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Aiki Kai Australia

National Aikido Association of Australia



About O Sensei

Ueshiba Morihei (December 14, 1883 to April 26, 1969) was a martial artist and founder of the Japanese martial art of Aikido. He is often referred to as "the founder" Kaiso or O Sensei ,
"Great Teacher". 

The son of a landowner from Tanabe, Ueshiba studied a number of martial arts in his youth, and served in the Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese War. After being discharged in 1907, he moved to Hokkaido as the head of a pioneer settlement; here he met and studied with Takeda Sokaku, the founder of Daito'-ryu' aiki-ju'jutsu. On leaving Hokkaido in 1919, Ueshiba joined the O'moto-kyo' movement, a Shinto sect, in Ayabe, where he served as a martial arts instructor and opened his first dojo. He accompanied the head of the O'moto-kyo' group, Onisaburo Deguchi, on an expedition to Mongolia in 1924, where they were captured by Chinese troops and returned to Japan. The following year, he experienced a great spiritual enlightenment, stating that, "a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one." After this experience, his martial arts skill appeared to be greatly increased. 

More detailed history

Morihei Ueshiba was born in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan on December 14, 1883, the fourth child (and only son) born to Yoroku Ueshiba and his wife Yuki. The young Ueshiba 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. 

At the age of six Ueshiba was sent to study at the Jizo'deru Temple, but had little interest in the rote learning of Confucian education. However, his schoolmaster was also a priest of Shingon Buddhism, and taught the young Ueshiba some of the esoteric chants and ritual observances of the sect, which Ueshiba found intriguing. He went to Tanage Higher Elementary School and then to Tanabe Prefectural Middle School, but left formal education in his early teens, enrolling instead at the private abacus academy, the Yoshida Institute, to study accountancy. On graduating from the academy, he worked at a local tax office for a few months, but the job did not suit him and in 1901 he left for Tokyo, funded by his father. Ueshiba Trading, the stationery business which he opened there was short-lived; unhappy with life in the capital, he returned to Tanabe less than a year later after suffering a bout of beri-beri. Shortly thereafter he married his childhood acquaintance Hatsu Itokawa. 

In 1903, Ueshiba was called up for military service. He failed the initial physical examination, being shorter than the regulation 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m). To overcome this, he stretched his spine by attaching heavy weights to his legs and suspending himself from tree branches; when he re-took the physical exam he had increased his height by the necessary half-inch to pass. He was assigned to the Osaka Fourth Division, 37th Regiment, and was a corporal by the following year; after serving on the front lines during the Russo-Japanese War he was promoted to sergeant. He was discharged in 1907, and again returned to his father's farm in Tanabe. Here he befriended the writer and philosopher Minakata Kumagusu, becoming involved with Minakata's opposition to the Meiji government's Shrine Consolidation Policy. He and his wife had their first child, a daughter named Matsuko, in 1911. 

Ueshiba studied several martial arts during his early life, and was renowned for his physical strength during his youth. His training in Goto'-ha Yagyu'-ryu under Masakatsu Nakai was sporadic due to his military service, although he was granted a diploma in the art within a few years. In 1901 he received some instruction from Tozawa Tokusaburo'in in Tenjin Shin'yo'-ryu' jujutsu and he studied judo with Kiyoichi Takagi in Tanabe in 1911. 

In 1912, Ueshiba and his wife left Tanabe and moved to Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido'. At the time, Hokkaido' was still largely unsettled by the Japanese, being occupied primarily by the indigenous Ainu. Ueshiba was the leader of the Kishu' Settlement Group, a collective of eighty-five pioneers who intended to settle in the Shirataki district and live as farmers. Poor soil conditions and bad weather led to crop failures during the first three years of the project, but the group still managed to cultivate mint and farm livestock. The burgeoning timber industry provided a boost to the settlement's economy, but a fire in 1917 razed the entire village, leading to the departure of around twenty families. Ueshiba, elected to the village council that year, led the reconstruction efforts. In the summer of 1918, Hatsu gave birth to their first son, Takemori. 

In Hokkaido', the young Ueshiba met Takeda Sokaku, the founder of Daito'-ryu' aiki-jujutsu at the Hisada Inn in Engaru, in March 1915. Ueshiba was deeply impressed with Takeda's martial art. He requested formal instruction and began studying Takeda's style of jujutsu in earnest, going so far as to construct a dojo at his home and inviting his new teacher to be a permanent house guest. He received a kyoju dairi certificate, or teaching license, for the system from Takeda in 1922, when Takeda visited him in Ayabe. He also received a Yagyu' Shinkage-ryu' sword transmission scroll from Takeda, Ueshiba then became a representative of Daito'-ryu', toured with Takeda as a teaching assistant and taught the system to others. 

In November 1919, Ueshiba learned that his father Yoroku was ill, and was not expected to survive. Leaving most of his possessions to Sokaku, Ueshiba left Shirataki with the apparent intention returning to Tanabe to visit his ailing parent. En route, however, he made a detour to Ayabe, near Kyoto, intending to visit Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the O'moto-kyo' religion in Ayabe. Having met Deguchi, Ueshiba stayed at the O'moto-kyo' headquarters for several days. On his return to Tanabe, he found that his father had died. Within a few months, he was back in Ayabe, having decided to become a full-time student of O'moto-kyo'. In 1920 Deguchi asked Ueshiba to become the group's martial arts instructor, and a dojo 'the first of several that Ueshiba was to lead' was constructed on the centre's grounds. Ueshiba also taught Takeda's Daito'-ryu' in neighbouring Hyo'go Prefecture during this period. His second son, Kuniharu, was born in 1920 in Ayabe, but died from illness the same year, along with three-year-old Takemori. 

In 1921, in an event known as the First O'moto-kyo' Incident (O'moto jiken), the Japanese authorities raided the compound, destroying the main buildings on the site and arresting Deguchi on charges of offence against the reigning monarch. Ueshiba's dojo was undamaged, however, and over the following two years he worked closely with Deguchi to reconstruct the group's centre, becoming heavily involved in farming work. His son Kisshomaru Ueshiba was born in the summer of 1921. 

Three years later, in 1924, Onisaburo Deguchi led a small group of O'moto-kyo' disciples, including Ueshiba, on a journey to Mongolia at the invitation of retired naval captain Yutaro Yano and his associates within the ultra-nationalist Black Dragon Society. Deguchi's intent was to establish a new religious kingdom in Mongolia, and to this end he had distributed propaganda suggesting that he was the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. Allied with the Mongolian bandit Lu Zhankui, Deguchi's group were arrested in Tongliao by the Chinese authorities'fortunately for Ueshiba, whilst Lu and his men were executed by firing squad, the Japanese group were released into the custody of the Japanese consul. They were returned under guard to Japan, where Deguchi was imprisoned for breaking the terms of his bail. After returning to Ayabe, Ueshiba began a regimen of spiritual training, regularly retreating by himself to the mountains or performing misogi in the Nachi Falls. As his prowess as a martial artist increased, his fame began to spread. He was challenged by many established martial artists, some of whom subsequently became his students after being defeated by him. In the autumn of 1925 he was asked to give a demonstration of his art in Tokyo, at the behest of Admiral Isamu Takeshita; one of the spectators was Yamamoto Gonnohyo'e, who requested that Ueshiba stay in the capital to instruct the Imperial Guard in his martial art. After a couple of weeks, however, Ueshiba took issue with several government officials who voiced concerns about his connections to Deguchi; he cancelled the training and returned to Ayabe. 

O'moto-kyo' priests still oversee the Aiki-jinja Taisai ceremony in Ueshiba's honor every April 29 at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama. 

In 1926 Takeshita invited Ueshiba to visit Tokyo again. Ueshiba relented and returned to the capital, but while residing there was stricken with a serious illness. Deguchi visited his ailing student and, concerned for his health, commanded Ueshiba to return to Ayabe. The appeal of returning increased after Ueshiba was questioned by the police following his meeting with Deguchi; the authorities were keeping the O'moto-kyo' leader under close surveillance. Angered at the treatment he had received, Ueshiba went back to Ayabe again. Six months later, however, and this time with Deguchi's blessing, he and his family moved permanently to Tokyo. Arriving in October 1927, they set up home in the Shirokane district. The building, however, was too small to house the growing number of aikido students, and so the Ueshibas moved to larger premises, first in Mita district, then in Takanawa, and finally to a purpose-built hall in Shinjuku. This last location, originally named the Kobukan ???, would eventually become the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. During its construction, Ueshiba rented a property nearby, where he was visited by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. 

Between 1940 and 1942 he made several visits to Manchukuo (Japanese occupied Manchuria) where he was the principal martial arts instructor at Kenkoku University. 

From 1935 onwards, Ueshiba had been purchasing land in Iwama in Ibaraki Prefecture. In 1942, having acquired around 17 acres (6.9 ha; 0.027 sq mi) of farmland there, he left Tokyo and moved to Iwama permanently, settling in a small farmer's cottage. 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. Despite the prohibition on the teaching of martial arts after World War II, Ueshiba and his students continued to practice in secret at the Iwama dojo; the Hombu dojo in Tokyo was in any case being used as a refugee centre for citizens displaced by the severe firebombing. 

The prohibition (on aikido, at least) was lifted in 1948 with the creation of the Aiki Foundation, established by the Japanese Ministry of Education with permission from the Occupation forces. The Hombu dojo re-opened the following year. After the war, however, Ueshiba delegated most of the work of running the Hombu dojo and the Aiki Federation to his son Kisshomaru, choosing to spend much of his time in prayer, meditation, calligraphy and farming. He still travelled extensively to promote aikido, however, even visiting Hawaii in 1961. He also appeared in a television documentary on aikido: NTV's The Master of Aikido, broadcast in January 1960. 

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 jo' (staff) strikes on trees without first covering them in protective padding. 

In 1969, Ueshiba became ill. He led his last training session on March 10, and was subsequently taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. He died suddenly on April 26, 1969. Two months later, his wife Hatsu also died.

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A young Sugano Sensei standing with O Sensei

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