Born on December 14th, 1883 in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, Morihei Ueshiba became interested in the martial arts at a young age.
His father was a respected farmer and his mother came from a noble family (descended from samurai). Ueshiba Sensei spent the great majority of his youth in religious studies, which contributed to his ever-present interest in spiritual matters throughout his life. His father made him study Sumo. Later, around 1902, he began his studies in the art of jujutsu (fighting with empty hands) and kenjutsu (the art of the sword).
He returned home after being declared exempt from military service in 1907. At that time he studied Judo. In 1912 he led a group of pioneers to the northern isle of Hokkaido to establish a village and cultivate the land. He founded the town of Shirataki (which to this day still exists) with more than 80 people. He began his study of Daito-Ryu around this time and studied under the direction of his professor, the prestigious Sokaku Takeda.
In 1919 he was informed that his father was gravely ill. While he was traveling home he met Mr. Onisaburo Degushi, leader of the Shinto sect known as Omoto-Kyo. Through his teachings and religious concepts Mr. Deguchi had a profound influence on young Ueshiba. After the death of his father, Ueshibi returned to Mr. Deguchi and established a martial arts academy in his house where he taught members of Omoto-Kyo. At this time religious teaching began to have a profound impact on him. Morihei Ueshiba saw that there existed a connection between the spiritual and physical movement, and at this point his teachings began to change. Some time passed and many people began to believe that ”a great teacher" existed in the martial arts right in their own town.
Together with Mr. Deguchi, Ueshiba traveled to Manchuria and Mongolia with the goal of establishing a "holy land”. It didn’t work and his heart returned to Asia where he continued his studies in kenjutsu and jujutsu while beginning study in sojutsu (spear fighting).
In the spring of 1925 he met a naval officer who was an expert in kenjutsu and challenged Ueshiba Sensei. On being attacked by the officer Ueshiba could avoid any punch thrown. After this experience, and while still in combat with the officer, he had a vision. In the vision he saw a "gold light" surrounding him. It was then that he understood the unity of the Universe and the principles that he used to develop Aikido. From this he knew that he should call his art aiki-budo (the martial way of Aiki) instead of aiki-jutsu (Aiki techniques).
In 1927 he established his residence in Tokyo after various stays there in which he had hoped to teach some civil servants in the Emperors Court and some government officials.
Between 1941-42 O'Sensei (Great Master), as he is known, decided to call his art Aikido (The Way of Harmony) and retired to a farm in the country in order to continue his religious studies and to practice and perfect his art. He began to construct a sanctuary and a training facility. In 1964 he received the 4th Class Order of the East Sun as founder of Aikido.
Ueshiba had his last demonstration in January of 1969; he passed away on the 26th of April of that same year. His ashes are buried in Kozanji, Tanabe; and he was named the honorable gentleman of Tanabe and Iwama.