Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) was a Japanese martial artist and founder of the martial art of Aikido. He is often referred to as “Kaiso” (The Founder) or “O-Sensei” (Great Teacher). He was born into a farming family in an area of the Wakayama Prefecture now known as Tanabe. As a young man Morihei Ueshiba gained experience with various forms of jujutsu but it was only after 1912 that his martial arts training began to take on real depth and significance.
Japan was eagerly recruiting people to colonize the northern islands that had been at the center of the war with Russia. Morihei Ueshiba assembled a group of veterans and other volunteers and moved to northern Hokkaido to colonize an area called Shiratake in Mombetsu Prefecture in 1912. The first years were difficult and the climate was harsh, but they set up logging operations that cleared land and started farming the area. Morihei became an influencial figure in local government and was instrumental in bringing the first rail line to the area.
In late February of 1915 Morihei had a chance meeting with Sokaku Takeda. Takeda Sensei was the reviver of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu and at the time was perhaps the most influential martial artist in Japan. Ueshiba immediately began studying with him intensively. Ueshiba continued to practice with Takeda Sensei regularly and became a top student in the study of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Despite the fact that Morihei and Sokaku were the same size, Morihei was never able to get the better of Sokaku and he realized there was more than strength and skill involved.
When he left Hokkaido, Morihei Ueshiba further came under the influence of Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Omoto-kyo religion in Ayabe. While this connection had an immense effect on his spiritual development, it also introduced Ueshiba to elite political and social circles as a prominent martial artist.
Although Ueshiba eventually distanced himself from both of these teachers, their effect on him and his art cannot be overstated.
Morihei Ueshiba moved to Tokyo in 1926, where he set up what would become the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. By now he was quite famous in martial arts circles, and taught at this dojo and others around Japan, including in several military academies. In the aftermath of World War II the Hombu dojo was temporarily closed, but Ueshiba had by this point left Tokyo and retired to Iwama, and he continued training at the dojo he had set up there. From the end of the war until the 1960s, he worked to promote aikido throughout Japan and abroad producing such noted students as Gozo Shioda of the Yoshinkan. He died from liver cancer in 1969.