View Full Version : Maintaining ma ai

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03-20-2002, 09:16 PM
I've noticed that in several of the discussions of how to use aikido in a real fight situation that ma ai often comes up as an answer. My question, though, is: how does one maintain ma ai in a real situation. Often when an argument is about to escalate to violence, one person will almost inevitably get very close to the other to be threatening (someone else has put it as "in your face"). When this happens, how do we regain ma ai? If one moves back, it seems as though you are intimidated, and afraid, and may make the other person want to fight more because it now seems a sure win. If one takes the opposite route and, let's say, pushes the other away, that may escalate something that could have otherwise been resolved to violence. What are your thoughts on how to neutrally maintain ma ai?


03-20-2002, 10:01 PM
Originally posted by Arianah
If one moves back, it seems as though you are intimidated, and afraid, and may make the other person want to fight more because it now seems a sure win.

Actually reality self-defense schools encourage adopting a passive stance, making the attacker feel like he is control, while protecting yourself from a sudden attack by extending your hands in front of you... backing up... saying things along the lines of "It's ok man I can hear you ok from here", depending on the situation.

The hands help maintain some semblance of ma-ai... this is all very well shown on the tapes that I bought from Senshido... however I recently was in a confrontation like that (which was broken off before it became physical), and I forgot all about maintaining distance or the passive stance :eek:

Andrenaline dumps are funny that way.

03-21-2002, 11:09 AM
Originally posted by Arianah
What are your thoughts on how to neutrally maintain ma ai?I don't think ma ai is a static entity. There are actually several kinds of ma ai, but most aikido people use the term for what is known as "toi" or "far" ma ai. This is considered safe because the opponent cannot strike you and vice versa.
When we get into discussions about self defense and people say "use ma ai", they may mean one of two things. The first is a knucklehead approach, where they are parroting back what they heard their sensei or someone with authority say. But simply maintaining this static view of ma ai does not resolve the conflict. Warner Brothers Cartoons used this concept with great artistic skill in the skits between Foghorn Leghorn and the Dog (whatever his name was). Foghorn knew the length of the Dog's rope and drew a line where he knew it was safe. Then he would smack the Dog on the bottom a bunch of times and run for the line. It would have worked real good for Foghorn, but the Dog moved the line and great Looney Tune hilarity ensued. Foghorn got tricked because he thought the line was static and safe.
The second approach is a smart approach, realizing that ma ai is dynamic and fluid. In order for anyone to put energy on you (hostile or otherwise), they must pick a trajectory for their body to follow through space. By changing these trajectories ("cutting off the angles") while a possible assailant is trying to zero in on you and at the same time you are zero-ing in on them, that is good use of ma ai. In fencing it is called parry-riposte, in aikido "kobo ichi". You might be eye to eye with your attacker, but if they are off by a few slight degrees and you are aimed full force, guess who has the initiative? That is typically why people charge in when in a confrontation, to gain initiative and control.
I am still very entrenched in the knucklehead approach, but I am aiming for the smart approach, and every once in a while I get it right. That is why I practice.

Jim Vance

Bruce Baker
03-26-2002, 12:05 PM
How were you when you did that thing?

Ma ai is the simple explanation for you doing something at that distance. If you ain't within that range, then something has to change it, or you do something else?

If Foghorn Leghorn works, then run like crazy?

You can't always plan for the situation, so that is why we learn to do techniques in a variety of situations, distances, and sometimes some of us, learn grappling and other self-defense arts along with Aikido?

No one martial art can protect you, but what you have in Aikido goes a long way ...

Add to it, if you need other explanations, but it might return later in other Aikido practices? We do continue to learn, don't we?

03-27-2002, 05:13 AM
I totally agree on how ma ai is fluid and dynamic. And when you talk about a real fight on how to maintain ma ai, although we practice the far ma ai that's not usually the case if the attacker is determined to get in and corners us.

Shirata once said that in a real fight, it was vital to take the initiative to move in rather than remain static like in training. To remain passive is to be defeated when dealing with experts.

The thing is, with motion comes openings and with it comes momentum too. Morihei's post war lessons were more intuitive based, move in before the attack was even fully launched(which must then mean closing in the distance between them quickly). Also, when a defender switches from a passive stance to a suddenly fluid charging one, the attacker would be disoriented and caught by surprise.

Ma ai is just a concept to describe distance, there is no correct ma ai. Do what feels right and what suits the situation and there u have it that's ma ai. and how to obtain this feeling? Just simply as always...practice.

A very good way to improve your sense of maai and movement too is to get someone to attack you with a jo or bokken(but especially the jo). You'll get a feeling of when to move in when to move to the side and when just to retreat.

Hope this helps.

03-27-2002, 07:08 AM

Create the distance by moving sideways or behind them (ie you move diagonally forwards) try not bump them on your way past and always turn to face them. Try not to leave an opening. We always stress clearing the rear in our techniques or moving off the line.

Never tried it, don't know if it works. I suspect it would be an unexpected move and may startle them enough to just slip away before they regain awareness.


03-27-2002, 07:35 AM
Originally posted by Arianah
Often when an argument is about to escalate to violence
You are still around at that point??

Reminds me off a dutch joke (roughly translated):
Inscription on a gravestone:
This is the grave of John White,
He died in his last argument,
But he was right!

03-27-2002, 08:02 AM
Originally posted by Arianah
What are your thoughts on how to neutrally maintain ma ai?

Hmm. Okay, to me, maai is not a set thing which CAN be maintained. There are, in training terms, specific intervals (tooi maai, issoku-itto-no-maai, chikai-maai for instance).

However, aside from learning set pieces (kata) as we do in the dojo (yes, even in aikido, almost ALL non-jiyuwaza or non-randori training is, truly, kata), maai is a fluid, dynamic, malleable thing.

The point, I think, is less to control the maai (which can be done), than to find the rhythm and flow and use the maai as it creates itself.

If you try to impose training restraints on a more fluid situation, you're likely to get caught up in the applying part and get thumped.

Rather, try to move in the maai as it establishes and re-establishes itself. In this way, you can operate fluidly and dynamically as the engagement develops.