A correct ma-ai 间 合 (distance) between practitioners of a weapon art is one of the first concepts that grows in the practice of paired kata.
Kyuzo in “the Seven Samurai” shows in a duel complete control of ma-ai
There can be approximately three distances distinguished:
- Toma 远 间 (long distance), several steps are necessary to attack
- Ittōma 一刀 间 (one single step away), a one step pass is required for an attack
- Chikama 近 间 (short distance), the opponent is within range of your weapon
Toma: Is the distance at which Shuriken can be used, but for iaido and kumitachi this distance is too far and must first be a shorter distance between two opponents.
Ittōma: for paired training is the most significant. There is for both practitioners during kamae (posture) “monouchi-contact”, which means that the points of each sword cross by about 10cm.
Ittōma is sometimes called issoku itto no ma-ai 一足 一刀 の 間合 (one-step-a-sword away) or chuma 中间 called (middle distance). At the end of a kumitachi / kenjutsu kata, the uchidachi (receiver) waits for shidachi (attacker) to finish the kata (like ballroom dancers one is always taking the lead). At this moment the practitioner’s chikama, but the exercise is finished. Kata in which the practitioners are in the kata in chikama are often only taught in the higher parts of the curriculum of schools.
There is a form of chikama which the opponents very close together, such as a “clinch” in boxing. The tsuba 锷 (hand gaurd) of the two swords meet. This position is called tsuba zeriai 鍔 競り合い (clashing tsuba). Both opponents will find it difficult to attack or retreat from this position. There are schools that have developed techniques for tsuba zeriai, but most schools only teach that a poor position will be the outcome.
For students who are already familiar with this concept:
The mai-iai is dependent on the reach of the practitioners. This reach can be seen as an area to a practitioner in which he can hit/strike/cut without stepping forward however, this region is not a circle. On the front is the furthest range andon the omote side (belly side) is then most of the range, to the ura side (back side) is the least range. Therefore, it may be that there is a cutting area to the opponent’s advantage where you can get it but you are unable to hit the opponent.
Furthermore, when both practitioners have the same weapon length and body height with arm reach, the situations concerning mai-ai are relatively simple. When however one of the two opponents, has a longer weapon (i.e. a spear), the practitioner can be within the range of the other practitioner but the swordsman will always remain out of reach for his cut.