Re: Irimi: Entering = Initiate and Intercept
Initiating is central to Aikido. I was taught that by Saotome Sensei and I heard the same thing from my Shingu trained friends who hard it from Hikitsuchi. I would like to comment on the statement about "timing".
O-Sensei was once asked about the issue of "timing" and replied that it wasn't about timing or speed for that matter. I've spent a lot of time pondering this issue and only recently come to have my own understanding of what he meant.
The term "timing" fundamentally implies some sort of relative matching of one to another. I think O-Sensei was trying to say that there is no relative matching because there is simply no separation between the two opponents, in fact, according to the way he saw things, there aren't two opponents at all.
For most of us, this type of perception, the product of mystical spiritual experience of union, is just a concept at best. But I have begun to experience some small aspect of what I think he meant by working on the principles which Ushiro Kenji Sensei has outlined. He talks about, not just physical technique, but what one is doing with ones mind.
The idea here is that the mind always proceeds the body. Your body does not move without an instruction from your mind. So Ushiro Sensei talks about placing ones attention "inside" the attack, never "on" the attack. I have been working on this concept and I have to say it changes everything...
If "irimi" is the principle of "entering" we must first look at what "enters" and where does it go? I have come to see that it is the Mind which "enters", before any physical movement can be seen. This can be done, with practice, at various distances making conventional notions of ma-ai secondary to the interaction. My Mind is already in before any movement takes place.
Once this is understood it makes the conventional ideas about initiative (sen no sen, go no sen, sen sen no sen, etc) irrelevant. It also changes the view that "irimi" is about moving forward to "enter" into the attacker's space. In a sense, since my mind is already inside the attacker's technique, I have already entered. This is true before I have even moved.
It is quite the experience to find that in this state of mind, one perceives that actions of the attacker as slow, no matter how fast they are. Since you are "already" where you need to be, there's no need for speed, no need to rush, you simply allow your physical body to express what your mind has already done.
Ushio Kenji is famous for "owning the space" and making it impossible for the attacker to initiate. He then moves forward and backs the opponent out of bounds repeatedly, never allowing him to get off an attack. I have experienced this myself but he actually won a full contact tournament in Europe against Kung Fu practitioner in this manner. He won without having to strike a blow.
Now there are lots of stories about O-Sensei doing this and certainly I experienced this when training with Saotome Sensei. The difference is that Ushiro Sensei can teach it. He has a very systematic explanation for what he is doing. So I have been working on it and have some success. I can't do it the way he can do it yet but I understand, I think, what he is doing.
The attacker is, by definition, coming to you (let's forget discussion of projectile weapons for the moment; it's still true but on another level). To achieve "irimi" it isn't necessary to move towards the attacker. "irimi" is inherent in proper rotation. If a proper neutral pivot point is set up, the act of rotation, even if stepping back, will still result in your body being inside the attack. The crucial element in this is that the mind was inside the attack, at the attacker's center, before the movement occurred.
Now I might choose to move quickly towards the attacker or I might choose to move away and draw him out. I might choose to simply stand there and let him attack. None of that matters as long as the attention is already inside his developing attack.
I use what I refer to as an "aiki koan" when I teach to get people thinking about this. It says, "What happens to the concept of reaction time (or any of the concepts we have relating to "timing") when you introduce the idea of "already". I think this is what O-Sensei meant by saying that it wasn't about timing. It also radically shifts the notion of what is it that enters? These are questions that need to be solved if one is to get to the really high levels of Aikido skill; they seem to be central to everything.