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.