The initial distance between people often determines the outcome of a martial arts interaction. In Aikido, we call it “proper distance” or “ma-ai.” Proper distance feels comfortable and occurs when a step is required to touch the other; it feels safe. It may vary by culture, the presence of a weapon, type of relationship, and the size of the people. But generally speaking, ma-ai is determined by each person extending an arm.
You likely feel this “proper distance” intuitively when someone stands too close to you, or, too far away to feel connected. Proper distance is that sweet spot of comfort and connection. If you are too close it will create defense in the other person.
We now have a virus that makes proper distance greater.
In a sense, it is martial.
And, not honoring the proper distance may be very harmful.
With Covid-19, our dojo has been practicing with weapons to extend the proper distance of six feet or more to meet with CDC guidelines.
I, personally, had not been a big fan of weapons practice. For me it is more difficult than empty hands. But embedded in that difficulty are several similarities to the challenges of distance we face while social distancing. These include,
- Any movement is amplified. It’s all trigonometry. When I rotate my sword handle one inch the tip will move more – depending on the length of my sword and the angle I hold it.
How does that apply? It means the receiver of communication may read more into the message than you actually mean. The opportunity for misinterpretation rises significantly. Example: Alicia was asked to record her time spent with each client when she works from home.This is something she doesn’t do when she is in the office. That movement amplified her feeling she wasn’t trusted. Her enthusiasm and engagement were the price.
What to do? Alicia could ask for more information about the purpose and share the challenges it presents. Her leadership could be proactive and explain the reasoning behind the request and be sure to listen and solicit her feedback. Typically, that doesn’t happen, and more distance is created.
- You have to be more precise. Trigonometry rules here as well. If you execute a sword strike and you are off even a little bit you miss your target and can hit something else unintentionally .
How does this apply? A big example is the lack of precision and consistency of Information in our country about what “appropriate” behaviors are. People are confused because there is a lack of consistent precision in the message.
What to do? Make sure consistent and clear communication is coming from your leadership. When you communicate, state your intention up front and reiterate it at the end. Follow-up in writing.
- Internal balance needs constant adjusting. Wielding a sword can throw your balance off. Constantly adjusting your alignment and balance is required with a sword. If you are wobbly, it is amplified.
How does this apply? While technology is so valuable, it is also something that can throw us off balance by freezing up, blocking participants, allowing hackers, opening the space to more interruptions. Even the distance created by wearing a mask, at least for me, requires me to spend a little more time centering myself. Also, in an in-person meeting it is easier to get validation that people are understanding, agreeing, or challenging you.
What to do? 1. Check your technology ahead of time and practice. 2. Even more important, strengthen your centering practices, so you can easily adjust without stressing too much. During challenging times that is my number one priority! 3. While group meetings are needed, be sure to have those one-on-ones too!
Proper distance, ma-ai, in the martial arts determines the outcome.
I hope all of you are willing to pay attention to it! Stay Well – Be Great!