The Co-founder of Aikido? “The Strange Saga of Noriaki Inoue”

After World War II, a small group centered around a man named Noriaki Inoue was active in Tokyo practicing a little known martial art called Shinwa Taido. This oddity would be largely irrelevant to aikido practitioners were it not for the fact that Inoue’s students referred to their teacher as the “Co-founder of Aikido!”

Before dismissing such a preposterous claim, consider the following. Inoue was a nephew of Morihei Ueshiba, and 19 years the latter’s junior. You’ll recall that Morihei was born in Tanabe, a seacoast town in Wakayama Prefecture. Yoichiro — his given name — spent a number of years growing up in the Ueshiba family home in Tanabe. Morihei’s eldest sister married Yoichiro’s father, an exceedingly wealthy man named Zenzo Inoue.

The Ueshiba and Inoue families were not only linked through marriage, but acted jointly in many family matters including activities related to the martial arts training of the younger members of the extended family. This younger generation included Morihei, Yoichiro, and a couple of the latter’s brothers. Moreover, Zenzo and his equally weatlhy brother played an important role in financing a number of Morihei’s early ventures including his attempt to embark on a business career in Tokyo and his relocation to Hokkaido.

Morihei and Yoichiro spent several years living in Hokkaido where they learned the art of Daito-ryu Jujutsu from famous martial artist Sokaku Takeda in the small village of Shirataki. After Hokkaido, both Morihei and Yoichiro opted to join the Omoto religious community near Kyoto where they continued practicing and teaching Daito-ryu.

From there both Morihei and Yoichiro established themselves in Tokyo in the mid-1920s. The professional activities of the two teaching Aiki Budo, the precursor art to aikido, were centered in Tokyo and Osaka.

Yoichiro was widely regarded Morihei’s number one student and often taught in his uncle’s stead. Among the prewar students of the Founder, Yoichiro had the reputation of being Morihei’s most skilled disciple and was said to move in a manner virtually identical to his famous uncle. This can be verified by viewing the surviving films of Inoue Sensei.

Yoichiro’s many years of service as Morihei’s assistant during the early years coupled with the considerable material support of the Inoue family to Morihei’s cause were the reasons Inoue’s students regarded their teacher as the “Co-founder” of aikido.

As various other important early figures who fell out of favor with the Ueshiba family, the name of Yoichiro Inoue has been relegated to a footnote in aikido history, and few today know of his story.

Josh Gold

Executive Editor of Aikido Journal, CEO of Budo Accelerator, and co-founder of Ikazuchi Dojo.

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