Morihei Ueshiba, called “O’Sensei” (meaning, “Great Teacher”), founded the martial art known throughout the world today as aikido. Born in 1883, in what is now known as Wakayama Prefecture, a small south central peninsula of mainland Japan, he dedicated himself to becoming strong after seeing his father attacked by political opponents. He sought out and studied with masters in several martial arts, eventually becoming an expert in jujitsu (the art of weaponless combat), kenjitsu (combat with a sword), and sojitsu (combat with a spear).
Dissatisfied with mere strength and technical mastery, he also immersed himself in religious and philosophical studies. The stories of his immense physical strength and martial prowess are impressive enough, but more important is the legacy of non-violence and human integrity he has left mankind.
In early 20th century Japan, involvement in the martial arts was a competitive and dangerous business. Contests, feuds, and rivalries often resulted in injuries and even deaths. The formation of aikido dates from an incident that occurred in 1925. In the course of a discussion about martial arts, a disagreement arose between Ueshiba and a naval officer who was also a fencing instructor. The officer challenged Ueshiba to a match, and attacked with a wooden sword. O’Sensei faced the officer unarmed, and won the match by evading blows until his attacker dropped from exhaustion. O’Sensei later recalled that he had felt his opponent’s movements before they were executed, and that this was the beginning of his enlightenment. He had defeated an armed attacker without hurting him without even touching him. O’Sensei later wrote:
“Budo (the Martial Way) is not felling the opponent by our force; nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms. True budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect, and cultivate all things in Nature.”
O’Sensei continued to practice and teach aikido into his old age. Observers marveled at his martial abilities, vitality, and good humor. He was still giving public demonstrations of aikido at 86, four months before his death. After he passed away on April 26, 1969, the Japanese government posthumously declared Morihei Ueshiba a Sacred National Treasure of Japan.
Today, O’Sensei’s grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba, who inherited the title “Doshu” (“Leader of the Way”) from his father, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, continues overseeing aikido’s international development from Hombu Dojo, Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo.