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Self Defense Story

by Sean Braune, 3rd kyu

I left a party down by Guildwood Parkway in Scarborough at 3:00 am and was waiting for the bus. A van was driving up and down the street. It pulled down the side street just next to the bus stop. Two men, both wearing black bandanas pulled over their mouths, got out of the van. One was tall, thickly built and held a tire iron. The smaller one was unarmed as far as I could tell. They began walking towards me at the bus stop.

O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido, is credited as saying:

Face a single foe as if you are facing ten thousand enemies; face ten thousand enemies as a single foe.

With this in the back of my mind, I decided to walk over towards the two of them and say “hello.” Essentially, this method of engagement in Aikido is called irimi, leading an attack a split second before the attacker is even aware of wanting to attack. As the thugs left the van their postures and body language – a slow, confident swagger – indicated that they believed they were in complete control of the situation. However, when I walked towards them their body language changed: they stopped in their tracks as their weight shifted back onto their heels.

My mind was empty and my body relaxed. I said, “Hello, how are you guys doing?” The shorter one replied after a moment’s silence: “We’re just out trying to scare some kids.” “That sounds like fun,” I replied. He asked if I had any cigarettes. I assumed this was to get my attention directed at my pocket so that the larger fellow could swing at me with the tire iron. “I don’t smoke. Sorry,” I said. There was another moment of silence as we stood facing each other. “Well, I hope you two have a good night,” I said. Then, they turned and went back to the van.

Perhaps they walked away because I wasn’t intimidated and seemed relaxed. Possibly they found my unexpected response (which surprised even me!) more than they had counted on. It was with a sense of irimi that I went to meet them: I wasn’t going to be cornered in a bus shelter at the mercy two thugs and a tire iron. As soon as the attack was coming, I initiated the movement to “get behind it.”

O-Sensei said:

Seeing me before him,
The enemy attacks,
But by that time
I am already standing
Safely behind him.

This is the logic of irimi and, in a sense, Aikido is predicated on that movement. An irimi entry initiates the attack in order to get behind the offending strike. Irimi is not an act of aggression; it is rather a moving-in that creates an opening that allows a moving-behind.

From my experience at the bus stop I learned that irimi is not only physical, but also mental. Irimi is a choice to not engage in the attacker’s script. Irimi is a choice to welcome the potential attacker as a fellow human being and give him/her the opportunity to leave not as an enemy but as a friend.

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