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

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Second Doshu


Editor's Note: The founder's son, the Second Doshu recounted O-Sensei's life story, in his first book "Aikido", which was one of the first books on Aikido translated into English. This is the fourth installment. The photos have been reprinted courtesy of Hombu Dojo.

Early Trainees

In accompaniment with the popularization of Aikido, the Founder grew concerned about any misuse of its techniques. He always required recommendations from two qualified persons in order to carefully select a student. Consequently many of the trainees were older or people of high position, and most of the young trainees were budo experts or children of prominent families. For that reason there were many private lessons given during non-scheduled hours. The deshi had to work almost without rest.

Prominent among the trainees were Marquis Toshitame Maeda and Dr. Kenzo Niki. Maeda was a real aristocrat. He had an attendant remove his shoes for him and help him put on his training uniform. On the contrary Dr. Niki used to surprise the apprentices at five in the morning. He would propose an exercise and throw the uchideshi. As he executed each movement he would recite old Japanese sayings, "bending willows to the wind," "pouring water into a sieve", things which indicate the movements of spirit power in Aiki. Then he would hurry home. The deshi who had been thrown would not be completely awake until the time the doctor left. Recalling those days they say he was like a phantom.

The World Wrestling Champion of that time was Mangan of America. He was more than six feet tall and one day had a match with the Founder. He attacked with the so-called flying kick. The Founder threw him instantly and effortlessly. After that he became a student of the Founder and visited him almost every day for some time.

Later the locations at which instruction was given in Osaka included the Sumitomo Club, Asahi Newspaper and the Police Department. Mr. Yukawa taught during the Founder's absence.

Organizing a Foundation

Training in Aiki took precedence over all other kinds of budo. Kendo was practiced by the young Aikido members. They entered a contest, won, and brought the championship cup of the Imperial Moral Association back to the Founder. People in the budo field, including kendo and judo men, often visited the Aiki dojo. "Aiki Budo" was enhanced and more clearly understood by the general public. In 1939, reorganizing the Kobukan Dojo into the Kobukai Foundation was proposed. Incorporation was officially approved in 1940. Isamu Takeshita took office as the first president.

In the period of the Konoe Cabinet in 1940 the Budo Promotion Committee was organized. The Minister of Welfare was the chairman. The Founder was appointed a member of the committee. He was also dispatched to Manchuria as a member of the Japanese Budo Delegation for the tenth anniversary of the founding of Manchukuo.

A professional sumo champion, Tenryu, became a deshi at Kobukai Dojo for about two and a half months. It was also about this time when "King Te" of Mongolia, during his visit to Japan, went all the way to Tokyo to satisfy his keen desire to see Ueshiba's Aiki arts.

In 1939 and 1940, Koichi Tohei and Kisaburo Osawa joined the Aiki dojo. But World War II soon broke out in 1941. As the situation grew more demanding the leading uchideshi were gradually called to military service. The once talent-filled Kobukai Dojo became quiet. It was about this time that the name "Aikido" came into official use.

Outdoor Dojo at Iwama

"If you own a dojo you will be pressed with various business matters such as management and other affairs, and become less devoted to budo. Then your skill will decrease." This was the Founder's cherished belief. For that reason he never lost his original spirit of a disciple. He was always faithful to the Way. His burning desire to know budo was always strong. Managing dojo was a secondary matter.


As soon as the Headquarters in Tokyo was established, he sought new land free from the administrative problems of the city training place. "Budo and farming", a favorite theme of the Founder, finally materialized in an outdoor dojo of Aiki at the town of Iwama, Ibaraki Prefecture, where the present Ibaraki Aikido Dojo is located.

The Founder insisted that an "Aiki Shrine" be erected first. Later a 40 mat dojo was built near by in the 72,500 square meter plot. This shrine became the sanctuary of Aikido. As the war intensified, the Founder went back to farming at this place, preached the Way, and taught earnest students who had heard of him and asked for instruction. This kind of life continued even after the end of the war. He matured further in mind and continued to refine his Aikido techniques.

Post-War Years

Though the talented Aikido men were scattered because of wartime service, the Instruction Department of Kobukai was still active under the direction of the author, who is the Master's successor, and Kisaburo Osawa. It offered courses in various places.

Following the war came the Occupation, and with the Occupation came a complete prohibition of budo activities. It was outlawed. Expecting rebirth some day, reorganization of the foundation was planned in order to respond to any new circumstances which might develop. A preparatory council was held on November 22 of 1945 at the Tokiwa mansion in Marunouchi, Tokyo. Fifty-three persons, including Prince Konoe (ex-premier), attended. At this council the official name of the organization was changed to "Aikikai" (the "Aikikai Foundation") and new officers were elected.

The new Foundation was approved on February 9, 1948 and the restoration of Aikido got off to a quiet, but solid beginning.

AIKIDO TODAY: A Worldwide Phenomena

Although Aikido was born in Japan late in the first quarter of this century, it made its first big jump into the world arena only in the early 1950s, after the liberalization of the post-war occupation regulations which banned all training in martial activities. Today, however, it is said that the number of trainees worldwide has reached one million, an exceptional growth that is definitely continuing.

Pre-War Period

It was in 1922 that the Founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, began teaching the "Way" he would later name Aikido. From that year until 1945 and the end of the World War II, he dedicated his most strenuous efforts to enriching the content of his art and promoting it, mainly inside Japan.

However, during this turbulent period immediately after the birth of Aikido, the social and political background of the times had significant influence on the way the art progressed. Morihei mainly intended to spread Aikido to a very limited group of intellectuals and others of high social standing and never went quite so far as to suggest that it be spread to the general public. Therefore, all instruction was done by the Founder himself or under his strict supervision. He was thus too busy to exert any great or general influence on society.

Post-War Period

After the end of the World War II, the changing times brought major reassessments of the administration policy of Aikido. In 1948, the government in the form of the Ministry of Education formally recognized a new body, the Aikikai Foundation (Zaidan Hojin Aikikai), as the sole official, national organization dedicated to the promotion of the art of Aikido.

At that time Founder Ueshiba Morihei put his son, Kisshomaru, in charge of all matters including the administration of the organization and the spreading of the art. He himself had decided to remain in his country retreat outside Tokyo where he could exert himself single-mindedly toward making greater strides in the content of Aikido itself. It was there that he had built the Aiki Shrine (Aiki Jinja) as a spiritual focus of his movement. The Shrine honors the Shinto gods whom he viewed as the guardians of Aikido. (After his death in 1969 the Founder's own spirit was also enshrined there.)

Having been given responsibility for the art as a whole, the author, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, decided to popularize Aikido, not only in Japan, but among the general public all around the world. He took as his goals the fostering of a correct understanding of the art and its greater development. With these aims in mind he set about the tasks of establishing instruction methods, constructing an organizational framework, modernizing administration procedures, and so forth.

Domestic Growth

By about 1955, the completion of a functioning administrative organization lead to social exposure that marked a strong step in spreading the art nationwide. From the beginning of the nineteen sixties, university student Aikido organizations began to be formed until at present (in 1984) nearly 200 Japanese universities have Aikido clubs which receive instruction from teachers sent to them from the Aikikai Foundation.

In 1976, the "All Japan Aikido Association" was inaugurated to enhance mutual friendship and interaction among Japanese Aikido practitioners whether they belong to one of the existing Aikido associations, a club sponsored by some business organization, or the Self Defense Ministry Aikido Association. The Aikikai Foundation continues to play its central role as the umbrella organization in correctly spreading the art in Japan.

International Growth

In the meantime, the international development of Aikido has shown strong development in many nations on every continent. The main reason for the art's great and growing popularity seems to be its unique and substantial spiritual element. Many non-Japanese trainees feel that these deeper components of martial art are more prominent in Aikido than in the other Japanese budo that have spread abroad.

Beginning in the early 1950s, visits by various experts in the art stimulated the first signs of a "take off" of Aikido as an international phenomena. Initially, it was introduced into Hawaii, in the United States, and France, in Europe. Its deep, oriental spirituality immediately captured the minds of intellectuals and the art spread around the world in almost no time.

In 1975 a preparatory committee met in Madrid to discuss the formation of an "International Aikido Federation." About thirty countries were represented. Then, in 1976, the Federation was formally inaugurated and began functioning. As of this writing in 1984, more than forty national Aikido federations and organizations have joined.

The art is especially flourishing in the United States, France, Italy, England, West Germany and other European countries, and Brazil in South America. Recent years have seen growth in Southeast Asia, Australia and other places. There are three major Japanese martial arts that have become most popular outside of Japan: Judo, Karate, and Aikido. Despite its relatively short history, Aikido is said to be attracting the most attention of late because of the high standard of its content.

The Hombu Dojo

As we have seen, there are numerous Aikido organizations inside Japan, including the "All Japan Aikido Association" and "All Japan Student's Aikido Association". Internationally, the previously mentioned "International Aikido Federation" and its regional administrative units are evolving on a great scale. Nevertheless, the recognized center of all these organizations remains the "Aikikai Foundation" in Japan and its training facilities known as the "World" Aikido Headquarters Dojo (Aikido Hombu Dojo).

The Founder Morihei opened the "old" Hombu Dojo at the present location (17-18 Wakamatsu-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo-to, Japan 162) in 1931, In 1968, the single storied wooden structure was replaced by a large, 5 story dojo that is more suited to the needs of the greatly increased number of practitioners. At present, about 600 trainees attend the daily classes. In addition, there are about 400 officially re- cognized branch dojo around Japan, not including those affiliated with the previously mentioned subsidiary organizations. The total number of practice sites is thus in the area of 1,200 to 1,300.

The Aikikai Foundation issues grading certificates and serves as a central registration and distributing office for such gradings. Certificates of "black belt" ranks are issued over the name and seal of the present "Doshu". Doshu is the title of the hereditary leader of the Aikido world, the direct descendent of the Founder. The present Doshu is the author, Ueshiba Kisshomaru.

The Hombu Dojo also sends instructors abroad regularly and its interaction with overseas dojo has become closer and more frequent thanks to the support from the International Cultural Exchange Foundation, the Japan Maritime Promotion Association, and other generous groups.

Today, the Aikido Headquarters Dojo carries out administrative activities on an ever-broadening scale that occupies the vigorous activity of some thirty full-time shihan (licensed teachers) who have gathered there around the second Doshu.