Ueshiba Morihei was born on December 14th 1883, in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture. He was the fourth child and eldest son of Ueshiba Yoroku, a well to do farmer who owned two hectares (about 5 acres) of prime farmland. His father was a widely respected member of the local community who had served on the village council for 20 years, while his mother Itokawa Yuki, came from a landowning family of noble descent.
Around the age of 7 Ueshiba was sent to Jizodera, a nearby Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect, to study the Confucian classics and Buddhist scriptures. He was enthralled by the miracle tales told of the Buddhist saint Daishi Kobo and had begun to experience recurring dreams, a tendency that caused his father some concern. Yoroku therefore encouraged him in more physical pursuits, and taught him sumo and swimming.
Upon obtaining his diploma from the Yoshida Abacus Institute he found employment at the Tanabe Tax Office, where his duties included the assessment of land values. He resigned from the tax office in 1902, after joining a popular movement against new fishing legislation, and went to Tokyo with the aim of making a fresh start as a businessman. For a time he worked as a live-in employee in the commercial district of Nihombashi, before setting up his own stationery and school supplies company, Ueshiba Trading. During his stay in Tokyo, Morihei started learning traditional jujutsu and kenjutsu. Later that same year he developed beriberi and was forced to leave Tokyo. Soon after his return to Tanabe, he married Itokawa Hatsu (born 1881), whom he had known since childhood.
In 1903 Morihei enlisted in the 37th regiment of the 4th Division in Osaka, where he was nicknamed "King of Soldiers" for his skill with the bayonet and his hardworking, honest character. When the Russo-Japanese Was broke out in the following year, he was sent to the front as a corporal, and returned having been promoted to the rank of sergeant for outstanding bravery in the field. During periods of leisure from military life Morihei continued to pursue his interest in the martial arts, attending Masakatsu Nakai's dojo in Sakai, where he learned the Goto school of Yagyau ryu jujutsu. In 1907 he was discharged from the army and returned to Tanabe. During this period Morihei learned the Kodokan style of judo from Takagi Kiyoichi in his fathers barn. He also continued to attend the Nakai dojo and received a certificate from the Goto school.
Morihei remained in Tanabe for the next three years, involving himself in many local activities. In 1910 (the year his eldest daughter, Matsuko, was born) he became interested in a government plan to settle the northern island of Hakkaido. He decided to form a settlement group and appealed for volunteers from the local Young Men's Association. He became the leader of the Kishu group, consisting of 54 households (over eighty people), and in March 1912 they left Tanabe for Hokkaido. They arrived in May, and settled at Shirataki, near the village of Yobetsu, a site chosen by Morihei on an earlier trip. It was during his Hokkaido period that Morihei, while staying at an inn in Engaru, made the acquaintance of Sokaku Takeda, the well known master of Daito-ryu. He subsequently trained intensely with Takeda, and gained a certificate in Daito-ryu jujutsu.
In mid-November 1919 Morihei was shocked to receive news that his father was seriously ill. He left Hokkaido to return to Tanabe, bringing his Shirataki period to a close after eight years. On his return trip Morihei heard that the leader of the flourishing new religion Omoto-kyo, Onisaburo Deguchi, who was famous for his chinkon kishin (calming the spirit and returning to the divine) meditation techniques, was living in nearby Ayabe. Morihei decided to visit him, and remained in Ayabe until December 28th. He asked Onisaburo to pray for his father, but Onisaburo replied, "Your father is all right as he is." These words made a deep impression on Morihei.
Ueshiba Yoroku died on January 2nd 1920, at age 76. His death was a great blow to Morihei, and, after a period of emotional instability, he decided to move to Ayabe in search for a more spiritual life, under the guidance of Onisaburo Deguchi. He obtained a house behind the primary school within the sacred precincts of the Omoto-kyo, and it was there that he lived for the next eight years, until he moved to Tokyo in 1928. During his stay he enjoyed Onisaburo's absolute confidence and took part in various spiritual practices of the sect. Also with Onisaburo's encouragement, Morihei converted part of his house into an 18 mat dojo, and opened the Ueshiba Academy, where he taught introductory courses in the martial arts, mainly to Omoto-kyo followers. Sadly Moriheis first year in Ayabe was marked by further tragedy. He lost both his sons through illness, Takemori died in August age 3, and in September Kuniharu died at the age of one.
In the year following his move to Ayabe, the instruction offered at the Ueshiba Academy gradually increased in range and depth, the word began to spread that there was an exceptional master of the martial arts living in Ayabe. The number of non-Omoto-kyo followers enrolling at the Ueshiba Academy began to increase, and many sailors from the nearby naval base at Maizuru came to train there.
On February 11, 1921, the authorities suddenly clamped down on the sect in what later became know as the First Omoto Incident, and several people, including Onisaburo, were arrested. Fortunately the incident had no effect on the Ueshiba Academy. 1921 was also the year of Ueshiba Kisshomaru. Over the next two years Morihei tried to help Onisaburo, who had been released on bail, to rebuild the Omoto-kyo. He took over administration of about nine hundred tsubo of Tennodaira land, which he farmed while he continued to teach at the Ueshiba Academy. In this way he was able to realize in his everyday life the belief that there is an essential unity between the martial arts and agriculture, something that was close to his heart and was to be a recurring theme throughout his life.
From around this period Morihei's practice of the martial arts gradually began to take on a spiritual character, as he became more and more absorbed by the study of kotodama. This led him little by little to break away from the conventions of Yagyu-ryu and Daito-ryu jujutsu, and develop his own original approach, using applied principles and technique together, to break down the barriers between mind, spirit, and body. In 1922 this approach was formally named aiki-bujutsu, but it became known to the general public as Ueshiba-ryu aiki-bujutsu.
In 1924 Morihei embarked on an adventure that was to prove crucial to his spiritual development. On February 13 he secretly left Ayabe with Onisaburo, bound for Manchuria and Mongolia, in a search for a holy land where they could establish a new world government based on religious precepts. On the 15th, they arrived in Mukden, where they met with Lu Chang K'uei, a famous Manchurian warlord. Together with Lu, they led the northwest Autonomous Army (also know as the Mongolian Independence Army) into the interior of the country. At this time Morihei was given the Chinese name Wang Shou Kao. However, their expedition was ill-fated, they were victims of a plot concocted by another warlord, Chang Tso Lin, and when they reached Baian Dalai on June 20, they found the Chinese troops waiting to arrest them. Morihei, Onisaburo, and four others were sentenced to death. Fortunately, just before they were due to be executed, a member of the Japanese consular staff intervened and secured their release and safe return to Japan.
Morihei tried to resume his former life, initing the practice of martial arts and framing by teaching at the Ueshiba Academy and working on the Tennodaira farm. He also became interested in sojutsu (spear technique) and continued his intensive practice of swordsmanship and jujutsu. Things were not the same however. He had been deeply affected by the expedition to Manchuria and Mongolia, in particular by his experiences of facing death under gunfire, and he found that he could see flashes of light indicating the path of oncoming bullets. The discovery of this intuitive sense was a profound experience situation where he felt manifestations of a spiritual force.
In the spring of 1925 Morihei met a naval officer and master of kendo. He accepted the officer's challenge and defeated him without actually fighting, because he could sense the direction in which the blows would fall before the officer's wooden sword could strike him. Immediately after this encounter he went to wash at a well, where he experienced a complete serenity of body and spirit. He suddenly felt that he was bathing in golden light that poured down from heaven. It was a unique experience for him, and a revelation, and he felt reborn, as though his body and spirit had been turned into gold. At the same time the unity of the universe and the self became clear to him and he came to understand one by one the other philosophical principles on which aikido is based. It was also in this way that he realized that it would be better to name his creation aiki-budo rather than aiki-bujutsu.
In February 1927 having received an invitation from Admiral Takeshita, Morihei moved to from Ayabe to Tokyo and devoted his energies solely to establishing himself as a teacher of the martial arts. After 2 years in temporary accommodations, he moved into a house near Sengaku temple in Kuruma-cho, where he converted two 8 mat rooms into a dojo. In 1930 Morihei obtained a villa in Ushigome, Wakamatsu-cho, and begun the construction of a new dojo. While the work was in progress he set up a temporary dojo in Mejirodai, and it was there that he received a visit from Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo and the head of the Kodokan, in October 1930. Kano was most impressed by Morihei's technique and praised him highly, saying, "This is my ideal budo." Kano subsequently sent two of his students, Jiro Takeda and Minoru Mochizuki, to train under Morihei.
Another memorable visit in 1930 was that of Major-General Makoto Miura. He was skeptical about the new budo, and visited the dojo only in order to defeat Morihei. The founder overcame Miura's doubt so completely, however, that he enrolled as a student on the spot. Subsequently, at the request of the same major-general, Morihei became an instructor at the Toyama Military Academy.
In April 1931 a full scale 80 mat aiki-budo dojo, inaugurated as the Kobukan, was completed in Wakamatsu-cho, at the same site where the main dojo stands today. Many students enrolled, for the next ten years aiki-budo experienced its first golden age. Ate the same time the Kobukan was popularly know as the "hell dojo" because of the extraordinarily intense training practiced there.
Morihei also taught at police stations in the Osaka area. In 1932 the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Martial Arts was founded, and in 1933 Morihei became its president. In May 1933 a full time training hall, called the Takeda Dojo, was set up in Hyogo Prefecture. Dozens of students came to live there putting into practice the founder's ideal of uniting the martial arts and agriculture.
In September 1939 Morihei was invited to Manchuria to attend a public exhibition of the martial arts. There he fought the ex-sumo wrestler Tenryu and pinned him with one finger. Morihei continued his visits to Manchuria even after the outbreak of the Pacific War, taking up advisory posts at various institutions, including the Kenkoku University.
In 1941 aiki-budo was assimilated into the Butokukai governmental body uniting all the martial arts under one organization. Morihei appointed Minoru Hirai to represent and manage the Kobukan in the Aiki Section of the Butokukai. It was around this time that the name aikido first came into use. In reaction to the makeshift nature of the new arrangements, made in a time of emergency, whereby aikido was reduced to a section of the Butokukai, and in order to preserve the spirit of the budo he had created for future generations, Morihei moved to Iwama with his wife, living there frugally in a converted barn until after the end of the war.
In Iwama, Morihei began the construction of what he called the ubuya (birthing room), or inner sanctum, of aikido: a complex which included the Aiki Shrine and an outdoor dojo. It was completed in 1945, just before the end of the war.
After the war martial arts went into a decline for a time, and the future of aikido, too, was in doubt. However, Morihei had faith in the new aikido, and together with his son worked hard to establish its place in postwar Japan. When it seemed the confusion prevailing the immediate aftermath of the war had abated somewhat, it was decided to move the headquarters of aikido back to Tokyo. On February 9, 1948, the Ministry of Education granted permission to reestablish the Aikikai, with a revised charter. During that time the main dojo in Tokyo was renamed the Ueshiba Dojo and World Headquarters of Aikido.
From 1950 onward Morihei once more began to travel around Japan in response to invitations to teach, lecture, and give demonstrations. In 1956 the Aikikai held the first public demonstration of martial arts since the end of the war on the rooftop of the Takashimaya department store in Nihombashi, Tokyo. The demonstration lasted five days, and made a deep impression on the foreign dignitaries present. Morihei had been adamantly opposed to giving such public demonstrations, but he understood that Japan had entered a new era, and consented in order to further the development of aikido.
In 1960 Morihei, together with Yosaburo Uno, a kyudo tenth dan, was given the Shijuhosho Award by Emperor Hirohito. Only three people from the martial arts world had ever been given this award before: The judo master Kyuzo Mifune, and the kendo masters Kinnosuke Ogawa, and Seiji Mochida.
On February 28, 1961, Morihei went to the United States on the invitation of the Hawaii Aikikai. During this visit the founder made the following statement: "I have come to Hawaii in order to build a silver bridge. Until now, I have remained in Japan, building a golden bridge to unite Japan, but henceforward, I wish to build a bridge to bring the different countries of the world together through harmony and love contained in aikido. I think that aiki, offspring of the martial arts, can unite the people of the world in harmony, in the true spirit of budo, enveloping the world in unchanging love."
On January 12, 1968, a commemorative ceremony was held in honor of the completion of the new Hombu Dojo, and Morihei was to give what was to be his last demonstration of aikido, at the Kokaido in Hibiya, in honor of the completion of the new building.
On January 15, 1969, Morihei attended the New Year's celebration in the Hombu Dojo. Although he appeared in good health, his physical condition rapidly deteriorated, and he passed away peacefully on April 26, 1969, at 5p.m. A vigil was held at the Hombu Dojo on May 1, starting at 7:10p.m., and on the same day the founder was given a posthumous award by Emperor Hirohito. His ashes were buried in the cemetery of the Ueshiba family temple in Tanabe, and strands of the founders hair were enshrined at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama, the Ueshiba family cemetery in Ayabe, and at the Kumano Grand Shrine.
This biography was taken from the book "Budo Teachings of the Founder of Aikido"