“Unraveling the Origins of Iriminage,” by Stanley Pranin

Morihei Ueshiba’s original iriminage from the the 1938 training manual titled “Budo”

“It’s fairly easy to prove that it was the Founder’s son, Kisshomaru, who was primarily responsible for introducing this ‘new’ iriminage…”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninYesterday I posted a blog asking readers to offer their opinions on a particular way of executing the iriminage throw that is widespread within the Aikikai Hombu Dojo system. Many readers responded with a variety of very helpful perspectives.

Today I would like to briefly discuss the origins of iriminage as a type of throwing technique peculiar to aikido and believed to be original to Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Next, we will see how modified versions of iriminage became popularized within the Aikikai, the world headquarters of the art, and from there spread abroad as aikido established roots the world over.

It seems that iriminage — although not originally named as such — has its origin in the Aiki Budo period in prewar Japan. Aiki Budo is the general term used to refer to the pre-modern form of aikido taught by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1930s and early 40s. As to the time frame of the emergence of this particular throwing art now called iriminage, we can say with certainty that it was being taught by 1938, the date of publication of Morihei’s “Budo” training manual. Two of the 50 techniques presented in that book are what we would today call iriminage.

Interestingly, iriminage does not appear in an earlier film document from 1935, the famous Asahi News film. I don’t recall seeing anything like iriminage in the more than 1,000 photos from the Noma Dojo collection that date from 1936 either. Using these surviving documents as reference points, it appears that Morihei’s version of iriminage emerged between 1936 and 1938.

An important note here is that Morihei’s stresses in “Budo” that in the shomenuchi iriminage technique, nage should seize the initiative and begin an entering movement in contrast to the norm in aikido practice where uke acts first. The rationale behind this seemingly odd manner of treating this technique is complex enough to demand special treatment as it has far-reaching implications.

By the early 1950s, the practice of iriminage — sometimes referred to using the more generic term of “kokyunage” — had undergone a rather dramatic transformation. A legitimate question is how did this modified iriminage come to be regarded as the Aikikai technical standard and who was responsible for these changes.

Actually, it’s fairly easy to prove that it was the Founder’s son, Kisshomaru, who was primarily responsible for introducing this “new” iriminage in which uke was brought off balance and his head lowered only to be allowed to return to an upright position before finally being thrown. This differs from Morihei’s way of executing the technique where uke is immediately unbalanced and thrown, without Kisshomaru’s additional step.

These screenshots from a 1962 film of Kisshomaru Ueshiba clearly illustrate these changes. Compare them with the above photos of Morihei’s iriminage.



In the above two images, we see Kisshomaru’s modification where he moves circularly while pushing down on uke’s collar to take his balance.

At the next stage of the technique, uke is permitted to stand up whereupon the throw is executed.

Koichi Tohei executing kokyunage (iriminage) in his 1972 Japanese-language book titled "Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido"

Koichi Tohei executing kokyunage (iriminage) in his 1972 Japanese-language book titled “Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido”

Above, we present a photo of Koichi Tohei, the other main Aikikai teacher from this period, where he demonstrates his version, here called a “kokyunage.” Tohei leans forward while pressing at the base of uke’s neck to unbalance the latter, and then allows him to stand up before finishing the throw.

Seigo Yamaguchi, 8th dan, at the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration c. 1989

Seigo Yamaguchi, 8th dan, at the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration c. 1989

Here is a photo of another famous Aikikai instructor Seigo Yamaguchi, junior to both Kisshomaru and Tohei, where he shows his version of this technique that combines elements of both approaches illustrated above. A rare video of this great master conducting a seminar in Paris has survived.

Morihiro Saito demonstrating shomenuchi iriminage. Uke: Pat Hendricks

Morihiro Saito demonstrating shomenuchi iriminage. Uke: Pat Hendricks

Finally, we offer the photo above of Morihiro Saito executing his version of shomenuchi iriminage which preserves the method taught by Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei.

To conclude, this is an overview of the evolution of the iriminage throw as devised by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba and later modified within the Aikikai Hombu Dojo by Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei, 10 dan, in the early postwar era. As Tohei resigned from the Aikikai in 1974, it was Kisshomaru whose techniques had the greatest influence and remain today the standard on which the Aikikai curriculum is based.

Morihei’s original version is preserved primarily in Iwama Aikido and was disseminated through the efforts of Morihiro Saito during his active years until his passing in 2002.



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  1. At a seminar Saito sensei called me up and had me demonstrate a technique. He then “corrected” me going over both irimi nage and kokyu nage with the statement “an instructor must know both”.

    I guess now a highlight of my career!

  2. Well I think that Iriminage is not the only technique modified by Kisshomaru Ueshiba. There are more than one.

  3. Edwin Stearns says:

    I found two youtube clips of Founder Morihei Ueshiba doing iriminage in a very similar form to Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s method. I wonder what you think the significant differences are.

    • O-Sensei maintains control of uke’s head by keeping it close to his body. Look at the difference in distance in both cases. In Kisshomaru’s version, uke is orbiting around him and uke is much lower. The real place to look for the difference is in the photos from “Budo” displayed at the top of this article. O-Sensei was still doing this in the Iwama Dojo in the 1950s.

      I think everyone should watch the clips. Thanks for sending them. It’s very cool how you added some extra code at the end to go exactly to the desired point within the video!

  4. When I began Aikido practice it was in Toronto with Takeshi Kimeda sensei in 1966. I well remember learning this projection without the spectacular down-up-down business that I later saw in Aikikai dojos. Both shomen iriminage and sokomen iriminage (both called kokyunage when I was beginning, unless senility has struck) were and are highly effective but unspectacular. If I may put forward an hypothesis: one of the sources of change may be found in the Aikikai habit of doing demonstrations of various degrees of being public. I have even seen such a dojo presenting a public Aikido demonstration for the opening of a shopping mall. Perhaps I am just an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud but I could never quite get my head around a supposedly martial art or Way prostituting itself for commercial purposes; it is not something we would do but to each his (or her) own. Similarly with the performance of shomen iriminage: to each his own, but for us, we will stick to the effective rather than the spectacular.

  5. peter kelly says:

    I have 2 hour video of Rinjiro Shirata sensei teaching in the US in the early 80s, in it he spends 2 whole sessions teaching irrimi nage and variations, both from tachi and suwari. Not once does he take uke to ground. I have had the same experience watching Saito sensei, both in video and in Japan. My current teacher, koretoshi Maruyama sensei changed the way we execute irrimu nage about 9 years ago. As he was formerly world head instructor for the Ki society, he actually said the down up version of the technique was Tohei’s version, and he wanted to teach us O’Senseis version. When I received the new version(correct version) of the technique from sensei, he just disappeared and I was on my ass. No up and down as I had previously felt. Very effective.

  6. Stan,

    I’m trying to remember when I learned this technique initially, but I think at the place I was at, we did both. “Morihei’s version” I think was taught as the omote version, and the “fancy” version with tenkan and what not, like Yamaguchi et al did/do, was taught as an ura version. Of course, the older version does have its ura counterpart, does it not? My teacher just classified them that way for his convenience, maybe. However, the notion of always bringing uke down, only to throw uke on the way back up isn’t the only way I was taught; I do remember doing both as kihon. I prefer the “older” version (as an omote or ura) because of its succinctness and little movement needed (I simply find it more effective in training where uke might reverse me if I do not do things correctly), however, most students I trained with clearly loved the “fancy” way because of all the movement and the fantastic throws uke can take. The shortcomings of *that* particular mindset is another issue entirely …

    Don’t know what that’s worth, but it shows how this older version does survive and thrive in some ways, at least in the ASU dojo I learned at here in USA.


  7. Mark Lipsinic says:

    Pranin Sensei,

    Although Nishio Aikido is still a member of Aikikai, our way of executing shomenuchi iriminage is quite different. Nishio Aikido’s way of executing it appears to be mix of both ways iwama and aikikai execute it, along with Nishio Sensei own developments due to his extensive experience with ken and jo.

  8. toni rodrigues says:

    Masatake Fujita Sensei did a lot of variations of Irimi Nage every time he came here to Brasil. All of them did not take uke close to the mat and ended on a straight line to the ground after a round motion of the throwing arm. He used to refer to it as a letter D shape. He never did a “ura/tenkan” version, but he did turn his hips according to the direction he was going to throw.

    On the past 9 years we have been inviting Seki Sensei here and although there is a video from the early 90′s where he does what you call an “aikikai” version, with the up and down, he never did it here, not a single time. He only did what we would call an “omote” version.

    Masuda Sensei also did a very linear irimi-nage here, not round at all. A lot similar to the way my own teacher, Kawai Sensei, did it to, but Kawai Sensei used to do a tenkan version whitout the up and down.

  9. John Hillson says:

    I’m not against your thesis, in fact I agree and I approve of this forum and this discussion.

    When I go to my copy of Budo, the first step does show Uke brought leaning forward as pic #1, then transitions to the pics you posted. The text refers to hitting Uke in the face, then entering. This would cause the Uke to straighten up, and this elicited reflex that gets followed is the emphasis of some types of Iriminage.
    The difference between the generations is not the movement, but the degree of exaggeration. I have no concern about exaggerating an idea as a means to learning.

    I have not been focused on trying to do only one singular version of Iriminage. The Dokka talk about a strategy based on natural patterns and an unlimited number of responses. So, rather than argue about who is right, I have no problem that Shin Shin Toitsu Do calls this Kokyunage – they do a lead and cut, rather than cause kuzushi and respond to the Uke’s correction.

    I like Shirata Sensei’s system of Sankaku Irimi, En no Irimi and Chokusen no Irimi with Omote and Ura but I think some other teachers like Akira Tohei did a better job of showing En no Irimi by expressing the circle more completely. I see several teachers showing a wide variety of receiving, leading and cutting.

    I prefer to think of Yoshinkan’s Sokumen Iriminage rather than the increasingly vague-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness use of Kokyunage used to describe the identical technique and a million others that have nothing in common.

    I think too little attention is paid to Ki No Nagare versus Kihon.

    I only learned Gedan, Chudan and Jodan handwork explicitly in the CAF.

    Our language needs a huge overhaul. I try to use the most specific names when I teach, even if that name is Shodokan, Aikikai, Shin Shin Toitsu Do, Yoshinkan, Iwama…

    We need a way to communicate the different ideas beyond specific dojo. There are amazing ideas that deserve codification and dissemination. Overly focused on who is “correct” to the exclusion of all others – it’s not my approach. My Sensei was clear there were many right ways, just many, many more wrong ways. I don’t think attempted regurgitation of still life photos is the correct approach to accurately define “correct” for all time. Iriminage is supposed to be able to adapt to different weapons, different terrain, different sizes of attackers, different numbers of attackers. That means the form must change and be adaptable, not rigidly judged and forced into one external shape.

    My final comment on the version being criticized – this large lead down works well in Hamni Handachi, which is great for learning to deal with attackers who are taller and have larger strides and reach. Sort of like a Japanese wartime student who suddenly found the country full of American soldiers, or teachers deployed overseas. This might have been a wartime innovation.

    Sorry for the length.

    • To be honest with you, John, one of the main reasons I am doing all of this is to insure that the technical methods of the Founder are spotlighted and studied and not discarded as being irrelevant. Like you say, there is no “right” way to execute a particular technique, but at least Morihei Ueshiba should be given his due.

      • John Hillson says:

        then I completely agree and applaud your efforts.

        Out of curiousity – the Daito Ryu book by Kondo Sensei (I believe you had a bit of writing in that) – Iriminage looks like a hanmi handachi Shihonage?

  10. Knut Högvall says:

    Those who follow Nishio sensei’s style of aikido also do not push uke’s head down, but instead pin it close to the shoulder, and then unbalance the uke by a circular horizontal movement instead of a vertical one.

  11. Sacha Cloetens says:

    Hey Stan,

    Tanaka Bansen performing Irimi Nage in 1988


  12. Jason Rhodes says:

    I think the main reason you have two versions is, in the one O’Sensei is doing he is striking the face of his opponent first thus taking his balance and as the opponent reacts to this strike continues in and executes the iriminage. The second version the almost always is no strike before and is purely a momentum throw which is really unrealistic becuase unless uke is trained to go down and then back he will not. Just my thoughts


  13. I remember Saito teaching “several” types of irimi nage. I say “several” in quotation marks for all are still the same. Henka, Sensei would call them.

    Sensei taught that when your opponent is too tall, you have to bring him down circularly. (“When you opponent is too tall bring him down to you, when he is smaller, you must drop down”…I do not remember well Sensei’s words but they were more or less these). This produces an irimi nage that looks like the circular technique we see the nidai doshu applying. But just looks like…it is not the same. However, this technique had to be applied using the same principles as the “usual” irimi: you must stand behind uke; uke must be kept near to your body; must grab firmly his collar and bring it to your chest; and must use correct tai saibaki – and just enough for what is needed.

    Everybody nowadays is just about the same height…so we do not see much of this technique anymore. In Portugal, we still train it regularly, though, so as not to forget. However, hanmihandachi shomenuchi irimi nage, for example, is an example of this.

    Then Sensei used to teach us how to move your opponent with irimi nage technique, and using him against other attackers. We would train first imagining a second opponent attacking from the right (we in migi hanmi) [being that the first opponent was in front of us], quickly jump behind your opponent, grab his collar and turn 90º with tai sabaki enveloping him in you movement and throw him towards the opponent what is coming from the right.

    Then he said to imagine (but many times we would train in groups of 3) a second opponent coming from behind you. In this case you jumped behind your uke, grab his collar as well, pull him towards you – all the points of the basic irimi nage – but turn 180º enveloping the opponent in your movement and finishing by throwing him towards the opponent attacking from behind. This last one – if one does not know the basic – is usually confused with the ’round’ irimi nage. To apply this last one, one must have very strong and stable hips.

    One important point in all irimi nage is to look behind you, after you have jumped to the back of your partner. If you do not do this all the above variations are very difficult and illogical to apply.

    I have two questions: wasn’t irimi nage a ‘secret’ technique in the old days? [Where did I read this?]

    What was the name of irimi nage originally?

    [sorry for my poor english]

  14. There is only one picture here but it looks like Tohei is a little closer to uke than Kisshomaru, might have to dig through some youtube vids…

    • Hello guys,

      Here is my point of view. The “Aikikai” form allows Uke to be unbalance, to get his balance again then being thrown. This particular form will develop Uke ‘s sensibility (“when am I unbalanced, how can I recover it again, etc.), qualities which help uke when he is Tori afterwards.

      If you try this particular form with a beginner for example, he won’t get up : either his head will be pin on the mat, either Uke will be half bend, allowing Tori to finalize this for of irimi (or give an atemi : from the tekatana, from the knee).

      The point is : how far will you give liberty to Uke.

      No chance for Uke, quick irimi omote like Saito / O’ sensei. This form is also taught in Aikikai dojo (apparently not everywhere).

      Here is video of Tissier sensei performing several variation of irimi nage : short form, long form, horizontal forms :

      • Hi guys,

        Just my 2 cents. After uke has been unbalanced, uke is allowed to rise up but is kept in unbalanced position. As the uke rise up, nage is to maintain control of the neck and draw uke’s head close to his shoulder during circular turn before going for the throw. Uke’s head close to nage’s shoulder should keep uke in the unbalanced position. I believe clips of Kisshomaru’s and Tissier’s iriminage demonstrate this.

        I wonder why Stan says uke is allowed to return to upright position. Stan maybe should post a photo or point in a clip where uke was on the upright position before the throw.


          I have also included this in the article for greater clarity.

          • Thanks Stan for the additional image. Pretty clear that the uke is not in the Upright position as the uke is leaning towards Kisshomaru and so uke is still in unbalanced state.

            Although uke’s head is not that close or pinned to Kisshomaru’s shoulder, the unbalanced state is the important thing before executing the throw.

            And I believe you wrote an article about unbalancing uke before the throw. And I completely agree with that.

            Kisshomaru seems to fully understand Morihei’s original concept of doing the technique and simply tried to emphasize on it. All I can say is understanding the original concept of the Founder is more important than copying exactly the Founder’s external movement.

          • Well, we’ll have to differ about this. I knew Kisshomaru Sensei very well and participated in at least 50 or so classes and interviewed him about 12 times of his over the years. Please look at uke’s right hand in the photo and tell me what you see and what the implications are.

          • With reference to the photo before the throw we are discussing, can you clarify where do you differ Stan? Is it the uke is not in the upright position? Is it the uke’s leaning position is in unbalanced state?

            Just interested if you manage to interview Kisshomaru about his iriminage? We would love to read about it. An explanation from Kisshomaru himself why his iriminage is like that.

          • Uke’s right hand is uncomfortably close to nage’s upper thigh and groin area. Uke is partially off balance but can still execute a counter before being brought to the mat. Uke was almost down on the mat in the first part of the movement and then allow to rise. This is for show as uke usually takes an acrobatic fall. I never talked about the specifics of techniques with Kisshomaru Sensei. I don’t think anyone ever questioned anything he did in his presence. He was, after all, the Doshu.

          • Well partially off balance is definitely not upright. We also want to know and understand the real origins of the technique. That’s why we search and clarify. The question remains, does Kisshomaru allows the uke to return to the Upright position or not? Yes, he allowed uke to rise. But is it Upright or not?

          • I could only guess that perhaps O Sensei finds the teaching of Kisshomaru was still in accordance to his concept of Aikido. Hikitsuchi and Tohei cannot be said to do techniques exactly like O Sensei. They have their own expression. And yet they are awarded 10th dan by O Sensei. O Sensei perhaps find Hikitsuchi and Tohei to fully understand his concept and idea of Aikido.

          • I have expressed my opinions in the article and via my comments. You have expressed yours. We have had a dialog. Thank you for participating.

  15. Andrew Bedford says:

    Hi All,
    I would definitely teach irimi nage from a basic grab say gyaku hanmi, the same way I was taught.
    This is similar in manner to shiho nage, that is, irimi nage can be done omote/ura and migi/hidari.
    This means you can throw with iriimi nage and shiho nage at will and in any direction. That is why I link them together and teach them together.

    Then you move on to strikes, punches, multiple attacks, and defence against weapons, usiing these two techniques. They bond.

    Andy B

  16. My main objection to the Aikikai version is that it seems to require an acrobatic uke!

  17. Hi,

    the comments from Christian Tissier’s Video is that the practionner in Aikido makes progress through his habits and the changes in his habits. First they can be seen as errors or defaults, but finally one progresses through his defaults. To change one habits and consider a quality a default and vice-versa was one the main teachings of Yamaguchi Seigo Sensei.

    My critic is that it seems naive to think, that second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba did “change” the technique of his father alone and “mystified” his students (with the help of Koichi Tohei). O Sensei lived till 1969 and was pretty active all of his lifetime. The first technical book of Kisshomaru Ueshiba was published in 1957. Could you think reasonably one second that he wrote a book, made technical pictures and published it without the supervision or the agreement of his father ? Come on ! It’s not serious. Apparently O Sensei was not displeased at all from the Irimi Nage teaching of his son.

    Why do you find that only Saito Sensei did show the Aikido of the Founder ? There were dozens of students from O Sensei. What do you say about Michio Hikitsuchi, Kisaburo Osawa, Bansen Tanaka, Rinjiro Shirata ? Are they not student of O Sensei ? The force of the Aikikai system is its diversity. The force of the Aikido is to cultivate one’s qualities and ones defaults in order to improve. The character changes as one gets older. The body too. O Sensei was not the same in his fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties. Let’s do the experience of the diversity and not try to crystallize all the essence of Aikido in an “orthodoxy”. It sounds “religious and dogmatic”.

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