“Always irimi, even when retreating.” – Budd Yuhasz
There are a lot of valuable lessons beneath the surface of Japanese weapon training that translate to empty hand practice. With sword-work in particular, the principle of irmi* becomes especially evident.
Irimi, meaning ‘entering body,’ is more than simply the act of entering into an opponent’s physical space, although this act of displacing one’s opponent as a means of off-balancing him or her is an essential aspect of irimi. The sword teaches us to also enter into an opponent’s mental space and to always push forward with both intention and the blade, even when retreating.
With the threat of a bladed weapon, where one cut potentially means death, if a practitioner is pushed back into a defensive stance, either mentally or physically, he or she will be slow, reactive, and likely dead. The blade, and one’s attention, must remain affixed on the opponent at all times, so that the practitioner is always entering into his or her opponent’s space with both mind and body.
Irimi is the act of overtaking an opponent first with one’s intent. The blade and the body are wielded by the will. If one’s cut is to be true, he or she must first decide to enter, even when seeming to move backwards, lest he or she be overcome by the will and the blade of the enemy. In this way, even a retreat is an attack and an attempt to maintain proper balance, angle, and distance from one’s opponent so as to cut him or her down, in spite of pushed back.
“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”
*For further reading on the principle of irimi within an aikido context, read Ellis Amdur’s article on the subject HERE.