The soldier and martial artist Morihei Ueshiba was about to die.
Ueshiba was in Inner Mongolia on a mission of peace, traveling through a remote mountain pass when, suddenly, he and his party were ambushed. Their enemies—Chinese Nationalist soldiers and armed bandits—made a sudden attack, firing weapons as Ueshiba's party scattered, looking for cover in the bare mountains.
Surrounded, outnumbered, Ueshiba prepared himself for death. He drew on the reserves of mental strength he had built in years of martial arts practice, military service, and Buddhist studies. Despite the ambush, a strange calmness came over him. He later described the moment this way:
“I could not move from where I stood. So when the bullets came flying toward me, I simply twisted my body and moved my head…I could see pebbles of white light flashing just before the bullets. I avoided them by twisting and turning my body, and they barely missed me.”1
Ueshiba had spent years training in the martial art of aiki-jutsu, a brutal self-defense system that evolved out of classical Japanese swordsmanship. For the samurai, life and death were determined on the battlefield in milliseconds, with razor-sharp swords. Aiki-jutsu was the samurai's last line of self-defense; if he lost his sword, he could still fight with his empty hands.
But, in the early twentieth century, after his experience in Inner Mongolia, Ueshiba took the martial tradition of aiki-jutsu and created aikido (pronounced “eye-key-doe”), ...