Grappling Is Measured In Irimi

“Whoever controls the center, wins.” —Ellis Amdur

Grappling is essentially a negotiation for space, space that one person is attempting to occupy to the detriment of the other. Takedowns, throws, pins, strangles, and joint-locks, are really all variants of taking space so that we are in control of it and our opponent is not. In Japanese martial arts, this idea of taking space is known as ‘irimi,’ literally ‘entering body.’

Irimi, as Ellis Amdur describes it, is a martial form of displacement wherein “[t]wo objects cannot occupy the same space, and I, with greater power/speed/timing/postural stability, etc, take that space.” Whether we are talking about destabilizing an opponent to the point of a fall, like in sumo or judo, pinning an opponent such that he or she can no longer move, like in western-style wrestling, or submitting an opponent with a joint-lock or a strangle, as in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, grappling is measured in our ability to take space and not give it back. It is measured in irimi.

Through irimi, we develop the ability to predict where our opponent wants to be, the space he or she wants to take. Then, we can choose to either be there first, to cut him or her off by making that space our own, or to not be there at all by moving to a more advantageous position from which we can take more space with less resistance. Irimi is the means by which we take space until we achieve our takedown, throw, pin, and/or submission, and it is also the means by which we do not give up our own space in the process.

Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

Artwork by Ana, except where otherwise noted.

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