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Sneaking three inches

Photo courtesy of Dral10

In some of the ancient sword manuals there was a cool idea referred to as “sneaking three inches.” The main idea was to stay far enough away from the other guy so as to not be cut but still being able to sneak in just barely close enough to put your blade three inches into him. The first man able to “sneak three inches” without being cut was the winner. The other man died.
We use this idea of sneaking three inches in aikido – we call it ma-ai. We usually think of ma-ai as a safety margin for tori, but this is really both an uke and a tori thing. It helps to examine ma-ai from both perspectives and for both partners to keep ma-ai in the forefront of their minds.
Look at this from tori’s perspective – the one we usually think of. Imagine a circle drawn in the sand around tori with a radius of about two arm lengths. So long as uke is outside tori’s circle, tori is relatively safe. Uke cannot attack without first moving forward to a position within the circle. Uke must be able to “sneak three inches,” so to speak. As long as tori begins moving as uke crosses the line there will be ample time for an evasion and response.
Tori’s internal sense of ma-ai must be pretty precise. If tori draws the circle too big in his mind (ma-ai inflation) then tori will begin to evade too early and uke can steer to track him. On the other hand, if tori draws the circle too small then uke will be able to more easily sneak three inches.
Ma-ai is just as important for uke’s success. If uke moves into tori’s circle without immediately attacking then he is at greater danger of counterattack. He has, in effect, allowed tori to “sneak three inches.” So uke must make sure to stay outside ma-ai until he is ready to attack, then attack through ma-ai in one motion. If uke’s sense of ma-ai is inflated then he doesn’t understand his own reach. His attack will die short of striking, leaving him within ma-ai and in range for a counterattack. If uke’s sense of ma-ai is too short then uke will tend to stand in range for tori’s attack before uke is prepared to step in and attack.
So, the bottom line: Tori must have a precise sense of ma-ai and must start evasions right as uke passes ma-ai. Uke must also have a good internal understanding of ma-ai or he will not be able to attack effectively and he will leave himself open to attacks from tori.

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