Distance, or ma-ai,
refers to the starting position in Aikido from where uke usually
initiates a one step attack against tori and this distance is usually
determined by one's reach. For standing techniques tori and uke
will be at least one tatami length apart, but less than two, and should
be slightly different for every partner. For kneeling techniques, or
suwari-waza, as the step is shorter, so is the initial starting distance.
Typically, the distance is within one tatami length.
In preparation for the
attack the ideal uke gets the distance correct; tori just waits.
Sometimes tori and uke can be seen continually shuffling about in
preparation. This scenario occurs when each is sure that their interpretation of
distance is correct, and that the other is at fault. Clearly, something needs
sorting out but it could also be a reflection of tori and uke
being of a different size. Certain schools maintain different distances; some
start closer, others further apart. This can not be right – distance can not be
It goes without saying
that putting a weapon in your hand increases the distance by at least the length
of the weapon. When both partners hold swords, uke should
typically be a ‘one-step-attack’ away from tori in terms of either
tsugi-ashi or ayumi-ashi. When standing, the swords do not cross. If
the swords cross, the fight has already started. Instead, the minimum distance
between the two extended swords should be at least a few inches. It could be a
lot greater, being determined by how far one could leap to strike, or at extreme
even the distance one could accurately throw, or fear thrown, a dagger.
Unfortunately, in modern Japanese arts, very little thought is placed on correct
distance or length of weapons. Assuming the weapons to be of the same length,
which they almost always are, remaining variables are length of arm, length of
stride, and length of lunge. Obviously different for everyone, this means there
can be no set distance, the measurement of which can only be 'negotiated' in the
moment by each pair as they face each other. One with a longer arm, stride, and
lunge would feel 'ready' and capable of attack at a longer range while their
partner might want to edge a little closer, although might do so rather warily.
Naturally, their tactics might differ too. For example, in the latter case the
taller and longer in stride and reach might be more aggressive, the shorter more
defensive. Now, if the swordsmen were free to choose their weapons, it might be
that a short stocky swordsman with shorter arms would choose to hold a longer,
but heavier sword closer to their centre whereas a tall, lanky, small-framed
swordsman might decide upon a shorter lighter one. And if that same shorter
swordsman decides to suddenly thrust holding with just one hand at the bottom
end of the handle, he will gain several inches in an instant. Of course, all
things being equal, if the object is to stick the sharp point into an opponent,
the tall person with the longer reach holds the advantage. But as we all know,
things are never all equal, nor does the best fighter always win.
When holding a jo
(staff), much of the above holds true. When facing one's partner the staves
should not cross. One should only be concerned about one's own correct distance.
Some shuffling is normal. If the opponent is too close, then one either thrusts
if confident, or retreats if unsure. Again, as in sword work, uke
typically starts from a ‘one-step-attack’ away. However, as the staff is longer
than the sword, then so the initial distance should be greater. In addition,
tori should be at a distance whereby it is possible to step back just one
step to avoid a long range one handed roundhouse type strike, typically to the
knee. For each unequal pair there will be one optimal 'negotiated' distance.
Both tori and uke have to figure out this optimal distance as a
pair. In so doing, they will both learn how to fit together harmoniously, and
later, they will also learn that they can take advantage of mistakes their
partners make in their measurement of distance.
using the tanto in Aikido, typically, one person has it, the other does
not. Therefore it should be immediately obvious that the one who has it has the
advantage of distance. That one should start in a posture with hand and
crossed is ridiculous, which should therefore establish the principle that to do
so when both tori and uke have empty hands is likewise wrong. If a
principle is to be principle it should stand the test of logic and carry over
into other situations. Typically, the attack starts from one step away, and
uke may decide to add spice and 'poke' tori should a suki
(gap) emerge in their technique.
In Aikido, one does not
normally kick. However, even though one does not kick, one should be in such a
position that it is possible to do so, should one wish. Thinking like this will
teach one the correct distance to maintain during the technique. Careful
consideration here will see certain set distances that can be established. In
terms of the feet, close enough to deliver a low side kick, a low instep kick, a
knee to the ribs as uke comes down (as in ikkyo), a step on the
foot, or a trip. If any of the latter are possible, it is fair to say the
distance is good, but if one is between distances, and such counter-attack is
not possible, then the distance could be said to be compromised.
attack gives tori something to work with, hence the famous phrase, 'no
attack, no technique'. In Budo, the best time to act is early and therefore, it
is useful for tori to train to close the distance.