Irimi nage means ‘entering throw’. Many aikidoka are successful at the second part – throwing, but less so at the entering. What amazes me is the sheer number of aikidoka that don’t actually enter when doing irimi nage. This is one of the greatest technical pitfalls and it is actually very easy to determine why. The majority of aikidoka fail to begin irimi nage with a step deep enough to carry them behind the uke. Proper entry in irimi nage involves being behind the uke. The problem is that nage believes they have entered deeply enough.
The issue arises as a result of perception. In most styles nage steps behind uke and turns so they are facing the same direction. This allows both to travel forward in harmony during the technique. This turn is what causes the confusion. Both uke and nage are facing the same direction and nage is behind uke. If both people were genuinely facing forwards then nage would indeed be behind uke. Unfortunately both partners are slightly sideways. You can see this in the first picture on the left. Uke and nage are facing the same way and nage appears to be behind uke. This should be a familiar postion. Regardless of how you make contact with the arm and the head (my personal preference is to rest the hand on the back of the neck) your body position will be something like what is shown. This seems like a perfectly acceptable position but there is a flaw with it.
If we pause here and examine the relative body positions we can see that nage is actually in front of the uke. If (as shown in the second picture) nage removes contact from uke so that they are both standing there, and they both face forward, it quickly becomes apparent that uke is behind nage. This is extremely dangerous as it means that nage has no connection to uke’s centre. More than that they are standing in front of their uke with no way to defend against an incoming strike. That strike isn’t likely to be a major concern though as don’t forget, this is irimi nage and you have contact with the attacking hand and the back of the neck. What is a concern though is that uke has a strong relative body position. As they are behind you they have the leverage advantage and can, if they know how, react to take your balance and throw you onto your head.
It is worth noting that in the 2 images shown neither uke nor nage moved their actual body position, nage simply removed contact from uke and they both stood straight.
From this position all it takes is for uke to be slightly switched on and realise this enormous flaw in the technique being performed on them. If they’re doing their job properly they will counter and nage will not be able to stop them. For instance uke could easily wrap up the arm at the head (since it is out of the centre line) and use it to provide leverage for knee strikes. The not so nice version is where uke picks up nage and drops them on their head, a technique which is perfectly feasible from this position.
The good news is that this is a very simple thing to solve. Nage just has to learn to make a deeper irimi step. If they do this then when they turn they will genuinely be behind the uke preventing any possibility to counter from this point in the technique. You can see this in the final picture. Nage has entered deeply behind uke. In terms of distance travelled nage has covered significantly more ground than before, so far that they disappear from the uke’s line of sight. After nage performs an irimi motion the first thought that the uke should have is, ‘Where did they go?’ From the position shown it is next to impossible for uke to strike at nage. Certainly it can be done, but not easily. Yes there are the options for back kicks and the like but what you have to remember is that uke should also be off balance, which removes those options.
Remember as nage to always ask yourself if you can be hit from your current position. If the answer is yes; then your position is wrong.