The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, was born on December 14, 1883, to a farming family in an area of the Wakayama Prefecture now known as Tanabe; one of five children, he was the only son. From his father Yoroku, he inherited a samurai's determination and an interest in public affairs, and from his mother an intense interest in religion, poetry and art. Morihei was a weak and sickly child, which led to a preference for indoor activities like reading. He loved listening to the miraculous legends of the wonder-working saints 'En no Gyoja' and 'Kobo Daishi', and was fascinated by the esoteric Buddhist rituals; he even considered becoming a priest at one time.
To counteract his son's daydreaming, Yoroku would recount tales of his grandfather 'Kichiemon', said to be one of the strongest samurai of his day, and encouraged him to study Sumo and swimming. Morihei gradually became stronger and finally recognized the need for strength after his father was viciously attacked by a gang hired by a rival politician. Morihei became restless and, bored by school, took on several jobs. These too seemed to disillusion him, and it was during a brief stint as a merchant that he realized he had an affinity for the martial arts. He then enthusiastically studied Jujutsu at the Kito-ryu dojo and swordsmanship at the Shinkage-ryu training center. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, a severe case of beri-beri sent him home, where he was to later marry.
After regaining his strength during the Russo-Japanese war, he decided to enlist in the army, but was told he was too short, standing at just under five feet; so upset was Morihei that he immediately went into the forests and desperately swung on trees, trying to stretch out his body. On his next attempt to enlist, in 1903, he passed the examination and entered the infantry. During this time he impressed his commanding officers so much that they recommended him for the National Military Academy, but he declined, retired from active duty and returned home.
Having grown strong from his time in the army and keen to pursue physical training, his father built a dojo on his farm and invited the well known Jujutsu instructor Takaki Kiyoichi to tutor him. During this time the young Ueshiba became stronger and realized that he possessed great skills. In the spring of 1912, he and his family moved into the wilderness of Hokkaido, which after a few years of struggle, started to prosper. During this time in Hokkaido he met the grandmaster of the Daito-ryu Aiki Jutsu school, Takeda Sokaki. After finding himself no match for Takeda, Ueshiba threw himself into training. After about one month he went back to Shirataki and built a dojo and invited Takeda too live and teach there, which he did.
Upon hearing of his father's serious illness, Ueshiba sold off most of his property and left the dojo to Takeda. On his journey home he stopped in Ayabe, where the the new Omot-kyo religion was based, and met the master Deguchi Onisaburo. He stayed on a further three days, during which time his father passed away. Ueshiba took this very hard and decided to sell off all his ancestral land and moved to Ayabe to study with the Omoto-kyo. For the next eight years Ueshiba studied there, whilst teaching budo and heading up the local fire brigade. Deguchi, who was a well known pacifist allowed Ueshiba to teach the martial arts as he realized "the real meaning of budo: to end all fighting and contention".
During his early 40s (around 1925), Ueshiba had several spiritual experiences which so impressed him that his life and training were forever changed. He realized the true purpose of budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all beings. For the next year, many people sought Ueshiba's teaching, including Tomiki Kenji (see below) and Admiral Takeshita.
In 1927, Degchi Onisaburo encouraged Ueshiba to separate from the Omoto-kyo, which he did, and moved to Tokyo. By this time Ueshiba's following had grown to the point where he need to move to build a formal dojo in the Ushigome district of the city. In 1931 the 'Kobukan' was finished; and in 1932 a 'Budo Enhancement Society' was established with Ueshiba as the chief instructor. It was about this time that students such as Gozo Shioda and Shirata Rinjiro joined the dojo. For the next ten years Ueshiba became more and more famous with stories appearing in writing.
In 1942, supposedly because of a divine command, he left the now war-emptied Kobukan and moved to a farm in the village of Iwama. Here he built an outdoor dojo and the now famous Aiki Shrine. Iwama is considered to be the birthplace of modern Aikido - 'the way of harmony'. Prior to this move the system had been referred to as Aiki-Jutsu or Aiki-budo, and was still more a martial art rather than spiritual path. From 1942 (when the term Aikido was first used) to 1952, Ueshiba perfected the techniques and the religious philosophy of Aikido.
After the war, the popularity of Aikido grew rapidly at the Kobukan (now Hombu Dojo) under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Morihei had become famous as 'O’Sensei' or 'the Grand Teacher', the Master of Aikido. He had received also received many decorations from the Japanese government.
Right up until the end of his life O’Sensei refined and improved his 'Way', and never lost his dedication to hard training. In early spring 1969, O’Sensei fell ill and told his son Kisshomaru the "God is calling me..."He was returned to his home at his request to be near his dojo. On April 15th, his condition became critical. Early on the morning of April 26th, 1969, the 86-year-old took his son's hand, smiled, and said, "Take care of things" and then passed away. Two months later his wife of 67 years, Hatsu, followed him. O’sensei's ashes were buried in the family temple in Tanabe. Every year a service is held at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama.