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Morihei Ueshiba is accredited as the founder of the Japanese martial art known as Aikido.The word`Aikido' is composed of three Japanese characters, `ai' meaning harmony, `ki' meaning life force/energy and `do' meaning way or path. It is therefore the way of harmony of ki. In founding Aikido, he was influenced by the martial and religious history of Japan (which together formed the concept of Budo or martial way) as well as by his contemporaries. He is regarded as one of the greatest masters of Budo and remained undefeated until his death.

Ueshiba was born on 14 December 2020 in Tanabe in the province of Kii, Japan. He was the fourth of five children and was an only son. As a child he was frequently ill and tended to be quite bookish developing an early interest in religious teachings. Out of concern for this, his father encouraged him to train in various physical activities, notably Sumo wrestling and swimming. His interest in martial arts began from a desire to protect himself and his family after he had witnessed an attack on his father.

At the age of seventeen, he moved to Tokyo and set himself up in business running a small stationery store. While in Tokyo he developed an interest in Jujutsu and Kenjutsu. However, his time there was short lived and the failure of his business together with contracting the disease Beri Beri forced him to return to Tanebe. After a quick recovery, Ueshiba tried to enlist in the army, but was not accepted, as he did not meet the height requirement. Determined to enlist, he practised hanging from a tree with weights around his ankles to increase his height. He eventually succeeded in entering the army and spent three years as a soldier where he excelled at hard training and bayonet practice.

When he came out of the army his father encouraged him to continue his training in the martial arts and built a dojo for him. In 1915, at the age of 31, Ueshiba met Sokaku Takeda the grand master of Aikijutsu (Daito Ryu). He spent thirty days training under him and was awarded a first level teaching license. After this Takeda was invited to teach on numerous occasion in Ueshiba's dojo and Ueshiba would often accompany him on teaching tours. There is no doubt that Takeda had a very strong influence on his early style.

In 1920 Ueshiba met a man who helped shape his religious beliefs, Wanisburo Deguchi. Deguchi was a teacher and mystic and Ueshiba studied Shintoism and Shamanism while with him. In 1925 Ueshiba experienced a `satori' (enlightenment) which is considered to be one of the most important events in the birth of Aikido. It happened while walking in his garden. He suddenly felt the ground begin to quake and golden light sprang up from the ground and veiled his body. At that moment he understood that the source of all Budo is God's love.

From this time onwards Ueshiba's fame spread throughout Japan. Late in 1925 he gave a demonstration to a group of influential people which included the former Prime Minister Count Gonnohyot Yamamoto. In 1926 this was followed by him giving lessons to members of the Imperial Household Agency, army and navy officers, and other leading figures in the political establishment. Masters from other martial art schools came to visit him and some even challenged him, but he remained undefeated. He was even visited by Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo), who apparently remarked after having seen Ueshiba that "This is my ideal Budo, true Judo!"

In April 1931 the original Hombu dojo was opened. Nicknamed `hell' dojo (as the training was very gruelling) it had thirty uchideshi (resident students). On various occasions some of his students tried to get the better of him, but each time `'he just shrugged them off like flies''. On one occasion he was ambushed by thirty of his students from the Military Police Academy who attacked him with wooden swords and wooden rifles wanting to test his strength. He just avoided them until they all became exhausted.

In 1942 he moved to Iwama where he set up a dojo and the Aiki shrine (which is still a centre of pilgrimage for many Aikidoka today). He continued to teach Aikido but also spent much time farming. The original Hombu dojo he left in the charge of his son - Kisshomaru Ueshiba. In 1954 the headquarters of Aikido moved back to Tokyo and took the title of the Aikikai foundation. On 15 December 1967, this was replaced by a new Hombu dojo, a modern three story building.

In 1964 Ueshiba received an award from the Emperor Hirohito recognising his contribution to the martial arts. Ueshiba gave his final demonstration on 15 January 1969. He as diagnosed as having liver cancer and on 26 April 1969 he died at the age of 86.

Morihei Ueshiba was a profoundly religious man who was concerned with perfecting the spirit. Seen from this perspective, the practice of Aikido is a way of perfecting the spirit through physical techniques. His Aikido went though many changes throughout his life, there being a definite break between his pre-war and post war styles (perhaps due to the need to save energy as his physical strength lessened with age) but the essence of Budo being God's love remained unchanged.

"I wonder if you grasp the real purpose of Aikido? It is not merely training yourself in the techniques of Bujutsu. Its other purpose is the creation of a world of beauty, grace and elegance. It is to make this world a better place, a world of joy... If we truly honour the sacred heart of Budo, we must work for peace, for a world without quarrels, without misery, without conflict. This is the real reason we practice Aikido".
Morihei Ueshiba

John Rodgers, 19 September 2020