It is difficult to speak with certainty about the very early history of Aikido. Tradition suggests that it is possible to trace back the origins of Aikido to Prince Teijun, the sixth son of the Japanese Emperor Seiwa (850-880 A.D.)
However, the first important figure in the history of Aikido was a descendent of Prince Teijun, Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, who lived from 1037 to 1127. Yoshimitsu was the third son in a fam- ily already famous for its military accomplishments. His father was a general in the service of the Emperor. The most illustrious member of Yoshimitsu’s family was his older brother Yoshiie, who commanded a number of notable victories chronicled in the “Tale of Mutsu.” In a famous incident in 1082, during the Gosannen War, the two brothers joined forces to attack Kanazawa Castle. Yoshimitsu noticed a disturbance in the flight pattern of wild geese overhead and thus avoided riding into an ambush.
Though Yoshimitsu never achieved the renown of his older brother, he distinguished himself as a warrior. He excelled in spear, sword and unarmed techniques, as well as in archery. At this point in the development of Japanese military arts, mounted archery was considered more important than swordsmanship. It is notable that the two schools of mounted archery which survive into modern times (Takeda Ryu and Ogasawara Ryu), both trace their origins back to Minamto and Yoshimitsu.
It is said that Yoshimitsu dissected cadavers to increase his understanding of the workings of bone, muscle and connective tissues. From this research he added to his repertoire of unarmed techniques, then called “Tai Jutsu.”
Yoshimitsu’s second son moved to the mountainous Kai region of Japan, and founded a new clan with the name Takeda. The Takedas ruled Kai during the breakdown of imperial power and the centuries of war which followed, becoming one of the few ruling families to survive the transition from the era of the shugo, the governor legitimated by the emperor, to the era of the daimyo, the independent feudal lord. During this unsettled period, the Takedas refined the techniques handed down from Yoshimitsu in the face of constant warfare. A manuscript dating from around 1580, written by one of the Takeda family retainers, illustrates techniques which are recognizable to today’s Aikido practitioners.
In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Takedas faced the rising ambitions of Nobunaga Oda and Ieyasu Tokugawa sho- gun. In 1572, Shingen Takeda scored a conclusive victory over the future shogun, only to die soon afterwards from wounds received on a journey to Kyoto. His loss was keenly felt: within a decade, the Takeda of Kai were completely destroyed.
The secrets of Takeda military prowess had not been lost, how- ever. Shortly after Shingen Takeda’s death, another Takeda carried Shigen’s last will and testament to their ally in the north, the lord of Aizu. Moriuji Ashina granted this Takeda a mansion and much land, and persuaded him to stay in Aizu as a master of swordsman- ship.
Takeda sword masters instructed the samurai of the Aizu clan for many generations. During the Tokugawa (Edo) period, Aizu grew into a noted center of martial arts – in all ninety-four different schools of fighting flourished in the region.
Certain of the arts were available only to high-ranking Aizu retainers and were called Otome Ryu or secret techniques. One of these secret arts was the Takeda style of unarmed defense, called Aiki-jujutsu. Jujutsu – means “pliable techniques” and is used to describe various unarmed combat styles learned by the samurai to complement their weapons training: aiki at this point meant some- thing like “coming together with ki or spiritual energy, of one’s enemy.”
The concept of aiki was still very much with the framework of warfare, and destroying one’s opponent.
Perhaps the greatest practitioner of Aiki-jujtsu was Sokaku Takeda. Born in 1860, as a child he was interested only in the mar- tial arts. By the age of 17 he had received a teaching license from an Aizu sword school, and when he was twenty, a former Aizu clan retainer began instructing him in the secret techniques of Aiki- jujutsu. In 1889 the former Aizu retainer taught Sogaku the last of the secret techniques.
In 1915 Sogaku was conducting a demonstration in Hokkaido, here he met Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba was overwhelmed by the Aiki-jujutsu technique he had witnessed.
Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) is the founder of modern Aikido. He is the man who transformed the deadly techniques of Takeda Aiki-jujutsu into a peaceful way of harmony from a means to destroy one’s enemy into a means to resolve conflict. The con- trast between Aiki-jujutsu and Aiki-do is mirrored in the contrast between Bu-jutsu, military techniques, and Bu-do, the code of con- duct for the warrior. The first focuses on practical result, the second on character and ethics.
Unlike Sogaku Takeda, Morihei was born sickly and his early interests lay in religion and science. His father, a landowning farmer of samurai background, encouraged the boy to engage in sports, but as a young man Ueshiba worked first as an instructor in an abacus academy, then as a tax auditor, and then as the owner of a small stationery store in Tokyo.
It was not until the younger Ueshiba was called up for a tour of duty in the army, that began serious study of jujutsu and swords- manship. At age 25, he received a teaching certificate in Yagyu style jujutsu, and after his discharge from the army, his father built him a dojo (training hall) on family property in Tanabe. Morihei taught there, inviting a number of famous judo and jujutsu masters to visit.
In 1912, Morihei led a party of homesteaders from Tanabe north to settle the distant frontier lands of Hokkaido. It was there that he encountered Sogaku Takeda at the inn, and was easily defeated by him — by a fifty-seven-year-old man who was less than five feet tall. Morihei invited Takeda Sensei to his house and built a training hall for him. For four years Morihei studied the old techniques of Aiki-jujutsu, until his father’s illness called him back to Tanabe.
Throughout his training as a martial artist, Morihei never lost his interest in religion and spirituality. As he grew older, religious ideas exercised an increasingly profound influence over him. The old Aiki-jujutsu techniques had been born in an era of blood and vio- lence; Morihei worked to transform them into a way, or do, of spiri- tual education that fostered respect and harmony. No longer was the focus of training on self-defense and the destruction of one’s opponent. Now aiki took on a new meaning, moving beyond the notion of harmony with the energy of one’s opponent in combat, to embrace the notion of harmony with all things at all times, harmony with the universe. When one has achieved such harmony, there is no longer any enemy. Morihei called his new study Aiki-do.