Irimi and Atemi, Intention and Presence

Irimi and Atemi, Intention and Presence

Irimi and Atemi, Intention and Presence: what place do these concepts have in my journey through Aikido?
I was once told that O-Sensei said Aikido was Irimi and Atemi. The more I have dwelled on this the more I choose to think of Intention and Presence as possible substitutes for irimi and atemi, at least in my own mind.
How do I feel Intention and Presence fit into my Aikido, well to answer that question I first have to go back to the start of my journey!
When I first decided to pursue a martial art my university offered several different options, karate, ju-jitsu, wing chun, aikido etc. Of all these art forms aikido seemed to align best with what I thought I wanted from a discipline, a way to defend myself without hurting others, now how my ideas on that have changed are the subject of a whole other roban, however before I decided to start training I thought it would be best to sit in on a session before getting on the mat myself to see if Aikido might suit me.
So along I went to the class and found that instead of a normal session I was fortunate enough to see the class being taken by a guest sensei. This happened to be Stephane Benedetti, a 6th Dan that has taught across most of Europe. This was the first time I had seen a live demonstration of Aikido and…..I was confused. Stephane was showing the class a simple technique from katata dori. I couldn’t understand why the person holding on just didn’t let go as soon as Stephane moved. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be my first lesson in intention and presence.
Despite not really understanding what was happening I decided that I would come back and start training in Aikido. I enjoyed what I was learning and slowly began to understand the concepts of intention and presence through simple things such as keeping my grasp, however I still didn’t really understand. My next memorable lesson in these two concepts came when I was performing ushiro ryote dori as uki. I grabbed my partner’s wrist and effectively swung around him like a maypole. I was correctly admonished for this by tori, there was no intention or presence in my attack, I saw him as a simple object to walk around. This was an important moment for me in my journey through aikido as it helped form my understanding of these ideas and how it affected not only my training but also my partners training. I did the technique again and made sure I had the fixed intention of grasping both wrists.
As I have progressed further along my path of Aikido I have started to have a better understanding of what these concepts of intention and presence mean. At first I may have confused them with aggression or strength but as I have practiced I have come to believe that one can be assertive without being aggressive, to give presence without trying to overpower with strength. I realise that if there is no intention or presence in my training, no irimi or atemi, not only am I hampering my own journey through Aikido I am hampering the people that are helping me on my journey.
This is something that I am constantly working on to improve, to make better, because I know if I have clear intentions and an honest presence not only will my Aikido improve but so will those that I have a privilege of training with.
I believe that intention and presence, be they from irimi and atemi, or from a clear honest attack, need to form a corner stone of my aikido and from this strong base I can progress along my path that little easier.
Joel Burton September 2013