Tachi-Waza Ma-ai - The Four Competition Ranges

Japanese martial arts have traditionally studied the distance between opponents, (ma-ai); while locked in combat. Indeed, using swords, the difference between life and death was no more than an inch.  So ma-ai became a topic of intense interest to those who wanted to survive.

Although it’s not quite the life and death struggle that it has been in the past, Judo too, has ma-ai.  In Tachiwaza, there are four stages of distancing that you must be familiar with, and able to defend against or offensively use.

1. No Grip: The referee has just called Hajime! - and no-one has their grip yet… it’s still a dangerous time, though!  One well-known Judoka, Robert van de Walle of Belgium, has mastered this range - for his most dangerous weapon was Morote Gari, a technique that becomes difficult or impossible once grips have been taken.

2. One Hand Grip: This is probably the most dangerous distance - many Judoka will not be as careful - thinking that their opponent needs to get the classic two-handed grip before attacking.  Ippon Seoinage is a popular attack in this situation.  I used to use Hiji Otoshi or Tai Otoshi with great effect from just a sleeve grip.  Of course, Ashi Waza of all sorts is well used at this distance too!  De Ashi Barai, Ko Soto Gari, and so forth - don’t need a two-handed grip - and can be a surprise if you aren’t prepared…  If you want to excel in shiai, this is a range you should have at least one or two attacks from - so when an opponent doesn’t want to give you a grip, you can still make an attack, perhaps even a successful one.

3. Two Handed Grip: This is your classical Judo grip - and where Judoka feel most comfortable.  There are situations here, however, that many people don’t take the time to study.  The Japanese break this situation up into two distinct grips, and study all throws using both situations:

Ai Yotsu: Both Judoka take the same side grip - such as both taking a right-handed grip. When right hand takes uke’s left lapel, and left hand takes uke’s right sleeve - this is the classic Judo kumikata

Kenka Yotsu: Both Judoka take the opposite side grip - such as one holding right-handed, and the other taking a left-sided grip.

To be well prepared - the smart Judoka will learn to execute his favorite techniques regardless of what grip his opponent takes.

4. Grappling Grip: Favored by Russian Judoka, and spreading through much of Europe - this distance involves taking a grip over the shoulder - perhaps reaching over uke’s shoulder and grabbing his belt… the bodies are closest, and positional mistakes are very easy to make, and can be taken advantage of quickly.  This is a very powerful gripping style, and favors very powerful throws such as Koshiwaza or Pickups.  This gripping style can be very intimidating to those not used to it - so you should master this range.  This is particularly favored by taller Judoka - as it’s rather difficult to do if you happen to be shorter than your opponent!

Next time you train, think about the four distances that you can throw your opponent from… try ‘em out!