation
Third (post-war) generation
Fourth (and last) generation
  • Zenzaburo Akazawa (born 1920) since 1933
  • Masahiro Hashimoto (born 1910) since 1931
  • Takuma Hisa (1895–1980) since 1934
  • Yasuhiro Konishi (1893–1983)
  • Noriaki Inoue (1902–1994) since c.1921, nephew of Morihei Ueshiba
  • Ikkusai Iwata (born 1909) since 1930, 9th dan Aikikai
  • Hisao Kamada (1911–1986) since 1929
  • Minoru Mochizuki (1907–2003) since 1930, 10th dan (received from theInternational Martial Arts Federation)
  • Aritoshi Murashige (1895–1964) since 1931
  • Gozo Shioda (1915–1994) since 1932, founder of the Yoshinkan Aikido
  • Rinjiro Shirata (1912–1993) since 1933, 9th dan
  • Yoshio Sugino (1904–1998) since 1934, 10th dan IMAF, 10th dan Katori Shinto-ryu
  • Isamu Takeshita (1869–1949) since c.1925
  • Kenji Tomiki (1900–1979) since 1926, was the first 8th dan awarded in aikido in 1942.
  • Shigemi Yonekawa (1910–2005) since 1933
  • Tsutomu Yukawa (1911–1942) since 1931
  • Tadashi Abe (1926–1984) since 1942, 6th dan
  • Minoru Hirai (1903–1998) since 1939, founder of the Korindo style.
  • Kisaburo Osawa (1911–1991) since 1941, 9th dan
  • Kanshū Sunadomari (1923–2010) since 1942, 9th dan
  • Bansen Tanaka (1912–1988) since 1936, 9th dan
  • Saburo Tenryū (1903–1989) since 1939, he was a famous sumo wrestler
  • Koichi Tohei (1920–2011) since 1939, only 10th dan awarded by Ueshiba andapproved by Aikikai
  • Michio Hikitsuchi (1923–2004) since 1937, 10th dan (verbally awarded by Ueshiba), opened Shingu’s Kumano Juku in 1951 (when he was 7th dan)
  • Yamada Senta (1924–2010) live-in student in Wakayama & toured Japan with Ueshiba. Student of Jigoro Kano, 6th dan Aiki & Judo, later trained with Kenji Tomiki

Personal traits

Morihei Ueshiba regularly practiced cold water misogi, as well as other spiritual and religious rites. He viewed his studies of aikido in this light.[21]

As a young man, Ueshiba was renowned for his incredible physical strength. He would later lose much of this muscle, which some believe changed the way he performed aikido technique.[22]

Ueshiba was said to be a simple but wise man, and a gifted farmer. In his later years, he was regarded as very kind and gentle as a rule, but there are also stories of terrifying scoldings delivered to his students. For instance, he once thoroughly chastised students for practicing  (staff) strikes on trees without first covering them in protective padding. Another time, as students sneaked back into the dojo after a night of drinking and brawling, he smashed the first one through the door over the head with a bokken (wooden practice sword), and proceeded to scold them.

Morihei Ueshiba played the game of Go often. During one game with Sokaku Takeda, Takeda utilized the Goban as a weapon against a man he mistook for an assassin. The “assassin” was actually a friend of Ueshiba, and had arrived in a scarf due to bad weather. The scarf hid the man’s identity, triggering Takeda’s paranoia as, at the time, many people actually were trying to kill him.[23]



  • Morihei Ueshiba, The Secret Teachings of Aikido (2008), Kodansha International, ISBN 978-4-7700-3030-6 [1]
  • Morihei Ueshiba, Budo: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido (1996), Kodansha International, ISBN 978-4-7700-2070-3 [2]
  • Morihei Ueshiba, The Essence of Aikido: Spiritual Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba (1998), Kodansha International, ISBN 978-4-7700-2357-5 [3]

See also


  1. a b c d e f Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Ueshiba, Morihei”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  2. a b Ueshiba, Morihei (1992). The Art of Peace. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc. pp. 5–10. ISBN 0-87773-851-3.
  3. ^ Stevens, John.Aikido; the Way of Harmony. Shambhala Publications, Boston, 1984.
  4. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006) “Interview with Kisshomaru and Morihei Ueshiba”
  5. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Ikkyo”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  6. a b Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Aikijujutsu”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  7. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Hisa Takuma”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  8. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Ueshiba-ryu”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  9. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006)“Sokaku Takeda in Osaka”
  10. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Aiki Budo”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  11. ^ Pranin, Stanley (2006). “Aikido”Encyclopedia of Aikido.
  12. ^ Ueshiba, Kisshomaru. Aikido Hozansha Publications, Tokyo, 1985.
  13. ^ Morihei Ueshiba’s Second Vision from the Oregon Graduate Institute’s Aikido Club.
  14. ^ Speaking of a vision of the “Great Spirit of Peace” in 1942, during World War II, as quoted in Adjusting Though Reflex: Romancing Zen (2010) by Rodger Hyodo, p. 76.
  15. ^ Interview with Shoji Nishio (1984), Part 1 “His face was really beautiful like a Noh mask of an old man. If one dies of cancer, there is usually a lot of suffering and the pain remains on the face. But, that wasn’t the case with 0-Sensei. He had a divinely beautiful face.”
  16. ^ Dang, P. T., & Seiser, L. (2006): Advanced Aikido (p. 3). Tokyo: Tuttle. (ISBN 978-0-8048-3785-9)
  17. ^ Interview with Shoji Nishio (1984), held on May 22, 1983 in Tokyo
  18. ^ Aikido Journal Encyclopedia
  19. ^ List of Deshi
  20. ^ Interview with Kisshomaru Ueshiba in Aikido Journal
  21. ^ Phong Thong Dang, Lynn Seiser; Advanced Aikido Tuttle Publishing, 2006 ISBN 978-0-8048-3785-9 p17
  22. ^ Stone, J and Myer, R; Aikido in America, Frog Books, 1995, ISBN 978-1-883319-27-4 p2
  23. ^ Stevens, John. Invincible WarriorISBN 1-57062-394-5.
  24. a b North Austin Tae Kwan Do: “Chronology of the Life of Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido.”
  25. ^ L’Harmattan web site (in French)

External links

Preceded by
Dōshu of Aikikai
1940 – April 26, 1969
Succeeded by
Kisshomaru Ueshiba
Preceded by
Dōjōcho of Iwama Dōjō
Succeeded by
Morihiro Saitō
Preceded by
Dojocho of Aikikai Hombu Dojo
Succeeded by
Koichi Tohei