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A direct translation of the concept “Maai” from Japanese to English is “distance”. In Kendo we recognize three concepts of distance: “Toma” or far distance, “Chikama” or close distance, and “Ittsiko-itto no Maai” or “one step striking distance”.
Of these distances Ittsiko-itto no Maai is the most important. This is the distance that, when you are facing an opponent, and you are both spaced apart in proper Kamae, so that with one Fumi-komi Ashi step forward you are properly able to execute a Men cut, then you are at your Ittsiko-itto no Maai. As a beginner you are going to go through the difficult process of learning your Maai. What is the proper distance for you to be able to execute a proper cut? We emphasize proper because it is easy to over-reach, bend at the waist, and end up with terrible posture which would render a proper cut impossible. Your Ittsiko-itto no Maai is dependent upon your physical size, your athletic abilities, your physical shape, and your emotional make-up. The only way to learn your own Maai, is to practice, practice, practice.
Toma no Maai, or far distance, is any distance beyond or outside your cutting distance, your Ittsiko-itto no Maai. Note that what is outside of your distance may not be outside of your opponents. In addition, what is outside of Men “range” is not necessarily outside of Kote “range”.
Chikama no Maai, or close distance, is any distance inside your cutting distance, your Ittsiko-itto no Maai. Attacking from this distance requires you to cover less distance with your Fumi-komi Ashi step. This is dangerous territory because at this distance you are in your opponents “range” as well.
Remember, regardless of the Maai, you must make a proper cut. It is normal for beginners to attack from too close, use a big Fumi-komi Ashi step, and then strike the Men or Kote too near the Tsuba of their Shinai. As a beginner you will always want to make big cuts, so remember, attack from your Ittsiko-itto no Maai. Strive to develop a big cut that can be properly execute from a long distance away. If you can cut your opponent from further away, you will have an advantage. Train yourself to make big attacks and stretch you cutting distance. Really push off with the left foot.
One additional note about Maai. It is the back foot, the left foot, that changes your Maai in Kendo. You can move your front foot forward all you want, but it is the push off the back foot that launches the attack, therefore, only when you move the back foot have you changed your Maai.
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