According to a biographical note by his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, in Budo: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba was born on December 14, 1883, in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, in Japan. He was the fourth child and eldest son of Yoroku Ueshiba, a well-to-do farmer and community leader. His mother, Yuki Irokawa, came from a land owning family of noble descent. By age seven, Ueshiba was studying Confucian classics and Buddhist scripture at a nearby Buddhist temple.
In 1902, at age 19, Ueshiba studied traditional jujutsu and kenjutsu in Tokyo. In 1903, he entered the Japanese Army, and, the following year, fought in the Russo-Japanese War. He was known for his skill with the bayonet and was nicknamed "the King of Soldiers." While in the military Ueshiba studied Yagyu Ryu Jujutsu.
After leaving the military in 1907, Ueshiba worked on the family farm in Tanabe and studied Judo.
In 1912, at the age of 29, Ueshiba moved to the village of Shirataki in Hokkaido. Here he met the grandmaster of Daito-Ryu Aiki Jutsu, Sokaku Takeda. He trained intensely with Takeda and obtained a certificate in Daito Ryu.
In 1919 Ueshiba met Onisaburo Deguchi, leader of the Omoto Kyo religion, who was well known for his Chinkon Kishin, calming the spirit and returning to the divine.
During that time, Ueshiba converted part of his house in Ayabe into an 18-mat dojo and named it the Ueshiba Academy. He taught introductory courses in the martial arts to a group composed primarily of Omoto Kyo followers. The instruction at the academy increased in range and depth, and Ueshiba gained a reputation for being an exceptional master of the martial arts.
Ueshiba concentrated on farming and martial arts in Ayabe and believed that there was an essential unity between the martial arts and agriculture. This was a recurring theme throughout his life.
As Ueshiba's understanding of martial arts evolved, he developed an interest in Kotodama, the study of breathing and sound as the basis of the creation of the universe. Gradually, he moved away from Yagyu Ryu and Daito Ryu Jujutsu and developed his own approach that emphasized more the unity of mind, body and spirit.
In 1922, he formally named his evolving style, Aiki Bujutsu, but it became known to the general public as Ueshiba Ryu Aiki Bujutsu.
In 1924, Ueshiba traveled with Onisaburo to Manchuria and Mongolia in order to work toward the establishment of a new world government based on religious precepts. Morihei, Onisaburo and four others were arrested and sentenced to death, but a member of the Japanese consulate was able to negotiate their release.
In Mongolia, Ueshiba found that he could see flashes of light indicating the path of oncoming bullets. The discovery of this intuitive sense was understandably a profound experience for him, and after returning to Japan he frequently encountered situations where he felt manifestations of spiritual force.
He continued teaching at the Ueshiba Academy in Ayabe and continued his intensive practice of spear (Sojutsu), sword and Jujutsu.
In 1925, Ueshiba was challenged to a contest by a naval officer who was a master of Kendo. Ueshiba defeated the challenger without actually fighting because he was able to sense the way in which the strikes would fall before the officer's wooden sword could move. Immediately after this encounter Ueshiba went to wash at a well, where he experienced a complete serenity of body and spirit. He suddenly felt that he was bathing in a golden light that poured down from heaven. At the same time, the unity of the Universe and the self became clear to him. He named his art Aiki Budo, rather than Aiki Bujutsu, changing the meaning from a practical fighting style to more of a spiritual path.
Ueshiba became increasingly better known for his Aiki Budo and, with Onisaburo's encouragement, moved to Tokyo in 1927. After two years of temporary accommodation, he moved to a house where he was able to convert two eight-mat rooms into a dojo.
Ueshiba began building his own dojo and in 1930 and during that time was visited by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo and head of the Kodokan. Kano praised him highly.
In April, 1931, a full scale eighty-mat Aiki Budo Dojo, inaugurated as the Kobukan, was completed at the site where the main dojo stands today. In the beginning, it was popularly known as the "hell dojo" because of the intense training.
By the mid-1930s, Ueshiba already was widely known throughout the martial arts world. He gained popularly for his own original creation, "the union of spirit, mind, and body" in Aiki. During this time, he also invested a lot of energy in the practice of Kendo.
In September, 1939, Ueshiba was invited to Manchuria to attend a public exhibition of the martial arts. Here he fought the ex-sumo wrestler Tenryu and pinned him with one finger.
In April, 1940, the Kobukan was granted the status of an incorporated foundation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. It was at approximately this time that the term, Aikido, first came into use.
During the war, Ueshiba began construction of the Aiki Shrine in Iwama and completed the Aiki Dojo just before the end of the war. The layout of the Shrine followed the universal principles of the triangle, circle and square and symbolized the breathing exercises in Kotodama study.
Ueshiba said that when the triangle, circle and square are "united in spherical rotation, a state of perfect clarity results. This is the basis of Aikido."
In 1948, after the post-war confusion subsided to some extent, Aikido headquarters were moved back to Tokyo. The main dojo was renamed the Ueshiba Dojo and World Headquarters of Aikido. Ueshiba's son, Kisshomaru, took charge of the Tokyo headquarters while O Sensei remained in Iwama, absorbed in contemplation and martial arts practice.
In 1950, O Sensei began to travel, teach and lecture, and as he reached the age of 70, his renowned technique was more spiritually oriented in contrast to the fierceness and physical strength of his earlier years. He came to place greater emphasis on the loving nature of Aikido.
In September, 1956, the Aikikai held the first public demonstration since the end of the war. The demonstration lasted five days and made a deep impression on foreign visitors. Ueshiba had been opposed to such demonstrations but understood that Japan had entered a new era. From this time on, the number of students from around the world greatly increased.
In February, 1961, O Sensei visited the Hawaii Aikikai and made the following statement:
"I have come to Hawaii in order to build a 'silver bridge'. Until now, I have remained in Japan building a 'golden bridge' to unite Japan. But henceforward I wish to build a bridge to bring the different countries of the world together through the harmony and love contained in Aikido. I think that Aiki, offspring of the martial arts, can unite the people of the world in harmony, in the true spirit of budo, enveloping the world in unchanging love."
On August 7, 1962, a festival was held at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama to celebrate O Sensei's 60th anniversary as a practitioner of the martial arts, and in 1964 he received a national award in recognition of his contributions to the martial arts.
In January, 1968, a ceremony was held in honor of the completion of the new Hombu Dojo, a modern three-story building of reinforced concrete, and O Sensei spoke about the essence of Aikido technique. Later that year he was to give his last demonstration of Aikido, at the Kokaido in Hibiya. On January 15, 1969, O Sensei attended the New Year's celebration at the Hombu Dojo.
He passed away on April 26, 1969.