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