Morihei Ueshiba
Founder of Aikido

The Life of O-Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba - Part 2

By Kissomaru Ueshiba, Second Doshu

Editor's Note: Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the founder’s son, recounted O-Sensei's life story, in his book Aikido, which was one of the first books on Aikido translated into English. This is the second installment. We will continue to serialize this biography in future issues of Aikido Online. Photos courtesy of the Aikikai Foundation from the book, The 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of Aikido Memorial Photo Collection.

Serious Illness of His Father

Late in the spring of 1919 the Founder received a telegram telling him that his father was in serious condition. The Founder gave all his property to his teacher Takeda and left Hokkaido.

In Hokkaido, under the guidance of the Founder, the development of land had progressed well. The village was founded, a school had been constructed, and he had gained social prestige and property. But things such as these did not concern him. Only his painfully pleasant and fruitful studies were on his mind. Thus the young Founder returned from the north in the same condition he had gone: with no possessions, save a vigorous spirit.

Study at Ayabe

As he rode the train home he happened to hear of the Rev. Wanisaburo Deguchi the leader of the Omotokyo, a new religion. The Founder, desiring to do anything to heal his father, decided at once to change course for Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture, where the Omotokyo Headquarters were located, and ask for prayers for the recovery of his father. Ever since he was a child, the Founder had naturally had an extraordinary interest in the study of spiritual thought and was raised with deep understanding by his parents. When he was seven years old, he studied under Priest Mitsujo Fujimoto of Jizoji Temple, of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism, and at the age of ten he had studied Zen Buddhism at Homanji Temple in Akitsu Village. Growing older, the Founder's seeking for spiritual food became stronger. He would visit wherever he could and ask for instruction.

The desire for his father's recovery was his main reason for visiting the Rev. Deguchi. However, after having listened to the priest he was struck by his profound insight. When he arrived at his home in Tanabe, to his sorrow, he learned his father had passed away. Confronted with the death of the person whom he loved most in the world the Founder swore before the grave to break out of his mental deadlock, develop further, and reach for the secret of budo.

After that, the daily life of the Founder changed greatly. At times he stood on the top of a rock in a white robe and made pious prayer; or he would kneel somewhere on the top of a mountain, reciting Shinto prayers continuously. His old friends in his village were amazed at this change and worried that he had become mad. Later in 1919 he was attracted with the memory of Deguchi whom he had previously en- countered, and moved to Ayabe with his entire family. He sought a light to brighten his heart. A house at the foot of the main shrine mountain in Ayabe became his home. There he taught jujutsu and studied actively under Reverend Deguchi unti11926.

Going to Mongolia with Deguchi

Rev. Deguchi, who advocated a principle of human love and goodness, had an idea to unify the moral world by means of religion. He dreamed of constructing a Peaceful Kingdom in Mongolia with the power of new religions, free from the bondage of old customs, in order to realize the unity and mutual prosperity of the East. Toward this end, Rev. Deguchi had made contact with the Putienchiao religion of Korea and the Taoyiian Hungwantzuhui religion of China. In the early spring of 1924, at an opportune time, he decided to go to Mongolia himself. He invited Masumi Matsumura and the Founder to the Shounkaku Shrine in Ayabe, outlined his program, and asked them to travel with him. At that time Deguchi had been implicated in the 1921 Omotokyo Scandal (for lack of respect to the Emperor), so his departure was in profound secrecy. Most of his confidants were not told about it. Thus Deguchi's party got on a train at Ayabe at 3:28 a.m. February 13, 1924. The Founder joined the party at Tsuruoka and they departed for Manchuria and Mongolia.

Failure of the Attempt

The tentative aim of this party was to reach Mukden and meet Lu Chan-k'uei, a general of Chang Tso-lin, and then filter into Mongolia with his cooperation.

However, due to the internal problems of China during that time the Deguchi party soon found themselves without help and became wandering fugitives. There were no roads, little food and all they could do was continue to flee from the enemy. During the whole of the five-month trip, the Founder always accompanied Rev. Deguchi and shared his fate. At one point, during a surprise attack by local forces the entire group was captured and robbed of everything they possessed. Even their shoes and clothing were taken. They were put in chains, forced to wear only breechcloths and kept in a prison in Paiyintails for some time. The Founder's manner was somewhat different from the others and his captors immediately sensed he was extraordinary when the group was arrested. Because of this they treated him severally. He was walked in fetters and a pillory. At one point, they were all lead before a firing squad. On the way to the execution ground, the bodies of Lu's forces cluttered the ground, having been shot only moments before. The group did not show fear and strode over the bodies, going calmly to their fate. The Founder, in particular, had an unchanging manner during this critical moment. He was as stable as in his daily life. The others were said to have stared at him in wonder. Fortunately, the intervention of the Japanese consulate at Chenkiatum was able to forestall the sentence and pluck them from the jaws of death. At last, the Japanese government was able to obtain their release and they were repatriated. Arriving at Port Moji on July 25, 1925, they were met by a great crowd which welcomed them as if they had been returning generals.

Though they failed in their original plans, the Founder had had an opportunity to put his daily self-discipline to the test.

Having returned to Ayabe, the Founder devoted himself to his previous life of study and concentrated on learning more deeply the secret of budo. The mountains of Ayabe offered an excellent gymnasium for study and practice. The Founder selected a suitable place, hung seven or eight sponge balls in a circle under the trees and with a nine-foot practice spear, beautifully thrusted at them in turn. His various skillful movements were engraved on the memories of the students at his side.

At the time of the Founder's return from China, Ayabe was still a lonely country town. Foxes and badgers were seen around his isolated home. Because the facilities of the town were inadequate, the habitants were often asked to donate their labor. As he worked among the laborers the Founder showed his gifted power. Once he pulled out a pine tree which was four or five sun in diameter (about 15 cm or 5 1/2 in) and relocated a big stone which more than ten laborers could not move. He would often astonish people in this way. He said, "I taught myself that an extraordinary spiritual power of the soul lies within the human body."

Reaching a New Stage

As his study progressed he developed a type of sixth sense with which he could feel the intended movements of his opponent. When he was traveling in Mongolia he was held up at the point of a Mauser pistol. He became aware of the opponent's intention to shoot because of a small "spiritual bullet " which went through him before the opponent actually pulled the trigger. Then with rapid movement he stepped to the opponent's side a split second before the gun fired, threw him down and gained possession of the weapon. This is a well-known episode among people who are interested in Aikido.

In spring of 1925 a navy officer, a teacher of kendo, visited the Founder and asked to become his student. Then during a conversation, they happened to disagree over a trifle matter. Tempers rose. They agreed to have a match. The officer dashed forward to strike him, swinging his wooden sword. The Founder dodged his sword very easily each time. The officer finally sat down exhausted without having once touched him. The Founder says he felt the opponent's movements before they were actually executed in the same way as during his time in Mongolia. Resting after this match, the Founder went out into the nearby garden in which there was a persimmon tree. As he was wiping off the perspiration from his face, he was greatly overcome with a feeling which he had never experienced previously. He could neither walk nor sit. He was just rooted to the ground in great astonishment.

The Founder recalls his experience:

I set my mind on budo when I was about 15 and visited teachers of swordsmanship and jujutsu in various provinces. I mastered the secrets of the old traditions, each within a few months. But there was no one to instruct me in the essence of budo; the only thing that could satisfy my mind. So I knocked on the gates of various religions but I couldn't get any concrete answers. Then in the spring of 1925, if I remember correctly, when I was taking a walk in the garden by myself, I felt that the universe suddenly quaked, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one.

At the same time my mind and body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the Creator of this universe. At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God's love - the spirit of loving protection for all beings. Endless tears of joy streamed down my cheeks. Since that time I have grown to feel that the whole earth is my house and the sun, the moon and the stars are all my own things. I had become free from all desire, not only for position, fame and property, but also to be strong. I understood, "Budo 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 beings in Nature." I understood, "The training of budois to take God's love, which correctly produces, protects and cultivates all things in Nature, and assimilate and utilize it in our own mind and body.

This revelation may have been only a momentary event, but it was the first such experience that he had ever had. It revolutionized the Founder's life and gave birth to Aikido.

From Aiki-Jujutsu to Aikido

Tracing the Founder's eighty-six years of study, we find that he was deeply interested in budo when he was young. He had gifted ability. Then came his pilgrimage throughout the world of jujutsu beginning in the middle of the Meiji era (1868-1912), during which he also devoted himself to the sword and other weapons, and the study of religions. Then, at last, the truth burst upon him.

The budo which he attained through his experience he later named Aikido.

When we look back to the old records and scrolls, in a few cases, we come across words like "a technique of aiki" or "aiki throw." But their explanations are abstract. "Don't be aiki-ed by the opponent." That is, don't drawn into the opponent's 'spirit harmony.' It is quite doubtful that a deeper meaning of the word was understood.

It was the Founder who clarified the superior way of Aikido as a separate entity in the society of budo-a society whose the members tended merely to emphasize techniques and strength. He asserted: "It is the way of budo to make the heart of the universe our own and perform our mission of loving and protecting all beings with a grand spirit. The techniques of budo are only a means to reach that end." The Founder, having thoroughly studied budo and acquired its essence through his severe training, first set up above all a goal for spiritual guidance and then fused the techniques of Aiki into the "stream of spirit, spirit power, or soul power." He gave life to the highly technical and spiritual side of Japanese budo within the society of man.

The Founder was the first who ever indicated clearly the world of Aiki and revealed its aim. From jujutsu to do (techniques to the Way)- this is the way to evolve endlessly toward the goal set up by the Master.

(To be continued.)

Photo captions (from top to bottom):

1. O-Sensei with Deguchi Onisaburo.
2. O-Sensei as Daito Ryu student. C.1916.
3. Multiple attack training at new "Kobukan" dojo, 1931 or 1932.
4. O-Sensei at Noma dojo in 1936 at age 53.