I was struggling to come up with a topic for this month’s blog. I had some ideas that arose from September’s focus on the importance of connection. This morning I read an article in the New York Times titled “Owner Killed After Dog Leashes Are Tangled.” That article confirmed one of those ideas for this month’s topic. Chai Eun Hillmann was born in Korea and was raised in the United States. He studied martial arts and in the mid nineties ran Chai Karate in Ardsley, New York. He was interviewed by the New York Times in 1996 and said of martial artists “They won’t be victims…. They can choose whether to continue confrontation or get out of it and flee.”
He was described by the Times as an aspiring actor and a martial arts expert, who was working at as a bartender at a restaurant in Brooklyn. He and a woman got into an argument over entangled leashes of their dogs. The woman’s husband drew a knife and stabbed Mr. Hillman twice in the torso and he died at 41 years of age. the person who drew the knife had spent time in prison for killing someone in 1991.
Maai- literally translated mean “interval.” I like to refer to maai as “proper distance.” We manage physical distance between ourselves and other people with barely any conscious thought or concern. This pre-conscious awareness of energy fields that we project and read in others is simple confirmation to the importance of understanding “ki.” You can take any two people and have them face one another. One person is told to tell the other person to stop as soon as they feel any discomfort. If the approaching person puts forth friendly energy, the still person will tell the approaching person to stop when they are they each can reach out and shake hands. If the approaching person puts forth neutral energy, the still person will tell the approaching person to stop and they each have to take one step forward in order to shake hands. When the approaching person puts forth hostile energy, you will see the still person move (involuntary) and then tell the person to stop after they have come within one step of shaking hands. The position where the person first moves (involuntary movement) is a place where each person has to take at least two steps forward in order for them to touch when they have outstretched hands. I talk to the students about the importance in recognizing what your body is telling you and not to over-ride this pre-conscious awareness. What is so remarkable is how often men (more than women) seek to over-ride this pre-conscious message when confronted with hostile energy. This exercise is a slow moving experience. When an attacker is approaching quickly, the amount of space necessary to maintain a safe distance is surprisingly longer than most people realize. Adding weapons to the equation simply means that the distances must increase.
Maintaining a proper distance between ourselves and others apply to almost all interpersonal situations. A conflict is nothing other than an interpersonal situation. Regulating this aspect of an interpersonal “communication” in this type of situation is of critical importance. It amazes me how often we tend to disregard this information. I too have made this mistake and am lucky to have been on the “successful” side of those encounters. The more serious I become in my study of martial arts, the more I realize how important maai really is. Martial artist far too often develop an unhealthy sense of potency. The idea that we can make a conscious choice to be a victim (or not) should be ludicrous enough, but the idea that one can have choice as to whether or not to continue a confrontation, or flee is beyond absurd. A confrontation always has the potential of becoming a life and death encounter. Unless a person has a death wish, or martyr complex, choosing to engage in conflicts is not a good choice. Sometimes, it may be necessary and managing the proper distance between you and a potential attacker is a critical component. If you allow a person to come close ( this should be a conscious decision), then it is a critical imperative that you control the nature of any physical interaction. This can mean you initiating physical contact, or leading the person to try and initiate contact toward a particular area (creating the impression of an opening) so that you control the nature of the physical contact.
Mr. Hillman’s death is simply a tragedy. The delusional notion of a “marital arts expert” choosing not to be a victim and capable of self-defense (another delusional term) is an accident waiting to happen. We train for many reasons, but it should not be to develop some unreasonable sense of invulnerability. We hope that our developed skill sets help us to survive violent encounters. Our training should develop a deep sense of humility in us through the acute awareness of our vulnerability. It should help us to become aware of how we can use ki and maai to better manage our interactions with others. This month we will focus our training on how we manage maai through our awareness and use of ki.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here