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Old 01-28-2007, 02:54 PM   #8
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Musings on combat distance

Justin Smith wrote:
Here are my random thoughts on combat distance, or ma ai, that I was thinking about the other day, and made a webpage on.

Any comments/criticism are welcome,

Hi Justin,
As I stated in one of the other forums, Math is a disaster for me. While what you say in all these equations may be true? So what? Unless you are trying to program a robotic device to perform your Aikido techniques they have little use. You cannot actually use them to execute technique as doing the calculations would be far to slow. They don't serve to teach what is important about maai since what is important is being able to simply look at an opponent (and his weapons) and to "know" what his range is. No one, as yet, has been able to explain how the human brain performs this task but it is definitely not describable using this type of math.

The "critical distance" in martial arts is the distance at which the opponent has to move his body mass in order to strike you. If you let someone inside this distance, your reaction time will not be fast enough to defend. At or outside this point, the attacker will have to move his body mass to be able to reach you and this being a relatively slow process, you have time to execute a movement.

In other words, if someone is moving towards you for an attack, the "critical distance" or maai is the place in time and space at which you either make your move or back up. Failure to do either results in insufficient time to react and the opponent WILL strike you.

This is something you have to be able to measure in a look. You take in the perceived length of stride, the length of the arms, the length of the weapon, the whole picture in a glance and you should be able to estimate, in that single glance, what the reach is of their most committed attack. You should be able to do this within an inch or so.

Of course the opponent doesn't want you to be able to do this effectively so there are various ways in which he will disguise the visual factors you need to perceive what this distance is. An example would be holding the sword in such a way as to make its length invisible to the opponent.

I do not belive that there is any way to "teach" how one perceives the "critical distance". It comes through practice. One needs to have attackers of differing sizes and temperments. One absolutely has to have attackers who are REALLY trying to strike you or you will constantly be imprinting the incorrect distance and the cues associated.

I realize that you probably spent some not inconsiderable time working these things out... I appreciate your boldness in putting your thoughts out for public comment. If you were trying to program a robot or attempting to calculate the range for an artillery piece, some sort of machine or even a computer, these types of calculations might have some value. But they serve no practical purpose in making your Aikido better. For that you have to perform many attacks and receive many attacks until you just know, simply from looking, in an instant (not with conscious calculation), what the maai is.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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