Part 1: Aikido Ancient History
Present day aikido can trace its history as far back as EMPEROR SEIWA (AD 858-876). MINAMOTO YORIYOSHI, a 5th generation descendant of EMPEROR SEIWA had among his sons two in particular – YOSHIEI HACHIMAN TARO and SHINRA SABURO MINAMOTO NO YOSHIMITSU. These two warriors are credited with the development of AIKI JUJUTSU in the 11th century.
The warriors of the MINAMOTO developed the techniques during their many battles with their mortal enemies the TAIRA during the GEMPEI wars. Tried and tested in battle the MINAMOTO AIKI JUJUTSU was a deadly effective component in the warrior’s arsenal.
The warriors of the day were essentially mounted archers who followed the way of KYUBA NO MICHI the way of the horse and bow In a typical battle scenario the opposing armies would draw up opposite each other at a chosen site and with much pomp and ceremony the stage would be set for the conflict. Signal arrows would herald the commencement of battle and champions would ride forth and issue their challenges hoping to find someone of equal or higher rank to engage in combat.
A typical exchange would be: “I am MINAMOTO HACHIMAN TARO named after the war god. If there is any among you who is confident in his abilities, come forward and I shall show you what the TAIRA must face today.” A confident yet curiously polite challenge from one who actually expected to fight to the death. A TAIRA champion would then ride forward and just as confidently and politely accept the challenge. Etiquette having been observed the warriors would charge their mounts towards each other letting loose arrows from their bows as they rode. If both survive then they would dismount and battle would commence with their TACHI. The sword favoured by the warriors of the day was the TACHI a long sword hung edge down so as to accommodate the earth to sky draw which was most effective for a mounted warrior cutting at foot soldiers.
MINAMOTO AIKI JUJUTSU
Should the swords break as often happened the warriors would resort to grappling. Grappling in armour was called KUMI UCHI. The armour of the day was quite cumbersome and would have restricted the agility of the warriors although it was quite light the large KABUTO helmet and the box like shape of the armour would not lend itself to involved or complex movements. The techniques would most likely have consisted of rather unsophisticated locks, trips and pins the main aim of which would have been to facilitate a thrust with the TANTO dagger which the warriors wore alongside their TACHI. It was at a later date that the wearing of the DAISHO long and short swords came into favour.
Armour and Samurai battles would change over the years and MINAMOTO AIKI JUJUTSU would adapt to these changes. The name of the art would also change – it would be known as TAKEDA AIKI JUJUTSU.
Part 2: Early History
MINAMOTO YOSHIKIYO the eldest son of YOSHIMITSU moved to KAI prefecture and founded a new branch of the MINAMOTO. He founded the KAIGENJI TAKEDA; KAI being the province, GENJI the root name for the MINAMOTO and TAKEDA the new family name, thus the art of MINAMOTO AIKIJUJUTSU was passed down through the TAKEDA clan and taught only to the elite among these warriors and renamed TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU.
Without doubt the most famous of all TAKEDA warriors was the redoubtable TAKEDA SHINGEN. This man could have gone on to become SHOGUN since he held the pedigree and was the most powerful DAIMYO in the KANTO. His generals and warriors were the elite in all of Japan. The FURIN KAZAN banners of the TAKEDA bore the legends:
- SWIFT AS THE WIND
- SILENT AS THE FOREST
- ATTACK LIKE FIRE IMMOVABLE AS A MOUNTAIN
In 1573 SHINGEN was mortally wounded by harquebus fire and the TAKEDA lost their most potent leader. Two years later in 1575 at the battle of NAGASHINO the TAKEDA were all but obliterated by the combined forces of TOKUGAWA, ODA and HIDEYOSHI the three great unifiers of Japan. In 1573 ,two years before NAGASHINO ,TAKEDA KUNUTSUGU went to take SHINGEN ‘S last will and testament to ASHINA MORIUJI master of AIZU where he found a welcome, was given a mansion and took up a post as martial arts instructor to the AIZU samurai. His mansion was named DAITO KAN.
In 1674 a training hall was built and named the NISSHIKAN. Here the martial arts were taught. In true samurai tradition the warriors of AIZU had to study all of the available arts such as KENJUTSU the way of the sword, YARI the spear, NAGINATA which the female samurai of the AIZU were to make their own. Also included were a number of secret fighting arts which were taught only to the elite. Among these was TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU. Known as GOSHIKIUCHI it was forbidden upon pain of death to reveal these arts outside of the clan.
Thereafter the art was handed down through the AIZU TAKEDA until TANOMO SAIGO taught it to SOKAKU TAKEDA who was to be responsible for its spread throughout Japan. Japan was in turmoil as it entered the modern era. The shogunate had held ultimate power but there were those who wished to return power to the Emperor. The AIZU being samurai sided with the shogunate and found themselves facing the Imperial army. There was no resisting progress and the AIZU led by TANOMO SAIGO were defeated. During the battles a group of women led by TAKEKO NAKAMURO fought like demons. Perhaps the most tragic incident of the whole affair was the fall of the BYAKKO TAI. A group of young samurai aged between fourteen and fifteen who, when they saw AIZU ablaze went to a mountain top and committed suicide. One youngster was too young to join them; his name was TAKEDA SOKAKU.
SOKAKU TAKEDA was born in AIZU province in 1860. As a child he was taught TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU by his grandfather SOEMON TAKEDA and BO JUTSU by his father. Even from an early age he was obsessed with martial arts. As a teenager he studied JIKI SHINKAGE RYU. He also gained a licence in ONO HA ITTO RYU. This school of swordsmanship would have appealed to young TAKEDA as it was founded by ITO ITTOSAI and the motto of the school was ONE CUT ONE KILL. In 1880 SOKAKU TAKEDA was initiated into the secret teachings of TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU which included all of the weapons systems and the unarmed arts. For the next eight years he entered into MUSHA SHUGYO the austere training in Budo which saw him wandering the length and breadth of Japan engaging in contests with other martial arts masters often using their weapon of choice. NEVER ONCE DID HE FACE DEFEAT.
There are many legends about TAKEDA which are couched in ambiguities such as the time when a certain area of Japan was infested with bandits and SOKAKU was sent to “investigate”. The day after TAKEDA left the area the bandit leader was found dead from a broken neck. It seemed that he had fallen from his horse.
One incident is far from ambiguous. One day while on his way to the training hall TAKEDA became the butt of jokes and insults from a group of construction workers. In the ensuing confrontation TAKEDA drew his sword and although hopelessly outnumbered fought until mounted police came to rescue him.. The police found nine dead and many more seriously wounded. At the trial SOKAKU was told that the day of the sword was over. He had his weapon confiscated and was released without charge. Incidentally the judge was of samurai stock.
The day of the sword may have been over for TAKEDA but he continued to teach TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU teaching many thousands of pupils until his death in 1943. The most famous of all of SOKAKU TAKEDA’S thousands of pupils was MORIHEI UESHIBA.
Part 3: O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba
MORIHEI UESHIBA also to be known at various times during his life as TSUNEMORI and MORITAKA was born on the 24th December 1883 in KII province modern-day WAKAYAMA prefecture to his father YOROKU and his mother YUKI.
Born prematurely , UESHIBA MORIHEI was of a weak constitution but was of samurai stock and from an early age possessed an indomitable spirit. His father YOROKU was powerfully built and was an adept of martial arts. While UESHIBA loved and respected his father it was his grandfather KICHIEMON who was most famous for his martial prowess and prodigious strength therefore should be noted as the first role model for the young UESHIBA.
While still young UESHIBA MORIHEI was forced to watch as his father was beaten up because of political differences. This incident saw his father defeated by superior numbers and may account for one of the major principles which UESHIBA incorporated into his art – that the techniques must be applied as though there are always more than one attacker. This was the catalyst which set UESHIBA MORIHEI on his quest to become one of the most powerful BUDOKA in the history of the martial arts.
While obviously influenced by his father and grandfather UESHIBA MORIHEI also had another role model close at hand. His mother YUKI. UESHIBA MORIHEI'S mother was a highly cultured lady distantly related to the TAKEDA clan. YUKI was to have an altogether different influence on her son. Her sensitive and enquiring mind was to influence UESHIBA MORIHEI'S study of martial arts. It would seem that even at a young age UESHIBA embraced the concept of BUN BU ICHI the pen and sword in accord. This has always been the way of the true samurai. Not all BUDOKA of the day followed this way SOKAKU TAKEDA being a prime example. SOKAKU was almost illiterate since his obsession with martial arts allowed no time for other pursuits.
Being the only son it is no surprise that UESHIBA MORIHEI'S parents doted on him. However his frail body worried his father and he was encouraged to engage in physical exercise. With his indomitable spirit the young UESHIBA MORIHEI began his training.
Part 4: Martial Arts Training
Like all things that UESHIBA MORIHEI dedicated himself to martial arts training became an obsession to him. If a man lifted a heavy weight UESHIBA MORIHEI would lift heavier. If a man ran far and fast UESHIBA MORIHEI would run further and faster. This competition was not against others it was his way of forever challenging himself. His studies and efforts were not relegated only to the physical aspects of martial arts. UESHIBA also studied esoteric and exoteric arts. Having been sent to a local temple to study the Chinese classics UESHIBA MORIHEI convinced the monks there to emphasise his studies in the esoteric SHINGON rites and meditation techniques.
1902 found UESHIBA MORIHEI attempting without his usual commitment to establish himself as a business man in TOKYO. His business suffered as his main interest was in seeking out martial arts dojos where he could further his studies. The first accredited martial arts school that he encountered to any great extent was the TENJIN SHIN RYU the TOKYO branch of which was ran by TAKISABURO TOBARI. This school was a classical JUJUTSU school which had a great influence on JIGORO KANO when he was researching the arts in his attempt to create KODOKAN JUDO. Its content while providing UESHIBA with the opportunity for physical training probably had little effect upon his creation of aikido in later years. UESHIBA studied there for a few months while also attending classes at the SHINKAGE RYU DOJO.
Not surprisingly his business collapsed and he had to return to TANABE where he met and married HATSU ITOGAWA. This period may be looked upon as UESHIBA’S first serious look at martial arts. At the age of nineteen he was already in possession of a powerful body and indomitable spirit. However to his utter anguish he lacked one thing. One inch in height which he lacked in order to pursue the next stage in his development – Military service.
Regardless UESHIBA would let nothing stand in his way when he set himself a goal.
Part 5: Military and Hokkaido
There are some amusing anecdotes regarding UESHIBA’S attempts to gain that elusive inch which would enable him to enter the military such as hanging upside down from a tree for hours on end and perhaps anticipating his treatment at the hands of superior officers beating his head against a wall to harden it. This action may have had some merit as it is recorded that at least one officer damaged his hand striking the aforementioned head.
Thankfully for the trees and walls of the area UESHIBA finally gained the inch and was accepted into the military. During his time in the army UESHIBA gained a reputation as an excellent soldier and martial artist in particular in his mastery of bayonet fighting. During his enlistment he enrolled in the YAGYU JUJUTSU RYU of MASAKATSU NAKAI. The techniques of this school were most likely classical JUJUTSU and would have included strikes and throws and weapons training. These would have been valuable aids in the development of his own art.
After his discharge in 1906 UESHIBA continued his training in YAGYU JUJUTSU RYU. He received a certificate from either MASAKATSU NAKAI or MASANOSUKE TSUBOI. The GOTO HA YAGYU SHINKAGE RYU was an offshoot of the main YAGYU SHINKAGE RYU which was centred in MIYAGI prefecture. UESHIBA’S certificate does not have the YAGYU seals on it therefore there is some doubt about its authenticity. It is most likely that the seals were kept in SENDAI.
Another chapter in UESHIBA’S life was about to unfold. An event which led directly to the most important meeting in his life to that date.
In 1910 UESHIBA went to HOKKAIDO to investigate and evaluate the government plan to develop land and populate the area. His evaluation being positive UESHIBA returned to HOKKAIDO as the leader of a group of settlers from KII province. His followers settled in SHIRATAKI in KAMI WABETSU VILLAGE in MOBETSU HOKKAIDO. It is here that UESHIBA found the type of lifestyle which suited him best. Farming, hard work and intensive spiritual training. The adventures, successes and trial that he met during this period would fill a book by themselves. There are tales of how he uprooted young trees single-handedly and “made friends with the wild bears of HOKKAIDO”. Despite (or perhaps because of) the intense hardship and austerity of pioneering life in HOKKAIDO this was a most happy time in his life. UESHIBA thrived in this inhospitable land and on the day to day challenge of carving a life from the land.
Soon he was to face an even greater challenge than that offered by pioneering life. This challenge came , in the person of SOKAKU TAKEDA master of TAKEDA AIKIJUJUTSU.
Part 6: Iwama, Birth of Aikido
This was a busy time for UESHIBA; beside teaching at the KOBUKAN he was also teaching at the Military Academy, the Naval Academy and the Military Staff College. UESHIBA had adopted a son by then and there were thoughts that UESHIBA intended him to become his successor. KIYOSHI NAKAKURA was the top student of the great KENDO master NAKAYAMA HAKUDO. KIYOSHI NAKAKURA married UESHIBA’S daughter and took the name HIROSHI UESHIBA. Family problems arose and five years later came divorce. Reverting to his own name KIYOSHI NAKAKURA went on to become one of Japan’s greatest ever KENDOKA. The KOBUKAN got into its stride and became a Mecca for some of the finest martial artists to come out of Japan. Among these were YOICHIRO INOUE (who was to found SHINEI TAIDO), KENJI TOMIKI (founder of TOMIKI ).
Such was the fame of the KOBUKAN that Emperor HIROHITO himself requested a demonstration. At first UESHIBA was reluctant stating that in his art one blow could kill in an instant and as he could not show that he did not wish to show a lie to the Emperor. The Emperor insisted asking that he be shown the “lie”. As SHIODA related afterwards he and another assistant YUKANA were so worried about UESHIBA’S health on the day of the demonstration that they decided to hold back on their attacks. UESHIBA was so ill that he had to be assisted to the tatami. As planned YUKANA attacked first holding back a little. UESHIBA’S demeanour had changed the instant that he entered the Imperial presence and with the first technique YUKANA crashed to the tatami with a fractured arm. What followed according to SHIODA was like being swept up in a whirlwind. He found himself being thrown all over the tatami at times coming under attack from UESHIBA who was pre-empting all of SHIODA’S movements. In desperation SHIODA attacked with all of his might only to be hurled across the tatami. SHIODA had been one of the most powerful JUDOKA in the KODOKAN and yet found himself utterly controlled by UESHIBA’S dynamic demonstration of his art. After the demonstration SHIODA had to take to his bed for a week to recover.
In 1931 SOKAKU TAKEDA made his last appearance at the KOBUKAN to give a seminar from 20th March to the 7th of April. This was the last recorded contact between UESHIBA and TAKEDA. Now without any mentors UESHIBA was free to develop his own art. This he did with the determination and tenacity of a demon. It seemed that nothing could stop him now.
The world of Japan had descended into madness. Even as UESHIBA dreamed of creating a martial art which would unite all men Japan had in 1937 initiated a war with China and then in 1941 had bombed Pearl Harbour placing Japan at war with America and its allies. Japan endured four more years of war before the atomic bombing of HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI. Sick at heart with the madness of war and the Japanese Military’s determination to fight until the last person had given up their life UESHIBA resigned all of his positions and retired to IWAMA. Perhaps it was appropriate that as the war drew to a close ,aikido was born for no one knows the true value of peace better than one who has been exposed to the futility and madness of war. KISSHOMARU UESHIBA took over the running of the HONBU DOJO while his father cloistered himself in IWAMA to renew his spirit and intensify the final efforts to create aikido.
UESHIBA set about creating the synthesis of spiritual and physical training that would become traditional aikido. In IWAMA he was assisted by MORIHIRO SAITO. MORIHIRO SAITO SHIHAN continues to teach the art as taught to him by O SENSEI. The art as taught by SAITO SHIHAN is a composite BUDO incorporating the training in AIKI KEN, AIKI JO and AIKI TAIJUTSU. SAITO SHIHAN has dedicated his life to spreading his master’s art as purely, as is possible.
O SENSEI UESHIBA achieved what no other has achieved. This creation and dissemination of an original BUDO in his own lifetime. Except for one visit to HAWAII O SENSEI never set foot out of Japan and yet has touched and formed the lives of aikidoka all over the world.
O SENSEI MORIHEI UESHIBA died peacefully on 26th of April 1969. In his own words just before he died he said “I AM JUST A BEGINNER.”