Re: Maai concerns
I think a common conception of ma-ai is seen as the 'correct distance' between yourself and your opponent. Where for example, if he steps forward and you step back the distance remains mutually the same.
eg: in fencing or boxing when opponents 'square up' to each other. This is all very well if you want to remain in a neutral position, or, as would usually happen, the person who initiates - goes forward, will usually overrun his opponent. All things being equal - you can usually advance faster than you can retreat.
In my opinion Ma-ai can mean 'any distance' which results in you being able to blend with an opponents energy and either dissipate it or use it to neutralise the attack with an appropriate technique.
Correct ma-ai can be anywhere, either within (near/at your opponents centre) or on the periphery of his energy/influence/circle/sphere.
It is very fluid and depends greatly on you ability to use the concept of 'sen-no-sen' (be ahead of your opponent - 'see' his action before he initiates it). Rather than 'go-no-sen' (to react to his actions), which can quite literally 'leave you on the back foot'.
I find that if you can 'pre-initiate or forestall' his action by decreasing or increasing the distance between you, by say 1/2 a step at any appropriate angle, you will 'mess' with his proposed distance and therefore timing, balance, intent etc. This can 'stall' his attack from the outset - giving you time to either run or take the initiative. This example is a good starting point and can be experimented with to give some startling results.
Dont forget to adopt a good positive but flexible form yourself - so your opponent is always at the point in your sphere of influence/energy where you can exercise optimum control, whilst he is in an imbalanced state. You will find that you do not need to 'put on' a technique - he will literally 'fall' into an appropriate technique position - you just need to guide his energy beyond where he wanted it to end.
This type of concept actually transfers to what aikido is really about - 'big aikido' - life. How you deal with everyday life in a positive but fair and balanced manner. Operating 'out of someone elses time' can allow you to influence events by creating balance in any situation.
I think I know what I mean (feel) - I hope Ive expressed myself ok.
Best to all