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About Aikido: History of the Martial Art and Its Founder

Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

Morihei Ueshiba created the present day incarnation of aikido. The life of Ueshiba—also known as Ōsensei (great teacher)—spanned a time of profound evolution for the people of Japan. Ōsensei was born on December 14, 1883, in Tanabe, a small fishing village near Osaka. His life spanned the late stages of feudalism and ended in a modern, technological world. Ōsensei studied a variety of traditional martial arts including jujitsu, unarmed combat, kenjutsu, sword fighting and sojitsu. He became one of the most renowned martial artists of his day. Through his many arduous years of training in Budo (Japanese martial arts), he became very strong and was considered unbeatable. Ōsensei was also a serious student of religion. He was a man of high spiritual understanding. By merging these two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts, Ōsensei created aikido.

The Early Foundations for Aikido

Ōsensei came to the realization that fighting was a futile means of resolving conflicts. Even the most accomplished warriors must succumb to time and aging. In the end, defeat is inevitable. By using the principles of all religions, love, and compassion, Ōsensei changed what is possible when confronted with a violent attack. Instead of using superior strength and skill to defeat an attacker, Ōsensei taught the ways of transforming the attacker with one’s own energy and actions. His personal philosophy stemmed from the belief that winning at someone else’s expense was not really winning. As long as there were a winner and a loser, there was no victory. Ōsensei came to realize that true victory is not winning over others but winning over the conflict within ourselves.

The Beginning: From 1915 to 1925

In 1915, Ueshiba Ōsensei met Sokaku Takeda, the grandmaster of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. The two formed a close friendship, traveling and teaching together. There can be no doubt that Takeda had a very strong influence on Ōsensei’s early style.

In 1920, Ōsensei met Wanisburo Deguchi, a teacher and a mystic who helped shape Ōsensei’s religious beliefs.

In 1925, Ōsensei experienced an enlightenment, or “satori,” which is considered to be one of the most important events in the birth of aikido. It happened while Ōsensei walked in his garden. In his own words, he felt the ground shake and a golden light wash over him. At that moment, he understood that the source of all budo is God’s love.

The Establishing of Aikido: 1942 to 1967

In 1942, Ōsensei moved to Iwama. There, he set up a dojo and an aiki shrine. He continued to teach but spent much of his time farming, more teaching was turned over to his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. It was during this time period that Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, met Ōsensei and remarked after having seen him that “this is my ideal budo,” and began sending his best students to study with Ōsensei.

In 1954, the aikido headquarters move back to Tokyo where it took the new title of “Aikido Foundation.” In 1967, that dojo was replaced by a modern three-story dojo that continues to be used to this day.

How Ōsensei Impact Positively Impacted Japan and The World At Large

In the years before his death, Ōsensei  was still reportedly able to perform amazing feats of strength and speed. His aikido was believed by many to be at its strongest in his seventies. It went through many changes throughout Ōsensei’s life. There were definite changes between his pre-war and post-war styles. In 1964, Emperor Hirohito recognized Ōsensei’s contribution to the martial arts.

Ōsensei continued his practice and teaching until his death. He gave his final demonstration on January 15, 1969. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and died on April 26, 1969, at age 86. The Japanese government posthumously bestowed its highest honor, declaring Ōsensei Morihei Ueshiba to be a Sacred National Treasure of Japan.

Yamada Yoshimitsu: The Future Status of Aikido in the Modern World

Yamada Yoshimitsu was born on February 17, 1938. In 1955, he entered the Hombu Dojo as an Uchi deshi (live-in student), receiving instruction from the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. After three years of training, Yamada became a full-time instructor. He taught at American military bases and Japanese universities. In 1964, having achieved 4th Dan, Yamada traveled to the United States. Upon arriving, he gave an aikido demonstration at the 1964 World’s Fair. Footage of this demonstration is preserved to this day. He assumed his role as the head of the New York Aikikai while attending New York University to study English and Business Management.

Now an 8th Dan, Yamada sensei has dedicated himself to the dissemination of aikido throughout the world. Much of aikido’s present success is because of Yamada. His teaching demonstrations are widely attended and enthusiastically participated in by fellow aikidoka. Yamada sensei is the current chairman of the United States Aikido Federation and head of its Eastern Region. He is also President of the Latin American Aikido Federation, with over 400 dojos in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

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