The Founder of Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba Sensei

The founder of Aikido is generally referred to as O-Sensei, which means ‘Great Teacher’. He was born in a small town called Tanabe in Wakayama prefecture on the 14th December, 1883. His father had some involvement in martial arts, but was primarily a businessman.

O-Sensei was not particularly healthy as a young man and initially took up budo (martial arts) as a means to improve his health. Exactly which arts he studied as a young man is hard to prove historically, but he undoubtedly had experience of jujutsu and kenjutsu. The real entry point to what would later become Aikido occurred in 1915, when he met Takeda Sokaku, the headmaster of Daito Ryu Jujutsu. This art was almost certainly the Takeda family art stretching back to the 16th century and one of the oldest surviving arts from Japanese samurai times. This is the art, which most directly influenced the technical side of what would eventually become Aikido.

The second important moment in the birth of Aikido came when O-Sensei, in 1920, met Deguchi Onisaburo, a teacher of a form of Shintoism, who emphasized the study of the Kotodama, the vibrations of sound and energy. Through his contact with Deguchi, the seeds of a new meaning for O-Sensei’s Budo practice were planted, which were to flower much later in the form of a new art, Aikido.

In 1931, O-Sensei opened a permanent dojo in Tokyo, known as the Kobukan. At this time the art was mostly known as Aiki-Budo. The training was very intense, a much tougher form of practice than modern Aikido, so much so that the Kobukan was nicknamed ‘Hell Dojo’. Membership was only possible through a letter of introduction, and, although injuries were common, there was a constant stream of practitioners, many already accomplished in other arts.

In 1942 the name Aikido was first officially used to describe O-Sensei’s new art. There are many stories relating to this moment of transition, and undoubtedly there are many elements that play a role in how modern Aikido came into being. For those who are seriously interested more research is needed.

O-Sensei’s vision of Aikido as a martial art, which could improve people’s lives and thus change the world into a better place continued to develop until his death on April 26th, 1969. Aikido has since gone on to be practiced all over the world.