The Art of Peace

Understanding Aikido is not possible without knowing its roots in the Samurai tradition. Literally, Aikido means the way (Do) of harmonizing (Ai) with universal energies (Ki). It was ultimately developed as one of the latest martial arts but its roots were planted more than a thousand years ago.

Throughout the Shogunate, unarmed combat techniques developed into different systems and styles. Varying battlefield situations and technical requirements of feudal warfare led to the establishment of various schools (ryu), which were controlled by, and passed down through the large powerful Samurai families.

One of these was Aikijutsu. It is not completely clear where Aiki techniques originated, but the Aiki system is said to have originated with Prince Teijun, the sixth son of Emperor Seiwa (850 – 880). It was passed on to successive generations of the Takeda family and was made known only to family members and retainers. The techniques came to be known as Aizu-todome (secret techniques). Aikijutsu remained an exclusive Samurai practice handed down within the Takeda family until Japan emerged from isolation in the Meiji period.

The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, was born on December 14, 1883, to a farming family. From his father Yoroku, he inherited a samurai determination and interest in public affairs, and from his mother an intense interest in religion, poetry and art.

At the age of 29, Ueshiba met Sukaku Takeda, grandmaster of Aikijutsu. After meeting Takeda, Ueshiba seemed to forget everything else and threw himself into training. A second fateful encounter for Ueshiba was the acquaintance with the new Omoto-kyo religion and its master Deguchi Onisaburo. As pacifist, Deguchi was an advocate of non-violent resistance and universal disarmament. He was noted to have said, “Armament and war are the means by which the landlords and capitalists make their profit, while the poor suffer.” It is intriguing that a man of his nature could become so close to a martial artist such as Ueshiba.

However, Deguchi came to the conclusion that Ueshiba’s purpose on earth was “to teach the real meaning of Budo: an end to all fighting and contention.” The study of Omoto-kyo and his association with Onisaburo profoundly affected Ueshiba’s life. He once stated that while Sokaku Takeda opened his eyes to the essence of Budo, his enlightenment came from his Omoto-kyo experiences. During his early forty’s (around 1925), Ueshiba had several spiritual experiences, which impressed him that his life and his training were forever changed. He realized the true purpose of Budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all beings.

"The world will continue to change dramatically, but fighting and war can destroy us utterly.
What we need now are techniques of harmony, not those of contention.
The Art of Peace is required, not the Art of War."

In 1927, Deguchi Onisaburo encouraged Ueshiba to separate from Omoto-kyo and follow his own way. Then he did, moved to Tokyo, and built a formal Dojo (training hall).

In 1942, supposedly because of a divine command, he longed to return to the farmlands. He had often said, “Budo and farming are one”. World War II had emptied his dojo, and he was tired of city life. He moved to the village of Iwama. Here he built an outdoor dojo and the now famous Aiki Shrine. Iwama is considered to be the birth place of modern-day Aikido, “the Way of Harmony.” Prior to his move, his system had been called Aikidjutsu, then Aikid-Budo, still primarily a martial art rather than a spiritual path. From 1942 (when the name Aikido was first formally used) to 1952, Ueshiba consolidated the techniques and perfected the religious philosophy of Aikido.

After World War II, Aikido grew rapidly.

Morihei Ueshiba had become famous as “O’ Sensei” or (the grand teacher) of Aikido. Right up to the end of his life, Ueshiba refined and improved his “Way”, never losing his dedication for hard training. In April 1969, O’ Sensei fell ill and told his son Kisshomaru “God is calling me…” He was returned to his home at his request to be near his dojo. As his students made their last calls, he gave his final instructions. “Aikido is for the entire world. Train not for selfish reasons, but for all people everywhere.