Photo courtesy of Teamworker
We usually think of ma-ai as a safety zone around tori - a comfort zone. Well, another way to think about ma-ai is as a discomfort zone. A line that as uke approaches, tori becomes progressively more uncomfortable, until at two-arms-distance, tori is so intensely uncomfortable that he unconsciously begins to shift off the line of attack and toward a more comfortable space.
If you train a precisely-measured proper ma-ai sufficiently, your intuitive sense of ma-ai combined with your own sense of disomfort will make the off-line evasion and aiki brush-off a subconscious, automatic thing.
You don't want to cheat yourself out of that discomfort. Train with it, let it be part of you and bathe in that discomfort.___________
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