Maai does NOT mean distance

the real meaning of maai

Maai is often translated as distance.

This is not entirely incorrect.

MA means distance or space and AI means suitable. Hence, means the suitable distance. Naturally, this changes constantly. It sometimes happens, for instance, that you think that you have established a favourable Maai. But then suddenly it turns out to be a good Maai for the opponent.

maai and kiai

Maai and Kiai (as a unit of your spirit) are connected. Without your opponent there is only Ma. Not Maai. Here's how it works..

3 types of maai

Maai has certain classifications. Unfortunately for the Japanese terminology lovers, Wado has no strict terminology to describe the different Maai. 

Aikido does. Kendo does.

From the top of my head:

  • Chika Ma (short distance)
  • Chu Ma (regular/middle distance)
  • To Ma (large distance)

Cool 🙂 But what does that mean practically?

Large distance depends on circumstance. With todays long range missiles your there is no such thing as out of range...

But we do Karate. So let's have a look at what distance means for us.

In Karate Maai you can think in terms of stepping distance. That's our reference.

Say you need to take at least a full step to reach the opponent. That's large distance.

But wait a sec. What about punches and kicks? I'm sure kicks have more reach.

You see how complicated it can be if you take everthing into account? Let's not start about angles..

OK - so to establish how to analyse it for now: stepping distance. No more, no less.

Large distance: A full step or more (ayumi ashi, tsugi ashi, surikomi ashi, chidori ashi)

Medium distance: Sliding from the front foot (yori ashi, yosei ashi, okuri ashi)

Short distance: You are already close enough to attack without needing to reach with stepping movement

When you use weapons, distance changes.

A Bo (182 cm) has a long range, while Tonfa (say 50 cm) has dramatically shorter range. The same one step to reach the opponent can be twice as far away as Karate distance

maai for large distance

Tonfa Kihon Kumite Gamae

Large distance depends on circumstance. With todays long range missiles your there is no such thing as out of range...

But we do Karate. So let's have a look at what large distance means.

In Karate Maai you can think in terms of stepping distance. 

Say you need to take at least a full step to reach the opponent.

When you use weapons, distance changes.

A Bo (182 cm) has a long range, while Tonfa (say 50 cm) has dramatically shorter range. The same one step to reach the opponent can be twice as far away as Karate distance.

maai for medium distance

Nukina and Sakagami - Kamae

Medium distance is when you are in range to attack by sliding. 

That means you are on Mazakai and THAT means you have to attack. If you don't, the opponent will. 

It is when distance get's so close that naturally you would want to step back.

Did you have teambuiliding activities with your collegues from work? Then you must know this exercise where you are told to walk up to your collegue and stop when you think your collegue wants you to - without him or her saying so.

You should FEEL it. And when you get too close, your collegue will step back. 

This is the type of Maai which is medium distance. Close to each other but not too close.

maai for close distance

Chika Ma

In Karate we consider close distance the point where you are in reach by simply leaning or reaching. 

A shift of body weight and extension of your arm is enough to reach the opponent.

mazakai is the limit of the distance

Mazakai is the limit of the distance.

At some point when closing the distance you will reach the end of the safe zone where your opponent can’t hit you. This end is called Mazakai. Once you cross Mazakai, you have to attack or else the opponent will. It means the distance is simply close enough for a direct attack.

If you cross Mazakai, you are in danger.

closing the distance in kihon kumite

Here's how Mazakai works and why you should use Nijiri Ashi to get closer to your opponent.

nukina sensei about mazakai 2011

Here's what your radio and Mazakai have in common...

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