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Old 10-29-2012, 07:20 PM   #1
jbarros
Dojo: Pasadena Aikido
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extension and ma-ai

Hi everyone,

I feel really unqualified to be typing here at all, as I am as of yet unranked, and as such, I don't mean this as some type of lesson that I'm sharing with people, but as a statement of my own understanding with a humble request for correction or my behalf.

I'm going into what I'm sure are WAY too basic ideas for anyone HERE, but they are not for me, they're still ideas I'm making sure I understand correctly.

Mai ai is the idea of harmonious timing and distance.

Harmonious distance means that when we receive attacker, drawing him in, and allow him to dissipate his energy, we can be secure the entire time. Part of this is simply moving out of the line of attack, and allowing him to pass by, but another large part is keeping space, which can be done through our own extension.

Extension is the projection of your center, and the expansion of self, such that even your extremities are connected to the center, and as unmovable as the center. It is how you hold someones hand in yours, but connect their whole person to your center, such that when you move from your center, your arm, their arm, and their entire body all come with you.

When receiving an attacker, I constantly find myself letting my extension collapse. I pull in my arms, I bend my elbows, I let the person come not just into the space I WAS in, nor just well connected to the target I chose to give him, but to truly invade MY space. I am collapsing under him and becoming nothing.This is bad Aikido.

Good Aikido is keeping your energy extended forward, your center projected through your arms, and when they come in, allow them to do battle where your hands are, while you stay where your center is, and then, moving from your own center let your arms, in extension, cary this force over or around them, drawing them out of their own center, and letting them fall. It seems deceptive. Aikido seems very meek. Aikido seems very receptive, but it's receptivity is NEVER about giving up the self, NEVER about giving up ones own balance, NEVER about giving up ones own extension. Even in ukemi, one does not "give up" balance and fall, but one feels the natural flow of the technique, and choses, while balanced, to gently roll out so that the technique can be performed rightly. Likewise, when accepting an attack in, one does not shrink and give up the self, one MOVES the center, MOVES the self, and keeps just as much extension as a proper attack would have, that being not a projection beyond what the center can support, but a projection of the strength of the center to the edges of ones being.

One part of Mai-ai is creating a space where the attacker is in range, but you are not; Where you are connected to them, but they are not connected to you. Their forces has been recruited to move in an orbit around your sun-self, and you are free to guide the conflict to a resolution merely by remaining centered, and bringing their energy (and their body) to the ground.

Extension as a necessary factor in maintaining Mai ai; So simple in concept, and even simple in execution, but so difficult to learn to allow to happen.

Thoughts? Corrections?

Am I reading too much into this? I'm sure I'm missing core elements, but I also think there's something inherently out of place about my understanding of mai-ai and extension.

Any help greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

-- James
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Old 10-30-2012, 07:47 AM   #2
phitruong
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Re: extension and ma-ai

maai is appropriate distance. that appropriate distance relates to another word "depends", as in "it depends". appropriate distance could be hugging someone, elbow distance, arm distance, feet distance, across the room, and so on. it depends. now, the appropriate distance to food and drink is hand-to-mouth distance. appropriate distance to your mother-in-law is the moon, possibly Mars and in some case Uranus.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
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Old 10-30-2012, 09:06 AM   #3
jbarros
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Re: extension and ma-ai

haha. Touche sir.

Sometimes I get so caught up in a single technique, or a single predicament, I start applying it everywhere. Thank you for some much needed perspective.

-- James
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Old 10-30-2012, 09:49 AM   #4
lbb
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Re: extension and ma-ai

I wrote recently in another thread about the danger of grasping: how, when faced with a challenge, our first instinct is to grab it as quickly as possible and to hang on as tenaciously as we can. I was speaking there about grasping in the literal sense, when dealing with uke's attack in aikido practice, but I think the danger also exists when dealing with non-physical challenges. Aikido training presents us with many new and sometimes startling things: there's this thing called maai, which your sensei no doubt explained to you in simple pragmatic terms just as Phi has: appropriate distance. But you sense that it's also connected to other things, so you try to grasp the concept of maai, to figure out exactly what it is, to give it labels and structures and boundaries, and then to try and formulate a framework for how it relates to this other thing, "extension". And in the process, maybe you add onto it a bit. Your sensei gave you a simple cottage, "maai" -- that looks too plain-Jane, so you give it gingerbreaded shutters and eaves and a fancy paint job and a deck out back with a hot tub. You build a new wing onto it, and a wing onto that, and six additional stories, and a golf course, and one day you're walking around your property and you see this old cottage and you say, "Damn that thing's tacky, let's just pull it down and put in a snack bar." And now, your roadside attraction...well, it's become the kind of thing of which a polite observer would say, "That certainly is something." But the original cottage is gone.

So, that's the danger of elaborating on a simple concept, and the world of aikido is fraught with it. That's not to say that I think the basic concepts of aikido don't have additional dimensions, or can't be thought of beyond their simplest literal meaning. But that's an understanding that can't come from books, and it can't come from the imagination, either. Our conceptual understanding of aikido has to rest on a foundation of practice -- we each need to accumulate our own personal empirical data, our own set of data points, for the conceptual understanding to be based on; otherwise, it's a house built on sand. Worst case, you come to love your "house", your theoretical "understanding", so much that when empirical data contradict it, you toss out the empirical data and cling to your own false construct.

So, in summary, I think it's best to be cautious about creating some Unified Field Theory of All Aikido Concepts. At their foundation, maai is just appropriate distance and extension is just a mechanical description for a type of movement. If they have other meanings as well, that's fine, but any authentic (non-forced, non-contrived) meaning will reveal itself through practice. Practice won't lead you wrong; theorizing might. Trying to grasp aikido concepts in a hurry is just like reaching up to grab that shomenuchi, because you've got to do ikkyo and time's a-wastin'. At best it ends in a schoolin', at worst it ends in self-deception and ultimately in tears.
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Old 10-31-2012, 08:48 AM   #5
jbarros
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Mary,

Thank you.

My Dojo has classes 2 times a week, but Aikido is in my head all the time. I'm trying to learn to slow down and let my learning happen on the mat, but it's easier said than done.

I did realize from reading this, that even my basic concept of linking the two was wrong. I was letting my extension AND my ma-ai both be compromised, but it is entirely possible to compromise either of them separately as well, and I suppose it was a false construct to begin with.

Either way, I'll endeavor to have the control to slow down, keep it on the mat, and let the lessons come at their own speed. Tough to do, but it sounds like a worthy goal.

Thanks again.

-- James
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Old 10-31-2012, 11:20 AM   #6
lbb
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Quote:
James Barros wrote: View Post
My Dojo has classes 2 times a week, but Aikido is in my head all the time. I'm trying to learn to slow down and let my learning happen on the mat, but it's easier said than done.
That must be very frustrating. When I first started training in martial arts, I was lucky enough to be able to train seven days a week if I wanted to. It was very good to be able to just be a dojo rat and immerse myself in it.

I don't mean to say that your ideas are wrong, or that thinking about this stuff is wrong. I just don't think you have to do it. Is there a connection between maai and extension? Yes? No? Yes and no? Maybe? I don't know, but you don't have to figure it out in order to do it. And I think there is a danger in becoming too invested in a concept that seems internally consistent but whose anchoring in the real world is more tenuous. In one of my favorite books, the Supreme Being says, "They[humans] write books that contradict the rocks, then say that I wrote the books and the rocks are lies." The practice of aikido is the rocks; we can write our books about it, we just need to be careful that our books don't contradict the rocks.

About writing books (or anything): have you tried keeping a journal? I have a practice of writing down what we did in each class after class. I use a blogger client on my smartphone, but the tool isn't important -- the important part is to do it consistently and soon after training. I find that even if I start off thinking there's nothing to say, and I begin with a simple listing of the techniques we did, thoughts and reflections bubble up. Sometimes nothing much is produced, but sometimes I work through something that's been bothering me and make my peace with it, or think of something I need to ask Sensei next time I train...whatever. I recommend keeping a journal if you're not already doing so.
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Old 10-31-2012, 03:26 PM   #7
Janet Rosen
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Maai is like when you are driving and need to make a left turn but there are a couple of lanes of oncoming traffic with right of way. The experienced driver doesn't have to work out complex speed, distance, velocity equations; she pauses the car, her brain processes the incoming info and sends muscles the message "go!" or "wait...." and just watches the entire scene calmly until it changes to "go now!"

Janet Rosen
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Old 10-31-2012, 03:59 PM   #8
phitruong
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Quote:
Janet Rosen wrote: View Post
Maai is like when you are driving and need to make a left turn but there are a couple of lanes of oncoming traffic with right of way. The experienced driver doesn't have to work out complex speed, distance, velocity equations; she pauses the car, her brain processes the incoming info and sends muscles the message "go!" or "wait...." and just watches the entire scene calmly until it changes to "go now!"
of course for experienced, really experienced, folks you can try moped in vietnam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyLki...eature=related randori on moped anyone? talking about timing and distance! was in vietnam a few years back. my brother took me on his moped into the city. he took a left turn across 12 lanes of traffics at full speed. i almost crapped in my shorts.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
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Old 10-31-2012, 04:33 PM   #9
jbarros
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Never done Vietnam, but I've done Shanghai. I'm much better on 2 wheels than I am on the mat
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Old 10-31-2012, 04:46 PM   #10
Janet Rosen
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Four wheels in Brooklyn is scary enough for this hick :-)

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 10-31-2012, 07:55 PM   #11
lbb
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Rotary in Boston.
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Old 10-31-2012, 10:00 PM   #12
jbarros
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Re: extension and ma-ai

I'm totally ok derailing this thread... so, the legendary RX7, the slightly more reasonable rx8, or something different?
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Old 10-31-2012, 11:09 PM   #13
Janet Rosen
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Re: extension and ma-ai

Quote:
James Barros wrote: View Post
I'm totally ok derailing this thread... so, the legendary RX7, the slightly more reasonable rx8, or something different?

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 11-01-2012, 07:25 AM   #14
aiki-jujutsuka
 
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Re: extension and ma-ai

interestingly enough last night I was practising my Shodan kata with the head Shihan of our club and when we got to Tachi Ate (standing strike) he said he was going to 'unlearn' me in the way I was taught it as a beginner. He told me the technique was just a simple exercise in the principle of distance. While he did not use the term maai I believe it was the same principle. Apparently in the original Hakkoryu waza it was designed to teach students the appropriate distance to strike an opponent. I've heard alot of teaching on bodyweight, posture and technique but rarely distance, so it was refreshing to learn that in Dentokan/Hakkoryu the basic martial principle of maai is woven into the waza.
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