question came my way from reader Patrick Forde:
My question is what is irimi? Does that describe any
other entering motion towards the uke that is NOT tenkan? It looks like there is multiple
positions that irimi can take - none of them are consistant like tenkan.
Irimi is a method of entering an attack, as is
tenkan. The best way to understand irimi and tenkan is to know that they are both
methods of entering an attack for the best advantage. These two differ in the ways they
undertake their tasks.
First, in Aikido if you observe very carefully please
notice that in all practice we are always "setting-up" ourselves for the most
advantageous positioning. This goes on from the very start through the entire technique
and then lastly to the pin.* In Irimi and Tenkan, we are doing just this.
In typical Irimi, we approach the attacker more directly by
approaching his front, or rather to his inside. Primarily, we slide at an angle towards
the assailant. This angle can vary depending upon the technique we are performing and
other small variables. Basically, we can vary the irimi positioning to fit the need at
hand. Sometimes we need to slide in deeply, or drop our body lower when we enter, etc. In
nearly all cases, it is practiced as a single movement before the execution of the actual
technique (such as Shihonage or Sokumen - Iriminage). The work involved in the irimi
entrance is getting your best positioning during the attack. This is not easy.
Tenkan is an entrance to the attacker that involves a step to the
outside of his body and 180° turn and stepping back once again. The difficulty in
positioning here is that you need to be constantly aware where your positioning is in
relationship to the attacker. Being that both persons should always be moving during the
technique getting the best positioning for the technique takes time to master.
Sometimes, in execution - I will vary the tenkan. During shihonage I
will need to turn sharply towards the uke at the very end of the execution because he is
so very tall or physically bulky --- that I need the extra extended movement to keep him
off balance. This tenkan too, is a single movement to get the better positioning and
William Gleason, 6th Dan of Boston, MA., during a seminar
mentioned that irimi is attacking the opponents attack more directly and that tenkan
is an approach that we take when we are attacking around the attacker. (The idea that when
we defend --- we are actually attacking an attack is a widely accepted idea in martial
I am currently working on some animated GIFs to illustrate a few
variations of irimi and tenkan, in actual techniques. Please expect these out sometime in
the summer months.
* Note that some pins in Aikido are not for
practical Aikido, but merely for testing centering, heavy Ki extension, and rooting, as
O-Sensei practiced. The ever-so-mindful practice of keeping your balance and the advantage
should be a perfunctory class requirement.
Credits and thanks to: