Aikido from the Inside Out


The Principles:


Blend instead of colliding

Get off the line of attack

Irimi means entering

Tenkan means turning

The most basic principle of aikido is the principle of harmony. Harmony, represented by the Japanese character ai, can also be thought of as a blending or confluence of energies or forces. The principle of harmony is to avoid or resolve conflict, clashing, or opposition.

Blend instead of colliding

Generally, the first action in an aikido technique is one of harmony or blending. As an attack comes in, you blend with the attack in one of several ways. One method of blending is to simply get out of the way of the attack so you aren't harmed. But it is important to get out of the way in an intelligent manner. Aikido movements are designed to get you off the line of attack and leave you in a safe position. By blending, you avoid the clash of an attack, giving your partner the illusion of "getting what he wants." If your partner's attack is unopposed, your partner will extend all his energy into the attack--energy which you can use and direct.

When working with a partner, one of the best measures of how much "aikido" is in effect is to notice how much clash, struggle, or opposition there is in the practice. The principle of harmony is that, instead of moving directly into your partner's power, you move around it or redirect it around you. The techniques of aikido are designed to allow you to do this. But the key is to learn to feel the sense of conflict and opposition in the first place.

The principle of aiki resolves opposites.

You and your partner are trying to keep your own centers, extend your energy, and gain a tactical advantage over each other. Thus, as your partners grab or strike, you try to blend with and redirect their energy. However, at any moment, your partner may alter the attack. You constantly need to notice where there is struggle and opposition and immediately modify your response in an appropriate manner. A general rule about following harmony is that the instant you feel opposition, change your approach and find a different way that has no opposition.

Get off the line of attack

Getting off the line of attack is a central theme in aikido and is somewhat different from other traditional martial arts. In many styles of karate, for example, one person attacks and the other responds by "standing his ground," blocking the attack (knocking it out of the way) and counter attacking from the same place. Aikido is quite different in this regard.

Aikido stresses the idea of the centerline. The centerline runs from the top-center of your head, straight-down your body, equally bisecting it. The centerline is significant in aikido because most of your vital targets--face, throat, solar plexus, and genitals--fall along the centerline. The centerline is the core of you, the vulnerable, solid center that, if injured, affects your very existence. If your arm is struck, while it might be painful, you will still be able to function, even if it's only to run away. If you're struck in a vulnerable spot on the centerline, you may well be down or dead.

So in aikido, rather than "holding the line" and defending ourselves, rooted on one spot, we move off the line of attack to a more advantageous position. Moving away from an attack can be done intelligently or not so intelligently. For example, if our partner kicks or strikes and we simply move straight back, even though we may avoid this first strike, we have remained on the line of attack and allow our partner another opportunity to strike again.

Likewise, if we jump wildly to the side, we again avoid the initial attack, but we've now created space between ourselves and our partner--space that our attacker will probably fill with a new attack. Again, we've just put off the inevitable.

Intelligent moving in response to an attack in aikido usually means blending by entering or turning. (We use the terms irimi and tenkan for entering and turning. Some schools use the terms omote and ura to describe similar concepts. Although there are some subtle differences between these terms, we'll take them as being equal in this book).

Irimi means entering

Irimi is a great, hidden secret in aikido, strangely missing in many other martial arts. Irimi means entering. Entering, like many concepts in aikido, initially seems to be counter-intuitive. For example, your attacker is about to smack the top of your head with a large pipe. It seems like the last thing you'd want to do is enter into his sphere.

Irimi means entering to a safe place. In the above example, you enter behind your attacker, where it's safe. But you get there as if you are going to pierce directly through your attacker's own center. With an irimi movement, you head straight for your attacker's center and then veer off to the side at the last moment.

Irimi provides a number of advantages. Because you don't block or run away from an attack, you give the attacker the illusion that he is going to hit you. He thinks that his attack will proceed as planned and so he doesn't hold back or change directions. This works to your advantage.

If you perform your irimi movement with extended ki (ki is discussed later), your attacker will feel "pierced" to the center as you enter. This may have the effect of stopping the ki of his attack in mid-stride, which weakens his balance. It may end the attack all together if done with enough ki.

Irimi is the force of the spear, the force of a tidal wave.

You can "disappear" right before your partner's eyes with a good irimi. Once I was practicing irimi nage with a kohai (junior student) when he performed a marvelous irimi movement. I came in to strike, my target was right in front of me and he appeared as though he was going to just stand there and let me hit him. He was relaxed and smiling. I struck hard and fast and my experience was that he simply vanished before my eyes. His entry was so clean and pure that I didn't see him slide by me, but he just "winked out of existence." Of course, he "winked" back into existence moments later behind me and threw me to the mat.

Irimi is the force of the spear, the force of a tidal wave. Your irimi movement should both pierce your partner's center and also wash over your partner like a giant wave. A good irimi movement is a force to be reckoned with!

Tenkan means turning

The other typical movement we do in aikido is the tenkan, or turning movement. Tenkan turns when pushed. If our partner comes to push us in the chest, we roll around the extended arm, keeping close contact with the attacker's arm and body. By rolling, we get out of the way of the attack and we position ourselves at our attacker's side, which is a much safer place than in front of him.

Tenkan is the force of the tornado or cyclone.

Like irimi, the tenkan movement saves us from being hit by the initial strike and puts us in a relatively safe position, where we can follow up with additional movements or techniques. Usually, the tenkan movement will continue with the turning motion by leading our partner's energy around in a circle or spiral of which we are the center.

Tenkan is the force of the tornado or cyclone. You are in the center and your partner is flung around the edges of this cyclonic force.






©1993-1998 Howard Bornstein