The History of Aikido
The life and times of Morihei Ueshiba
Aikido was founded by a man called Morihei Ueshiba, who was born on the 14th December 1883 in Tanabe, a small town near Osaka, Japan.
He first started learning jujutsu at the age of 13. By 20 he was an expert in the use of the spear and sword. He was also physically very strong.
He volunteered for service in the army during the Russo – Japanese war, when he was 21, as a regular soldier. After the war he returned to his jujutsu training and worked as a farmer.
During this period he met Takeda Sokaku and became his pupil. His apprenticeship was very hard and demanding (and expensive). Eventually in 1916, at the age of 33, he received the diploma appointing him a master of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu.
At the age of 35 he heard that his father was very sick and he travelled across Japan to see him. However he was too late and his father had died before he met him, but on the way he met a man he had heard a great deal of: the reverend Deguichi. Deguichi was the founder of a Shinto religious sect called Omoto Kyo. Deguichi greatly influenced Ueshiba over the next 6 years, especially during a period when Ueshiba lived in solitude. Ueshiba opened his first dojo at the age of 38.
It was at this time when Deguichi came up with an outrageous plan to unify the moral and religious meaning of the world. In 1934 he revealed a highly secret plan to Ueshiba: To go to Mongolia where the Chinese and Japanese armies were engaged in war, in order to set up a “Kingdom of Peace” by means of a peace treaty. Ueshiba would accompany him.
Deguichi managed to gain the support of the Chinese who provided him with soldiers. He formed an army and roamed the Mongol plains handing out food and healing the sick. Up to that point the Chinese supported Deguichi but they soon became threatened by their success. They arrested him and Ueshiba but later released them after intervention from the Japanese government.
A famous story exists from this incident when Ueshiba was faced with death by an enemy 6 yards in front of him pointing a gun at him. The man was promptly disarmed by Ueshiba who states “a very long time elapses between the moment a man decides to pull the trigger and the moment he eventually does it”.
In 1938 Ueshiba built a dojo at Iwama and called his art Aiki Budo, later changing its name to Aikido (after the death of Takeda).
On the 26th April 1969 Ueshiba died at the age of 86.
Brief Philosophy of Aikido
The traditional religion of Japan is Shintoism and not Buddhism (which was a latter day import from China). Shinto principles are based on the principle of many Gods taking the form of “Kami” (spirits) inhabiting all things.
Ueshiba was greatly influenced by the reverend Deguchi who was the founder of the Shinto religious sect called Omoto Kyo. They had many rules laid down for their followers to get close to their God. For example:
- Observe the true phenomena of nature and you will be thinking of the body (substance) of the only true God.
- Observe the impeccable working of the universe and you will be thinking of the energy of the only true God.
- Observe the mentality of living beings and you will understand the soul of the only true God.
- Reference to energy as a sign of God and creation signifies that the prime purpose of the universe is vitality (life).
Ueshiba wanted his followers and all humankind to follow the path of aikido to discover inner peace and create world peace.
According to Ueshiba there are three levels of aikido practice to be mastered (which represent the three levels of existence). These levels correspond to the three visions that transformed Ueshiba. The first vision occurred in 1925 when Ueshiba was 42 years old. After defeating a high ranking swordsman (Ueshiba was unarmed!) Ueshiba went into his garden and “suddenly the earth trembled. Golden vapour welled up from the ground and engulfed me. I felt transformed into a golden image and my body seemed as light as a feather. All at once I understood the nature of creation: the Way of a Warrior is to manifest Divine Love, a spirit that embraces and nurtures all things. Tears of gratitude and joy streamed down my cheeks. I saw the entire earth as my home, and the sun, moon, and stars as my intimate friends. All attachment to material things vanished”.
The second vision took place in December of 1940 “around 2 o’clock in the morning as I was performing ritual purification, I suddenly forgot every martial art technique I ever learned. All of the techniques handed down form my teachers appeared completely anew. Now they were vehicles for the cultivation of life, knowledge, virtue, and good sense, not devices to throw and pin people”.
The third vision was in 1942, during the worst of the fighting of World War 2 and in one of the darkest periods of human history. Ueshiba had a vision of the Great Spirit of Peace, a path that could lead to the elimination of all strife and the reconciliation of humankind. “The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake. To smash, injure or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love”. Ueshiba secluded himself in the country and devoted every minute of his life thereafter to refining and spreading Aikido, the Art of Peace.
The three levels of practice correspond to the three levels of existence, or worlds. The first world is manifest (physical), the world of appearances; the physical, material, technical world. It is a world we all see, with or without aikido.
The second world is hidden (psychological). It represents the secret world behind the manifest world. The forces, gravity, and “Ki”, and the atoms, all have a place here.
The third world is divine (spiritual). It is the world of Spirit and God. The three worlds are one, in the same way that the three levels of practice are one.
All three worlds are revealed through the practice of aikido.