When I read such great articles and posts from others, it makes me ask a few questions:
- Why bother writing when better people are putting out such awesome stuff?
- What can I learn from this to better myself
The first thought was that there are many levels to the martial arts. There are the surface techniques: throwing, stabbing, punching, kicking, grappling, slicing, bludgeoning coming from striking, grappling and weapons arts. Without correct distancing and timing it is impossible to utilize any of those techniques effectively. If you act too soon, your opponent will not be there - they will use a different attack. If you are too late...well, it will not be a problem for much longer. Wrong distance on a punch and it has no impact, or results in injury. While my grappling experience is more limited, as is my weapons experience, I do know this applies as equally. So the first level of ma-ai is in its usefulness.
The next level down is the use of ma-ai alone to conquer and achieve victory. Mr. Muramoto provides a story about Miyamoto Musashi on this point, but needless to say there are several dozen such stories of martial arts masters winning through the force of their ki. As suggested in the Musashi story, there is more to it than just ki - mental unbalancing through space and time manipulation.
I experienced this in a 12 hour seminar this summer. We were doing a session on Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (Musashi comes in again - odd I didn't realize this until just now) and the particular waza involved closing the distance and controlling the uke through the timing and movement. My Sensei asked how this was possible and at which point the uke lost. I couldn't explain it in so many words, but I suggested a good kick would solve the problem. My Sensei agreed in the sense that it was an issue of distancing and timing. This incident came back to me upon reading the above post.