Early in my career as a researcher into the life of Morihei Ueshiba, I was misled by two prevailing myths concerning the history of aikido. The first was that Daito-ryu jujutsu was merely one of a number of older martial arts that influenced the technical development of aikido. This proved to be a misrepresentation of historical fact in that Daito-ryu was, technically speaking, by far the predominant influence on aikido. The second myth was that Morihei Ueshiba had something akin to a “star” status within the Omoto religion that placed him almost on a par with Onisaburo Deguchi, and that he was somehow a “non-member” member of the sect. (1) This view, too–in retrospect absurd on its face–proved easily refutable after a cursory research into Morihei’s involvement in the religious sect. Both of these viewpoints were promoted by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in the postwar years to enhance perceptions of Morihei’s status and originality as the founder of aikido, by downplaying the pivotal roles played by Sokaku Takeda and Onisaburo Deguchi in Morihei’s career.
In this article, I will focus on the events surrounding the launch of Morihei Ueshiba’s career as a martial artist on opening his “Ueshiba Juku” in 1920, and the role of Onisaburo Deguchi, co-founder of the Omoto religion, in introducing the aikido founder as a “martial art kami (deity)” to the rapidly growing Omoto religious network.
Morihei in Hokkiado
First, a bit of background information. Prior to Morihei’s relocation to Ayabe in 1920, he had lived in a remote area of Hokkaido for seven years as a settler, together with a group of families from his hometown of Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture. From the standpoint of the development of aikido, the most notable aspect of his stay in Hokkaido was Morihei’s meeting with famous jujutsu master, Sokaku Takeda, and his subsequent training in Daito-ryu jujutsu. Morihei trained intensively in Daito-ryu under Sokaku for a period of about five years. In other articles and books, I have made a case for the substantive role of Daito-ryu in the evolution of Morihei’s martial techniques that would eventually culminate in modern aikido.