Ma-ai, a question of space

Budo movement can be understood as communication between two persons mediated by the body, that is usually considered two separate and independent bodies but rather should be considered integrated as one body communication system.
The point where two bodies (in Budo) becomes one body communication system depends upon the condition of the interface between the two bodies or persons. (from: Movement of Budo by : Yosuke YANASE )

A communication system is a moving construction and when communication stops there will be no movement anymore.
During a moving process, the feeling of safety is very important and is expressed by the skill of “rikakutaisei, fighting from a distance”.
Distancing or using the appropriate distance during a confrontation is a skill often used in martial arts but also in other fields of human behaviour.

Ma-ai, a dynamic concept

In Japanese terminology, distancing is ma-ai (ma, spatiotemporal interval 􏰀 ai, harmony). Ma-ai integrates space, time, and rhythm and is the ideal situation to control a confrontation.
Controlling the situation or in other words “controlling the actions of the opponent” is depending on Hyoshi.
Ma-ai is not a fixed distance, it is dynamic. Depending on the situation, distance will change.

Safe and unsafe distance

In another post, ring of power, the concept of a close distance was used to practise posture and power through a grip on opponent. Before we have a proper grip on opponent, we need some skills to gap the distance between you and opponent.
These skills incorporate the concept of safety by using “rikakutaisei” or fighting from a distance.

Basically we can distinguish 3 kinds of distance during a confrontation.

  • When there is no physical contact it is called To-ma.
  • Making physical contact but still safe in your own environment it is called Uchi-ma.
  • Chika-ma is the distance for using power. Without controlling opponent actions it is very unsafe.

Don’t confuse distancing or ma-ai with the 3 kind of distance. In each distance, the skill of ma-ai can be used.

Rikakutaisei, fighting from a distance

Rikakutaisei is a word to describe the expression “fighting from a distance”. In general this is explained as a distance when using “tegatana awase” distance. Of course to attack we have to come closer. The attacking distance is depending on the use of ma-ai or distancing.

We know space is expressed by the word “Ma” and it is not fixed distance. Controlling the actions of opponent can give an opportunity to attack. The example here is from “uchi-ma” entering into “chika-ma” to apply power or in other words “a technique or waza”.

Closing the gap between you and opponent

As with everything in martial art, there are many solutions for 1 problem. It depends on the level of the practitioner which skill is used.
To create such skills, basic training is used to ingrain basic movements into the subconscious mind.

Stepping skills
During unsoku-ho, basic patterns are used to practised stepping skills. In this exercise the skill of tsugi-ashi is practised.
Bridging a long distance uses mainly a ayumi-ashi stepping method and will be practised separately.

Controlling skills
If we only use stepping skills it is possible we can control an opponent without touching. But at a certain point in a confrontation we have to take a decision and use our hand(s) and arm(s) to create a definite solution.
There are many armskills to control an opponent. In the various kata, examples are used to have training in the control of aggression.
To understand the principles of aikido, we use our body as a communication tool.
The example below shows a kind of body turning, an important bodyskill. Uke is grasping the arm, Tori is not changing the interface of the grip. Tori uses the turning of the body and at the end of the turning the power of the turning is entering into the body of Uke. The distancing performed by Tori is necessary to perform the bodyturn and to use “tenshikei”.

Internal and external distancing

Distancing or ma-ai is not only depending on stepping methods, but can also performed when we cannot do stepping skills.
As in the previous example, the body can turn without changing the interface of the grip by Uke.
How is this possible?

If some is twisting your arm, your muscles are wrapping around your skeleton. The power of the twist is stored in your muscles but also in your tendons. Tendons have a great capacity to store energy. This energy can be released. This action is a clever way to use distancing internally.

Some clarification

Most of the material discussed in the blog articles is my interpretation of the various teachings learned and practised during seminars, workshops and long-term training periods with interesting people.
Sometimes I am using material to explain some topics with images found in articles and books. Mostly I provide the source of the images, but sometimes I fail to mention the source. I apologise…..

2-weeks seminar with Andre Nocquet – La Baule/France 1972

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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