Monday, January 16, 2012

Ma-ai and the blood circle

If there is one principle that is discussed and trained extensively, perhaps even obsessively, in aikido classes and some judo classes, it is the idea of ma-ai.

Ma-ai is usually thought of as a boundary around your body, the inside of which is defined as your personal space.  So long as uke is outside of ma-ai, he cannot touch you without first moving toward you.  If you allow uke inside your ma-ai then you cna potentially be attacked without having time to respond.  Typically, ma-ai is thought to be the length of your arm plus the length of the attacker's arm, but this distance can flex a bit under various circumstances.

Despite our tendency to obsess about ma-ai, it is easy to get lax in your thinking and practice.  This is something that you have to watch out for in your practice.  A good way to instantly remind everyone about ma-ai is to put a rubber training knife in uke's hand (or in tori's).  You dont have to change anytihng else about the practice, but as soon as someone is holding a knife, ma-ai becomes more obviously important.

A very good expression of ma-ai that is used by the Boy Scouts to teach knife safety is the idea of the Blood Circle.  A blood circle is a radius around the knife-user the length of his arm plus the length of the blade.  Obviously, anything or anyone within this radius is at risk of being cut if the knife-user slips.

At our house, my oldest son has reached pocketknife age, so we've been talking in terms of Blood Circles a good bit lately.  Today, he picked up a bokken to do some jodo, held it at arm's length and turned in a circle and said, "Look, Dad, A really big blood circle!"

I smiled, and promptly the jodo lesson of the day became an emphasis on the interplay between uke's and tori's blood circles.

[photo courtesy of Hani Amir]

Patrick Parker
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