Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Mai-ai, or proper spacing, is extremely important in Budo. Without skill in managing Mai-ai, or what my Sensei called, "the gap", you are not going to be very effective in defending yourself. Proper spacing between you and your opponent keeps you safe...and in most cases in Karate, it allows you to hit your opponent, yet he can't hit you.

Just an inch of proper movement to close the gap or move within the gap can be the difference between victory or defeat. Proper spacing allows you to flow with your opponent without you getting locked up in your stances or handwork. In fact it makes them work even better.

Drills with a partner for proper footwork are paramount and most styles have their own drills to keep spacing and/or to control the gap. From my experience, the person who controls the gap wins, but the gap is also a very tenous place to be. It is in constant flux and you must be able to make adjustments accordingly. If you don't your opponent will...so in an altercation, it is as important to know how to enter the gap and control your opponent in it. Practice, practice and more practice is the only way to develop this skill. It can't be done by intellectualization.

Hands palm to palm,


  1. My favorite image of this lesson is still the idea of a piece of paper with "birth/life" written on one side and "death" written on the other to signify that the thickness of the paper is all the spacing that separates the two.

    I thought I'd mentioned this in a post, but was wrong. I did touch on ma-ai in a post about musbubi and ikkyo, though.

    In aikido, we strive to eliminate that gap entirely to connect and form one mass with our attacker (musubi) going for more of a Takuan's "not leaving 'an interval into which a hair can enter'".(even if it's taken out of context)

    Thanks for the post, it's nice to see other style's views on this concept.

  2. Thanks for the great input Kevin. In Karate, we too want to be as close as possible, yet able to function freely...and in a flow.