The greatest martial arts master, of all time, was born in Nishinotani village, in Japan, on December 14th, 1883. His name was Morihei Ueshiba, and he was the son of prominent members of society, named Yoroku and Yuki. Morihei was also the great-grandson of the powerful samurai, Kichiemon. His elementary schoolteacher was the Shinto priest, Tasaburo Nasu. Meanwhile, Morihei’s schoolmaster was the Shingon Buddhist priest, Mitsujo Fujimoto. Along with this, as a teenager, Morihei studied Tenshin Shinyo-ryu Jujutsu, in Tokyo. Then, having joined the military, he learned Yagya Shingan-ryu Jujutsu. All of this was very formative in the life of the boy, who grew up to become the founder of Aikido. O-Sensei was inspired by nearly everyone around him, although master Sokaku Takeda probably taught him the most.
Oomoto-kyo, or Omoto, is a religion that was founded by Onisaburo Deguchi. He became Morihei Ueshiba’s spiritual mentor, to the point that O-Sensei even moved his family to Ayabe, so they could be closer to Deguchi. Ueshiba not only taught martial arts to the devotees of Deguchi, he also served as one of the man’s personal bodyguards. However, the Japanese utopians, including Deguchi and Ueshiba, were arrested and sentenced to death for becoming too radicalized. However, they were able to use their personal clout to sway the government into letting them live. So, after calling in some favors from his living and dead relatives, O-Sensei was able to resume his formal instructions as a one-of-a-kind martial arts master. He even gave seminars to military personnel, including Admiral Takeshita. In 1930, Morihei Ueshiba was then visited by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. Kano had been so impressed by what he saw that he sent his best students to study under O-Sensei. In 1931, he even opened his first dojo in Tokyo. This is when and where Aikido really began to evolve out of Jujutsu, first giving rise to Aikibudo.
O-Sensei based much of his teachings on the Budo way of life. This called back to the time of his great-grandfather, when skills such as poetry and calligraphy were just as important as knowing how to fight. This was at the heart of the gentlemen warriors, known as the samurai. During the age of the shoguns, it was just as important to know how to do a proper tea ceremony as it was to make your own sword. Along with this, in the culture of Budo, Bushido is a code of conduct that requires a number of virtues to be upheld, such as loyalty, bravery and honor. Ultimately, Budo seeks excellence in even the most ordinary, as well as extraordinary, tasks. This was of the utmost importance to Morihei Ueshiba, as was living in the moment, among many other bits of Eastern wisdom.
Much like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido is an adaptive style of martial arts. So, although there are about a couple hundred basic techniques, the applied techniques are infinite. As part of this, there aren’t any grappling maneuvers, of which to speak. In fact, there are no attacks of any kind. Aikido is strictly for defensive purposes only. At its core, Aikido is a form of non-destructive, peaceful, conflict resolution. It is only meant to be used if diplomacy fails. To perfect this, O-Sensei developed the intuition of both an anatomist and a physicist, alike. That is to say, he understood how to use centrifugal and centripetal forces against his opponents, to control their movement. In this way, he was able to throw people around like rag dolls. As part of this, Aikido incorporates vertical pushing, horizontal extension power and other leverage routines, into spontaneous defense tactics. Still, in not trying to cause any harm, Aikido is an expression of the love of life. It’s all about achieving peace through positive self-discipline, as well as spiritual devotion.
O-Sensei was as much a mystic, as he was an athlete, if not more. Aikido literally means, the “Way of Spiritual Harmony”. One way to think of this is that, by properly balancing his soul and body, O-Sensei was able to cultivate spirit. Put another way, ki is an all pervasive power, that he was able to summon forth, as a result of his lifelong training. Like the samurai before him, Morihei Ueshiba also prayed to a number of different martial deities, along with the cardinal directions, as well as the eastern sky itself, among other sacred things. Of course, he held Sarutahiko Okami in the highest regard. This is the Great God of Shinto, enshrined at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine. Sarutahiko is also the god of Aiki, who stands between Heaven and Earth. Sarutahiko is nothing less than the Lord of Aikido. After all, spirituality was essential to everything that Morihei did.
Through ongoing prayer, O-Sensei continuously strove to attain the perfect state of self-renunciation. This made him very calm, in spite of anything that went on around him. He meditated and chanted, on a daily basis, to center himself in the universe. His abilities, both in and out of the dojo, were simply astounding. He developed extra sensory perceptions, which allowed him to detect the presence, and movement, of people in peculiar ways. His students would even try to sneak up on him, but no one ever could, regardless of how hard they tried. Everyday he would practice martial arts alone in the morning. O-Sensei had a number of ascetic practices that he performed, every morning and evening, as well. He saluted the majesty of Creation, while praying for world peace. Plus, by continuously revitalizing himself through advanced pneumatological work with ki, O-Sensei never grew weary. He could endure hours of practice without getting tired, being completely filled with “ai” and “ki”, which is to say love and spirit.
In many ways, Morihei Ueshiba achieved immortality. Even though he passed away, in April of 1969, his spirit still lives on. As an example of what I mean, there is a picture of him in every Aikido dojo that I’ve ever been in. So, even though he’s not around anymore, to this very day, people still bow to O-Sensei whenever they enter or leave a dojo. I remember that when I used to study Aikido, at the Lake County Aikikai, we used to wipe down the mat after every session. My point is that, there is just so much respect given to O-Sensei, and everything associated with his unique form of martial arts. There are now more than a million Aikidoists, worldwide, and the number just keeps getting bigger. There is also still a direct link to Morihei, in that his grandson Moriteru, is the current Doshu of the Aikikai, making him the hereditary head of Aikido. He is also expected to be succeeded by his son Mitsuteru. In this way, the legacy of O-Sensei will live on, long into the future.