History of Aikido | Its Origins (Ueshiba, Japan & Others Facts)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Himeji Castle with Fuji mountain background, Japan aikido
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Just how much do you know about Aikido? Does its history, as well as philosophy, support your lifestyle and world view? If you’re thinking about getting into Aikido or at least sending your children for lessons, you might want to know a little more about the martial art, where it comes from, and what its main philosophy is.

By knowing the history and reasons behind the art, you can learn and understand it with greater ease. If you want to discover more about the history of Aikido, you have come to the right place. I took the time to research a brief, yet complete, history of Aikido to share with those who are interested. 

The history of Aikido:

Aikido, the Japanese martial art, was created by Morihei Ueshiba throughout the 1st half of the 20th Century during a period of conflict and war. Later, the martial art was internationalized under the leadership of Kisshomaru and Moriteru Ueshiba (Morihei’s son and grandson, respectively).

Morihei Ueshiba wanted to introduce a form of “peaceful conflict resolution”.  

Aikido has been passed down through 3 generations within one family, starting with the creator; Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th Century. 

Just how much do you know about the creation of Aikido and how it affects the forms of Aikido that you can learn today? Once you know a little more about the history of Aikido, you may find yourself feeling an affinity for the practice and even a bit more understanding about the approach and techniques. 

If you’re not a big fan of reading, we suggest you, definitely, check the video below

Video source: AikidoSarasota / YouTube

Find out everything you need to know about the history of Aikido below.

Historical Context: A Time of War

Aikido has a history that starts in war times and aims to find a way to promote peaceful and amicable outcomes. From times of war came an art of peace. Aikido is not just a martial art that is taught and learned for the objective of fitness and self-defense. There’s so much more to the martial art than that.

It is the art of peaceful self-protection and has a particular history that comes from one man and the generations in his family to follow. What is there to know about the history of Aikido practice? Below are a few of the milestones in Aikido’s history.

The Creator, Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969)

Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 during a time when Japan was going through aggressive war times. Having witnessed the violence in the country and the attacks aimed at his own father that were politically inspired, Morihei made it his main focus to become a fit, strong, and powerful individual. 

When Morihei eventually founded Aikido, he had the skills and know-how to fight effectively already, but he wanted to introduce a new form of conflict resolution. He was known to have gained experience in many martial art practices such as spear technique, staff technique, jiujutsu, swordsmanship, and sumo during his youth.

Japan Traditional japanese painting Sumi-e art Japan aikido
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When Morihei met Onisaburo Deguchi, a spiritual leader, in 1919, he started to consider his various martial art practices as a way to purify himself personally, and a way to gain in-depth and meaningful spiritual training. As such, Aikido is seen as more than just a fighting martial art or a form of self-defense. 

For all intents and purposes, Aikido is about self-betterment and spiritual enhancement. Because of this, Aikido is considered to be “Budo” as it is designed to help practitioners perfect themselves while also providing a non-violent way to conquer opponents. 

Morihei founded Aikido during the Pacific War in the 20th Century in hopes of bringing people together in peace instead of tearing them apart in war.

The Basis of Aikido and its Philosophy

Aikido, while it can be deadly, is a martial art that focuses on working with the opponent to use their energy against them and come to a peaceful resolution

When Morihei founded Aikido, he gained exceptional support, not just from the community but also from the Imperial Family, government officials, and high-rank military officers. He ensured that anyone who was sincere about learning Aikido had access to it. He wanted to create a form of peaceful self-defense, and he did it. That being said, the deadliness of Aikido should not be underestimated.

The main philosophy of Aikido, for many, is based on Morihei’s belief in the spirit of Aikido and the understanding of the art being. The main essence of Aikido is similar to his quote, “true victory is victory over self”. Morihei wanted his new martial art to provide some form of spiritual food to all (and any) who would receive it. 

Philosopher's Walk with sakura japan aikido
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The Second Aikido Master 

In 1969, when Morihei died, his son, called Kisshomaru Ueshiba, was named the “second master of Aikido” (Nidai Doshu). This is where things started to change quite drastically for Aikido as an art. Kisshomaru Ueshiba actually started training Aikido under the careful instruction of his father in 1937. 

Kisshomaru has an integral place in the history of Aikido as during war times in Tokyo, he stayed in the area, ensuring the Dojo building was specially protected and preserved. In fact, he saved the Dojo from several bombings during the war. His father initially named him the head of Kobukan Dojo in Shinjuku in 1942, as war raged on. 

The Internationalization of Aikido 

When the war ended, it was Kisshomaru who created a non-profit organization called the Aikikai Honbu Organization, recognized by the government and integral in the spread of Aikido to the western world.

How did Kisshomaru spread Aikido internationally? 

He sent Japanese Shihan (master instructors) overseas to start up Aikido organizations around the world. Some of the most notable Aikido Shihan were Minoru Mochizuki, Tadashi Abe, Kenji Tomiki, Koichi Tohei, and Seiichi Sugano, among others. 

Kisshomaru also set to work on several publications detailing the basic techniques and philosophy of the art.

It was only after his father’s death that Kisshomaru started to spread the art overseas. It was the dream of his father for the martial art to become an internationally practiced martial art, and he was able to make this dream become a reality. 

Japan. Japan flag and map aikido
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The Third Master of Aikido 

When Kisshomaru died in 1999, his own son, Moriteru Ueshiba, was named the third master of Aikido. He was already well versed in the art, although training was never a strict requirement for him. Moriteru is said to have mentioned that he practiced and learned as he wanted and as he could when he was growing up.

Moriteru had several years of intense training as the Director of Dojo Headquarters of Aikikai Hombu before being named as the third master of Aikido when his father died. As he currently serves as the third master, many believe that he will take Aikido to new heights internationally. 

To date, he has taught Aikido in both Ireland and Australia and has also released a book (co-written with his father), called Aikido: The Fundamentals.

Is the Aikido that we learn today different from traditional Aikido? Today, Aikido is not taught using the real official weapons, but rather wooden replicas of the staff, sword, and knife that is traditionally used by Aikido pros. 

The Basic Techniques of Aikido

So, what are the basic Aikido techniques that are taught in classes today across the globe? If you have not been to a class yet, you can expect to learn a series of movements designed to quell a conflict quickly and effectively

“Waza” is the term given to basic Aikido techniques. The practice of Aikido is based on two partners carrying out a set of pre-determined moves which are of course called “waza”. It is not just the moves and techniques that are named. 

The practitioners also assume a name depending on what role they play in the conflict. A “uke” is the person on the receiving end and must start the attack against a “tori”, who is the person applying the technique. The attack is neutralized through using the various pre-determined Aikido techniques. 

Two Aikido Martial Artists in Traditional Costume
Joe Jirang / Shutterstock.com

The techniques involve various throwing, moving, and striking actions. All students learn to play the role of both uke and tori so that they can learn the art of both blending and adaptation in Aikido. 

The reason behind learning these techniques is so that students can learn effective methods of stopping an aggressive, violent attack instead of fueling it or reacting in a similar vein. The very first technique that an Aikido student learns is the art of falling without getting hurt.

Everything Considered, 

What started out as a passion for Morihei Ueshiba many years ago; has become a worldwide phenomenon that is practiced by millions of people, both young and old.

While the complete history of Aikido is hard to document in a single blog or article, it is easy to see that the martial art has been widely accepted and appreciated, not only in Japan but by the entire world. 

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.