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Different Distances in Kendo

by Jorge Villarán
(Lima, Perú)

How do you define:

1. Issoku itto no maai (Issoku itto no ma)
2. Chikai maai (Chika-ma)
3. Toi maai (Toh-ma)
4. Uchi-ma
5. Yokote maai (Yokote no maai)
6. Koujin no maai
7. shokujin no maai?

Q1: Some of these distances should be used differently depending on the opponent. For example, for some people uchima is also chikama, for others it is issoku itto. Which of the distances above depend on the opponent like uchima?

Q2: Distances from 1 to 4 are for shinai and 5 to 7 for bokken/katana, or that is irrelevant?

I made a question a week ago, I guess you didn’t receive it or perhaps it was too long. I reformulated my questions.

Thank you very much for your answer, it is very difficult to find good information about some of these distances.

Jorge Villaran

Kendo-Guide.Com: First of all, I am sorry that I could not get the question one week ago. Nothing came up in the system.

Answer to Question 2: We have to know what they all are. So they are relevant.

However, shinai does not have yokote. But it is good to know what yokote is because it is used in kendo too.

Answer to Question 1: I don’t quite understand your question. Do you want to know which distance can be uchi-ma?

Let me define all the distances first.

1. Issoku itto no maai (Issoku itto no ma) : This distance is a distance where you can reach your opponent with one step forwards and you can avoid your opponent’s cut with one step backwards.

2. Chikai maai (Chika-ma): Close distance. When you get in further from issoku itto no ma, you are in chika-ma. You can easily reach your opponent but your opponent also can reach you easily (Definition by All Japan Kendo Federation).

3. Toi maai (Toh-ma): You are not even in issoku itto no ma. You cannot reach your opponent and your opponent cannot reach you either (Definition by All Japan Kendo Federation). Basically your shinai and your opponent's shinai are not touching.

4. Uchi-ma: The distance for you to strike. This is the distance you MUST strike.

5. Yokote maai (Yokote no maai): There is a part called “yokote” around the kensaki (kissaki) of a sword. There is a line called yokote-suji a bit lower than the kensaki. If you are in a distance where the yokote of your sword and your opponent’s sword meet, you are in the yokote no

6. Koujin no maai: Koujin means “crossing blades”. So if your sword and your opponent sword start crossing, you are in koujin no maai. Your kensaki can pass the kensaki of your opponent’s sword about 10cm (about 4 inches).

7. shokujin no maai: Shokujin means “touching blades”. The kensaki of your sword and your opponent are touching. Once one of the kensaki passes the shokujin no maai to get closer, you are in koujin no maai.

As you can imagine, from person to person, the definition of each distance can be slightly different. I am trying to be as general as possible so you can be flexible.

I will separate them into some groups. Please remember this grouping is my idea not defined by All Japan Kendo Federation.

Issoku itto no ma Group
shokujin no maai
Koujin no maai
Yokote no maai

Koujin no maai group
Yokote no maai

(After more consideration, I decided to get rid of this group.)

Chika-ma group

Toh-ma group

Uchima group
Issoku itto no ma
shokujin no maai
Koujin no maai
Yokote no maai

I think these groups are well-grouped.

Chika-ma and toh-ma are independent. They will not fall into any other groups, I guess. Now I will tell you some “questionable” distances.

Even though the blades cross in chika-ma, it is probably different from koujin no ma.

If you get closer to your opponent from shokujin no ma, you are in koujin no maai. If the yokote of your sword is touching that of your opponent, you are in yokote no maai. Also you are still in koujin no ma.

If you get even closer until the kensaki of your shinai passes monouchi of your opponent’s sword (around nakajime of shinai), then you are way too close to your opponent (chika-ma).

Issoku itto no ma can be different from person to person, even though it is the basic distance in kendo. As long as you are not in chika-ma or toh-ma, you are theoretically in issoku itto no ma.

In issoku itto no ma your sword should be touching your opponent’s sword, so theoretically you should be either in shokujin no maai, yokote no maai or koujin no maai.

Uchi-ma basically covers all the distances. If you can reach your opponent before the kensaki of your shinai touches that of your opponent, toh-ma can be uchi-ma as well. Probably this can be controversial. Chika-ma is also uchi-ma but it is not a preferred uchi-ma if you can physically jump in from issoku itto no ma.

You may realise that many 7th dan or above sensei step in a bit more from issoku itto no ma. They can strike from issoku itto no ma but they “hold their desire to strike” or “fight their fear to be struck” and step in further in order to put more pressure on their opponent. In such case, they are in probably chika-ma but in uchi-ma as well.

Stepping in a bit more from issoku itto no ma as I mentioned above is something 5th dan or above should work on. If you are not 5th dan or above, do not worry about it too much.

Again you will hear different definitions of these distances from different senseis. But there is one common thing they will tell you to do.

“Strike in issoku itto no ma when you are young”.

Chika-ma is not something those kendo practitioners at the early stage should worry about. First, we should learn how to strike in issoku itto no ma.

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