The basics of ma-ai

Another important concept in kendo is ma-ai (pronounced with a short pause in the middle, or sometimes "mawai").

It is used a lot in the dojo by instructors and is usually translated simply to mean 'distance'.

Ma'ai between you and your opponent
This distance is broken down into three basic kinds:

1) to-ma: far distance, where there is a gap between your kensen (sword tip) and your opponent's [below]

2) issoku-itto-no-ma-ai: "one step-one cut distance", where the two shinai
are crossed just past the tip

3) chika-ma: close distance, where shinai are crossed at between one third and
one half of the way down the blade

In the beginning we need to use the shinai to measure the distance between ourselves and our opponent. Even with this very obvious 'measuring stick' it is still easy to lose track of the ma'ai during keiko and allow your opponent to get too close without realising.

With more experience one becomes more aware of ma'ai and in fact it is possible to develop very strong instincts where it becomes almost a sixth sense.

Ma'ai in the dojo
We always train in the dojo along the centreline, coming back to the centre after each drill before we sonkyo with our opponent and part. Developing instincts about where you are in the dojo: how close you are to the wall behind you, how close you are to your training partners next to you, and so on, these are important distances to become familiar with as well.

Before we even start training we need to be able to judge kyuho no ma'ai (nine steps distance) so that we can bow, take three steps in to sonkyo and know we will be in the right place. When we do kata, a sense of where we are in the dojo helps us to stay near the middle and not 'drift' to one side as we perform them in sequence.

In these cases we don't have the shinai to use as a measuring stick, but we do have the fact that we train in the same way over and over. This helps to hone our sense of where we are in the dojo at all times.


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