Japanese characters for zanshin

In martial arts there are many concepts we try to apply to our training (and beyond). Some of these may seem rather esoteric such as “Fudoshin”  (immovable mind), “Mushin”  (no mindedness) or “Shuhari” (stages of learning). These are examples of concepts that are not so much taught, but rather acquired over many years. One important concept that can, and should, be assimilated into one’s karate training however is that of “Zanshin.”

Zanshin . . . not just for karate

The literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind’ or ‘remaining spirit’ and in the wider sense relates to the mind being fully alert and totally aware of its surroundings. Zanshin is not exclusive to karate and is found in most martial arts including kyudo (archery), kendo (sword fighting), sojitsu (spear fighting) etc. In fact zanshin is a concept not exclusive to budo (martial) arts, but can be found in a wide range of other Japanese arts such as Ikebana (flower aranging), Chado (tea ceremony) and Sumi-e  (ink painting).

If we only look at the application of zanshin in karate, one may be able to get a better understanding of this concept via a very old Japanese samurai saying; “When the battle is over, tighten the chin strap”. This saying relates to a time after a combat engagement when one would naturally want to relax. The danger may not be over however and one should maintain a state of constant awareness and preparedness for further action that may ensue. Carrying this notion into the karate dojo, a student needs to be constantly aware that the training hall is a place of possible danger and should not relax that awareness at any time (in fact this attitude should continue outside the dojo).kyudo

In a practical sense during training, one should pause quietly for a few seconds after, for example, the completion of a kata(the analogy might be remaining in “standby mode”). In various forms of kumite (sparring) it’s critically important to constantly have a “remaining spirit” (zanshin) before, during and after a combat engagement. This attitude can be practiced even from the beginner stage and should definitely be second nature at Black Belt level.

Looking outside the karate dojo, acquiring a zanshin “habit” is actually crucial for some people. Soldiers, security personnel and police for example, need to be in a constant state of awareness as at times they may suddenly find themselves in life or death situations.

Focusing intently on the moment (without emotion) . . . a state of sustained concentration . . . is true zanshin and is something karate exponents must have, and will gain, through constant training.