Friday, March 06, 2009

Ma-ai: palm-to-palm or fingertip-fingertip

Sensei Strange's ma-ai question from a day or two ago...

...the other day you mentioned finger tip to finger tip is incorrect. Why? I practice finger tip to finger tip, just because I feel handblade to handblade is actually too close. I feel Maai has already been broken...

Go back, for a moment, to swordwork. When you measure ma-ai in swordwork, you don't measure by touching the tips together - you cross swords by about a fist-breadth or 3 inches or so. This goes back (I think) to the discussion in The Sword and the Mind about 'sneaking three inches'. Uke wants to find the distance to attack from, where he can put his sword about 3 inches into you with one efficient lunge. Same thing applies to arms as well as swords. Uke does not want to lunge forward just enough to barely touch your body with his fingertips - he wants to lunge far enough to put his palm on you, representing a fist penetrating 2-3 inches.

Also consider, tori does not want to begin his reaction when uke is still outside of ma-ai because that makes tori's motion easier for uke to read and follow. Tori wants to define ma-ai as the distance where uke can first begin affecting him. At finger-tip to finger-tip, uke can, in no way affect tori. He is just too far away. But palm-to-palm represents the distance where uke can casually lean in and grab your arm if it were extended.
There's also the subjective feel of the different distances. Measure fingertip-to-fingertip and put your hands down. Looking at uke at this distance tori is alert, but not especially anxious. Uke is also not particularly eager to attack because he can intuitively feel that the distance is too great. But let uke shift forward a couple of inches and all of a sudden tori can hardly contain himself because he knows he is right on the edge of his ability to evade if uke attacks. That's ma-ai - you want uke's presence at ma-ai distance to make you so anxious and alert that you begin your evasion at the first sign of motion from uke.
So, ma-ai represents the distance at which uke first becomes an immediate danger to tori - but also a great enough distance that tori can still manage an evasion if uke attacks with maximum efficiency. That distance is generally closer to palm-to-palm than it is fingertip-to-fingertip.


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  1. We measure maai by hold our hands straight and moving in until the tips of your fingers touch the base of the fingers of your partner.

    I think that ends up being a little further apart than palm-to-palm, but closer than touching fingertips.

  2. Hmmm interesting.

    I used to be a kick guy. I could kick the snot out of you fast. Handblade to handblade maai, is a dangerous distance where I feel like I could kick you without significant movement from my center.

    An interesting thing to think about. I will start playing with a closer Maai to see what I feel. I am not so stuck in my ways, were I am not willing to experiment.

    Thank You - this is why I enjoy the blog-o-sphere.

  3. Well, thank you, Strange, for frequenting this blog and leaving thought provoking questions about why we do the things we do.

    As for kicks. I used to be a pretty swift kicker too. palm-to-palm _is_ close and uncomfortable, and whether or not you can get kicked from there _is_ sort of a toss-up. if uke is super-efficient or tori is lax then the kick can get in, but unless you have a leg that is twice as long as your arm you won't get good penetration from that distance without some weight shift (stepping) and some hip movement.

    I'm also not talking about fighting from a position that close to him. I'm talking about setting up a reflex that causes you to move when you see anyone that far away. If you are at a distance of palm-to-palm _and_ tori is already getting himself into motion, that makes the kick that much more doubtful.

    Note - I am NOT challenging you to drive up here and have a nut-kicking contest with me. ;-)

  4. Palm to palm is how we do it. The distance does feel a bit uncomfortable, but most folks get used to it.

    The fingertip-to-fingertip is a nice tool, as it allows both uke & tori to get slightly into motion, just as if we were walking toward each other when the attack is sprung. Walking toward each other presents its own unique issues as well.

    I think it's great to experiment with all of it.


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