Ma, Movement without moving

In another post we discussed MA-AI. When practising martial arts, we encounter sometimes problems with timing and distance. Musashi Miyamoto wrote extensivily about these problems and solutions: Hyoshi.

Hyoshi: cadence, rhythm and tempo

In many other forms of art such as theatre, music and body arts, hyoshi is also applied to solve the issues of cadence, rhythm and tempo.

Akira Hino

Hyoshi is the synchronisation of cadence, rhythm and tempo.

Cadence refers to the speed and time taken to complete a series of a single movement.

Just as musical rhythms are defined by a pattern of strong and weak beats, so repetitive body movements often depends on alternating “strong” and “weak” muscular movements.

Tempo is the speed of synchronised movements

To understand “hyoshi”, we need the skill of “chokei” or listening to the body of the partner. This skill is related to another skill “mushin” or a state of mindlessness.
The concept of partner has to be seen in a much broader sense than an attacker in a martial art environment. This is a short minded interpretations of partner.
To illustrate with another example. Your are standing at the seaside with a very strong breeze. You need to adapt to this kind of power provided by your partner, the strong wind. When you can adapt, you also can perform your movements, included the movement without moving.

Waza => Katachi => Kata

It is of course no wonder, performing “katachi and kata” takes in account the concept of “hyoshi”.

Kata represents a meaningful form, or a form with purpose, as opposed of the alternative, Katachi, an empty form which has to be filled in.

When studying Japanese martial arts, the concept of “Kata” comes forward. How to master “Kata” is not an easy task and need physical and mental involvement from the practitioner.
When kata is performed, several elements has to be harmonized. First of all, the sequence of the different movements have to be memorized. When this problem is solved, the content of the movements has to be filled in. When you realize you can perform the form or katachi full of content, you have to transform the form into “Kata” by knowing what you are doing.
The meaning of knowing is having the feeling the movements are your own and you can manipulate them without hesitation. One of the more difficulties in the understanding is the movement without moving.

Ma, bridge between two movements

The idea of nothingness, or void (Mushin) has promoted such approaches as ink drawing with blank space, calligraphy with a dry brush, and music with resonant silence.

Spiritual Arts and Education of “Less is More” MATSUNOBU

In the practice of Katachi, you will experience moments without movement. It has an essential function in creating “Kata”. Without this function, the Katachi cannot transform into a Kata. When performing “Kata” , 2 important items will give “spirit” to your performance:

Ma describes the tension between 2 actions. It is neither space nor time. If a stoppage of movement functions simply as a rest in the execution of a complete technique, the “waza” would lose its force in the functionalism of the waza structure.

Spiritual Arts and Education of “Less is More” MATSUNOBU

Ma-Ai, the art of harmonising Time and Space

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 only about distance, it is dynamic process. Depending on the situation, distance will vary and is adjusted with the proper timing.
Don’t confuse ma-ai with the 3 kind of distance. In each distance, the skill of ma-ai can be used.

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.

Form, function and meaning

The threee stages to mastery of Kata by integrating form, function and meaning

  • Learn the sequence – Form
  • Filling in content – Function
  • Understand – Meaning

Waza – Katachi – Kata

Remember Senta Yamada wrote in 1962:
Basic 15 (Katachi no jugo) or Basic techniques (waza) for Randori

They can be split into 4 sections. Three apply to attacks, four use elbow techniques, four are concerned with wrist twists, and four with wrist turns.
These form the framework for the system and should be considered as the first essential to progress. Time should be allowed, periodically, for the practise of these “katachi” moves, because they serve to remind you to keep posture and movement fresh and sound. The importance of this cannot be stressed too strongly.

Initially Katachi is an empty form, a template which need training to become alive.

(The Japanese way)
Adapted from an article by Kumiko Ikuta (1990) AI & Soc 4: 127-146

Waza is a skill within the Japanese traditional performance arts or martial arts such as Noh, Kabuki, Aikido, Judo and others.
Waza will be shown by a sensei and a learner can master it only through the activity of imitating and repeating what his sensei does.

“Katachi” is an apparent physical form of waza (1 or more) performed by the learner, which may be decomposed into parts and described as a sequence of procedures.
On the contrary, “Kata”, which has been regarded as the ultimate goal of the learner to attain in learning “Waza”, is not a simple collection of parts of action like “Katachi”, but his understanding and personal expression of “Katachi”


For many practitioners a non-religious holistic spirituality remains the fundamental purpose of continued practice in budo.

No-mind, or a state of mindlessness.

We mentioned before, moving without movement. We also can say ” a mind without mind”. A “no-mind” mind is not affected by the ego and has the ability to manage the problems of spaciotemporal interval in martial art situation.
When training becomes a transcedental tool, budo training can be seen as a form of physical and spiritual training. Any human art can reform into a spiritual path and can create a “no-mind” mind.

The state of mind between 2 movements need a “mushin” mind without interference of daily concerns.
This is also applicable when you start learning an art involving the body and mind.

Personal spiritual development has to be disconnected with the belief that spiritual development is associated with religion.
There is no “god” in personal spiritual development.

Learning by doing

Western student wants to know “what, why, how” before attempting an exercise. Otherwise they’re not motivated to practice. We often want the answer before we even know the question!
In Japan, it’s the total opposite…The Japanese student is encouraged to find the answers by practicing. This is the difference between ”learning by asking” vs. ”learning by doing”.
The role of a Sensei is actually not to answer your questions, but to aid self-discovery.

Tomiki Aikido, a game to find spirituality

It was only after several years of training that I realized that the most profound purpose of martial arts is to act as a vehicle for personal spiritual development. This development is completely different than beating an opponent or winning a medal.

Tomiki Aikido is occasionally associated to “competition”. For the outside world, competition makes winning medals seem important.
Earning a medal is fun and gives a good feeling so… You get to win with a perfect “waza”. To reach the level of the perfect “waza” you need a lot of training and sometimes people lose the path and only see the medal.
Remember, learning by doing…. and have fun once in awhile.

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

One thought on “Ma, Movement without moving”

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