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Ma-ai – Proper Distance and Timing

The kanji for “ma-ai” means space, fit. The proper spacing that “fits” the situation is a crucial element in combat, especially if you add timing to this concept. This concept has been used in combat as long as we have recorded history. Let’s discuss this concept from a martial point of view and how that applies to other areas of our lives.

Each person develops a specific distance from where they feel the most comfortable when engaging in conflict with an opponent. This distance is developed according to a number of elements including body type, attitude and tactics or styles of training. A larger person may feel more comfortable at grappling range while a smaller person may be more inclined to use a hit and run type of tactic. In America today, most martial arts programs are very pragmatic and teach a variety of techniques from different ranges, but in general, pure arts tend to specialize at a certain distance. For example, a Tae Kwan Do practitioner would prefer a kicking range, while a judoka would feel much more comfortable at grappling range.

The modern warrior has to develop the ability to instantly identify the strengths of his opponents and create a strategic response based on his attributes, which can neutralize these strengths. Taking the opponent out of his natural range or modifying the timing may be the key principle in this tactic.

In the business world, this ability to specialize at what one does best is called “competitive advantage”. In any industry, one must identify their specific niche, and develop a mission to become number one or number two in that specific niche. There are very successful and different strategies for number one and number two, but in reality everyone else is just buying time on their way out of business. As the saying goes, “If you do not have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

The second element of “ma-ai” is fitting this advantage in by using proper timing. The first style of timing is called “go no sen”. The kanji for “go no sen” translates as after, before or before it ended. This is a basic counterattack where the opponent launches the first attack and you respond to it. Most martial art systems teach their beginning students this level of timing first.

The next level is “sen no sen” or before, before. This basically is the concept of countering the actions of your opponent before he actually launches an attack. This proactive level of training is a superior methodology and the mark of a master warrior. Successfully controlling a situation before an attack is launched requires a person to develop attributes outside the punching and kicking techniques. This also requires expertise in other areas including negotiations, nonverbal communication and empathy.

In all areas of one’s life, being proactive is a major element leading towards success. As martial artists we do work on physical responses to an attack, but even more importantly we are proactive in creating the proper elements, which will create the best opportunities for our successes. What we read, who we hang out with, what we think about, the mentors we choose, all have a tremendous effect on future outcomes. The modern warrior uses the principles of “ma-ai” when he identifies the perfect distance and space, between where he is currently and where he wants to be in the future.

All successful people have this ability to understand the proper distance and timing needed to create win-win situations for all concerned. This ability is definitely a step towards martial arts mastery.

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