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 descendant of Prince
Teijun, Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, who lived from 1037 to 1127. Yoshimitsu was the third son
in a family 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 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 origin
back to Minamoto no 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
In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Takedas faced the
rising ambitions of Nobunaga Oda and Ieyasu Tokugawa, later the first
Tokugawa shogun. In 1572, Shingen Takeda scored a conclusive victory
over the future shogun, only to die soon afterward from wounds
received on a journey to Kyoto. His loss was keenly felt: within a
decade, the Takeda of Kai were completely destroyed. (These events
form the background of the Kurosawa film, Kagemusha, and are
also portrayed in the TV miniseries Shogun.)
The secrets of Takeda military prowess had not been lost, however. Shortly after Shingen
Takeda's death, another Takeda carried Shingen'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 swordsmanship.
Takeda swordmasters 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 time meant something like "coming together with the ki, or spiritual
energy, of one's enemy." The concept of aiki was still very much within the
framework of warfare, and destroying one's opponent.
Perhaps the greatest practitioner of Aiki-jujutsu was Sokaku
Takeda. Born in 1860, as a child he was interested only in the martial
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. Despite his small size (4'11") Sokaku
Takeda earned a reputation as a ferocious and invincible swordsman,
one without peer in Japan. He was fond of challenging other swordsmen
in order to test and refine his technique, and once single handedly
fought off a gang of fifty construction workers, killing a number of
them. However, the age of the sword in Japan was drawing to an
end. Sokaku's teacher told him that the unarmed techniques of
Aiki-jujutsu should now be given precedence. In 1889, the
former Aizu retainer taught Sokaku the last of the secret techniques,
and presented him with this verse: "All people, know this!/ When
you strike/ a flowing river/ no trace remains/ in the water."
Thereafter, Sokaku traveled around Japan teaching and giving
demonstrations of Aiki-jujutsu. In 1911, Sokaku was invited
by the police bureau in Hokkaido to help control the pirates and
gangsters then infesting the island, and he returned again in
1915. During his second visit, while conducting a demonstration at an
inn, he met a Hokkaido settler named Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba was so
overwhelmed by the Aiki-jujutsu techniques he had witnessed
that he stayed at the inn for a month, training with Sokaku night and
day, forgetting even to notify his family, who assumed he had perished
in a blizzard.
Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) is the founder of modem 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
contrast between aiki-jujutsu and aiki-do is mirrored in the contrast
between Bu-jutsu, military techniques, and Bu-do, the code of conduct
for the warrior. The first focuses on practical result, the second on character and
Unlike Sokaku 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 he began serious study of jujutsu and swordsmanship. At age 25, he received a
teaching certificate in Yagyu style jujtsu, 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 jujtsu masters
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 Sokaku Takeda at the inn, and
was easily defeated by him a fifty 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 violence; Morihei worked to transform them into a way, or do, of spiritual
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 this new
Gozo Shioda & The Yoshinkan Aikido School
Morihei Ueshiba Sensei taught many students throughout his very long career, and these
students in turn founded a number of Aikido schools. The difference between these schools
depends in part upon when these students trained with Ueshiba throughout Ueshiba's life
Aikido continued to evolve and in part upon the individual personality of the student. One
of Ueshiba's most exceptional students was Gozo Shioda.
Shioda entered Ueshiba Sensei's school in 1932, at the age of 17, and trained under him
for the next twenty years, except for a five year hiatus caused by the war. At the end of
this time Shioda was granted a license to start his own school. In 1954 Shioda was awarded
first prize in an All Japan Martial Arts Exhibition, and his subsequent reputation helped
him establish the Yoshinkan Aikido school in Tokyo. In addition to its many regular
students, the Yoshinkan provides instructors for the 40,000 Tokyo Metropolitan police. In
some special squads on the Tokyo police force, advancement in Aikido is a requirement for
Yukio Utada & the Aikido Association of North America
Yukio Utada began his training at a very early age. He began training in Tokyo under
the tutelage of Gozo Shioda. Mr. Utada distinguished himself in his training by attaining
his shodan (1st dan Black Belt) within his first nine months.
In the early seventies, Shioda Sensei sent Mr. Utada to Detroit, Michigan
to server as uchi-deshi (live-in student) to his former Yoshinkan chief
instructor. In 1974 Mr. Utada moved to Philadelphia to begin his full time teaching
career. He also began to lay down the foundation for the organization which would bring
about the greatest growth in Yoshinkai style Aikido in the United States -- the Aikido
Association of North America (AANA).
During the 1990s Gozo Shioda made Mr. Utada the eastern United States Shibu-cho
(Chapter Chief) of Yoshinkai Aikido. To accompany this honor, Gozo Shioda bestowed Mr.
Utada with his 7th dan and the title of Shihan (mastership of he art).
Utada Kancho and the AANA has overseen the instruction of more than 10,000 students.
Currently there are more than 500 aikidoka in the AANA's 18 member dojos.