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Distance Learning: The Concept of Maai
Part 3: Learn to control maai through training drills.
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Maai
• Part 2: Reactionary Gap
• Part 3: Maai Drills
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"It is difficult when they go full speed, but with a good sense of distance and timing, it should be possible to evade most attacks and take uke down."
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• Weapon Size and Maai

Learning to control maai requires sparring with a partner--the random movement and timing of a human opponent forces you to adjust maai constantly. Here's some drills and ideas for training that will build your awareness of maai:

  • Different-Sized Opponents: You already spar against different-sized partners in your regular classes, preparing you for the different-sized assailants you might have to face outside the dojo. If you're short, it helps to spar against much taller partners, teaching you to close the gap quickly and fight where your maai, and not your opponent's, is best.
  • Arms vs. Legs: Reach is a big component of maai, as it can effectively shorten the distance/time required for someone to strike you, or for you to strike an opponent. The arms versus legs drill simply pits a person who can use only arm/elbow/hand techniques against an opponent who can use only leg/knee/foot techniques. Each has a different maai to work within because of the reach limitations or advantages of their allowed techniques. After a few rounds, switch with your partner--if you've just been using arms, now just use legs.
  • Confined Space: By sparring within a confined space, you no longer have the luxury of distance to ensure a reactionary gap. Instead, you have to use sensitivity and awareness to detect attacks that you previously would have seen coming. Also, you can't run away from a blitzing partner; you have to sidestep and counter within the real estate you've alloted yourselves.
  • Obstacles: We lay out an obstacle course of chairs and tables in the cafeteria we work out in--we then get past/over/through the obstacles and deliver kicks and strikes to partners holding kicking shields. This drill teaches you to efficiently close the gap even when your opponent has thoughtfully placed obstacles in your way.
  • Weapons Sparring: Sparring with weapons is perhaps the best way to learn about maai. Not only do weapons change your reach, but by varying the reach of weapons (e.g. pitting kendo shinai vs. naginata, or staff vs. escrima sticks) you can learn how distance and timing and reach are all interrelated. For example, a kwan dao (a really heavy Chinese pole arm) wielder might have an exceptional reach advantage over a partner armed with a short sword. However, the sword wielder has a time advantage because of the lighter weight and maneuverability of her weapon.

    Even when the weapons are exactly the same, partners gain an increased awareness and respect for maai. Practitioners of the Filipino martial arts like escrima note that the tip of an escrima stick moves much faster than an open-hand strike. Coupled with the extended reach of the stick, sparring or flow drills with sticks impart an intense awareness--so much that subsequent open-hand sparring feels like a slow motion movie.

Control over maai comes with practice and experience. Learn to control maai, and you will control combat.

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