Iriminage san nen: how long does it take to really master iriminage?

Among Aikido communities, the phrase attributed to Morihei Ueshiba is known:

一教 一生 入り身 投げ 三年, ikkyo issho, irimi nage san nen: ikkyo for life, iriminage for three years.

Let’s take the Japanese text of the quote. Let’s copy it into an online search engine and we will discover that there is not a single Japanese internet page where the sentence is reported as it reached our ears. A bit strange, isn’t it?

Anyway, kuden, the quotes are intended to synthetically convey some form of concept. Whether or not they have a historical foundation or whether they serve some to place the founder of Aikido and the discipline itself in a hybrid zone between myth, guru and unattainable model, this is secondary.

Therefore: san nen: three years. It must be said that for Morihei Ueshiba, three years of practice meant three years of daily training. 24/7 lived in the Dojo. Total dedication and self-sacrifice. For those of us who are more focused, it comes down to a weekly practice of ten, fourteen hours.

So, in order to understand and master iriminage it is more than probable that you need more than three years. Is it an exaggeration? Maybe.

Quite frequently we come across Aikido practitioners who follow didactic settings different from the ones we grew up with. These moments of confrontation are very useful. We discover strengths, just as many weaknesses to fix. Above all we try to do “reverse engineering” or at least a philology of Aikido: from different technical dialects we try to go back to a common principle. If you manage to identify that and implement on a physical level, there is contact with what was the founder’s legacy.

We recently compared the didactic model of iriminage to which we are accustomed with the approach developed in the didactic line of the Aikikai of France. It’s not the first time and every time it’s enriching.

The basic learning of Iwama Ryu requires the partner -uke- to attack with clarity and decision and then to ground himself, allowing himself to be deformed by his partner who, in doing so, has the chance of studying the angles of imbalance and finding those geometries so that the technique can be concluded.

A didactic approach with undeniable merits, both in terms of schematization and clarity. But which also presents three big risks, quite well known. The first: the evolution from studying in static form to dynamic form is often complex because… Uke is not accustomed to moving fluidly. When moving on to ki no nagare, the tatami that follow the Iwama didactics initially seem populated by many little Robocops prototypes. The second: the lines of throws often cause uke to fall “eccentrically” with respect to the line of action. A bit as if uke rotated around his navel, pushing his buttocks and legs outward. The third: learning to finalize the technique “regardless” uke, can lead to desensitization of the practitioner, making him unable to understand what he is doing and to whom.

The didactics developed by Christian Tissier are said to have led to a “relational” practice. Whatever it means, it is true that the emphasis on timing, on the dynamic management of distances as a condition for activating the movement of the couple, are elements that are perceived directly when one is lucky enough to practice with someone from that world who is an authoritative representative.

We have no difficulty in admitting that once removed from our aquarium to be put to swim in other waters, we adapt immediately to some things, a little less to others, nothing seems to work on others, finally, on others, we discover that the body does not (yet) have the skills required by that kind of practice.

We know, because we’ve seen it several times, that this is true for everyone, so even if the parts are reversed.

And the point is right here: we get used to acquiring motor patterns that work… As long as the premises are known and shared. From this point of view, the practice in dynamics is denuding: it amplifies both the incapacity and the incoherence of the movement on the one hand, and the exasperation of the expectation on the other: “If you do this and that, if…,if…then”

This is so true that when two or more didactic perspectives meet, frustration emerges and we often take refuge in what we think we know and rather do not progress in an attempt to follow the technical proposal of the sensei. Here the practice -better: the practitioners- tends to be divisive and not quite united in research. And it’s a real pity.

Anyway: san nen: three years. Let’s calculate the duration of three years in O’Sensei’s planet. So let’s see how long it takes for an average practitioner to do three two-hour keiko a week:

3 years x 365 days x 6 hours of training per day approximately = 6570 hours.

6570 hours : (6 hours per week x 52 weeks) = 21 years plus something.

So it is legitimate to think that, in our domain, a practitioner who has an average experience of 21 years of constant practice, therefore at least a fourth dan, has just learned to perform iriminage.

There is time for ikkyo.

Disclaimer: picture Pixabay via Pexels.

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