間 (ma) is a noun that means interval, or space. But more appropriately it means the emptiness which defines the things within itself. Interestingly enough, ma is NOT the same as 空 (aku) void (as in Musashi's "go rin no sho"; or as in "Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness"). Emptiness is not the same as nothingness.

We most often encounter the concept in the term 間合い (ma-ai), a noun that means interval; distance; break; pause. But it also means suitable time; appropriate opportunity; and ALSO means distance between opponents in kenjutsu/iaijutsu/kendo/iaido/aikido/aikijujutsu. But there are other phrases which can more accurately define the different levels of combat. In the Hirakawa heiho we use the following terms:

広い間隔 (hiroi kankaku) - a wide interval of separation.
This is a wide gap, before combat begins. At this distance you have a lot of options; fighting is not one of them. In real terms this is the distance in which intentions are set. If you plan to fight you decide at this distance. In the dojo before or after kumite/kumitachi begins you will see the participants each back up 5 steps; this is to establish hiroi kankaku before and after the training exercise. In a real sense, the battle begins at this great distance.

一刀 一足飛び の 間隔 (Ittou issokutobi no kankaku) - fighting distance
(lit. "one cut, one step interval of separation")

Moving forward to the point where a single step separates the participants, the physical combat begins. A single step separates life and death. Participants are testing, feeling out each other, trying to discern their opponent's intent while trying to conceal their own. This is the point of engagement.

近い間隔 (chikai kankaku) - a close interval of separation
At this point swords have crossed, the last step has been taken and the outcome has been decided, one way or another. This is the end of combat.

So by now you are asking "why do I care?".

Well, way back in June of 2012 I wrote about 制空圏- seiku gen, your area of control. I also noted "in any fight when attacking you must first move your opponent into this space". Much later, in August of 2015 I revealed the "Ultimate karate Secret" and also listed the three kigamae:

  • 施行攻め ("shikousemu" Lit. "perform going attack") Giving; and

  • 受け攻め ("ukesemu" Lit. "receive attack") receiving; and

  • 待ち攻め ("kichisemu" Lit. "waiting attack") waiting.

Can you guess how these relate to the concepts of interval?


So now let us relate the concept of "receiving versus blocking" and the concept of "area of control". You establish your area of control; so far, so good. You can stand there and block, defending your area, until you drop dead from exhaustion and you cannot win. The best you can hope for is your opponent gets tired first and then goes away.

If, however, you elect to receive your opponents attack and by receiving move your opponent into your area of control then two things happen: You can counter-attack at will AND you have control of the area your opponent is in. All in all, I would say that is a much better position to be in.