View Full Version : mushin...zanshin...

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Paula Lydon
10-27-2003, 09:43 PM
~~If mushin mean 'no mind' and zanshin means 'lingering or continual awareness' then aren't these states mutually exclusive? Or is there a higher state where the two merge? Or is the awareness somehow without the mind, as we think of it in the West?

~~Oh dear, I seem to be at it again...:D

Clayton Kale
10-27-2003, 11:27 PM
I've always thought of mushin and zanshin to be two different things, and they come from two different parts of the mind. There's the human brain, that takes a lot more meaning from its surroundings than, say, a reptile's brain, such as advertising, traffic sounds, and other people walking around. The way I've always thought of mushin as the ability to filter all the background out and focus on things that affect you and calmly deal with it. Such as: That maniac on the highway changing lanes without using a blinker or checking his blind spot. You could lay down on the horn, hoist a finger to the sky and teach your kids some new words. Or you could adjust your speed and evade him. Just like that fellow holding the pool cue like a baseball bat walking toward you. Do you freak out, or block, blend and take the weapon and leave?

Zanshin, on the other hand is the reptile brain. It's the fight that comes from "fight or flight." Mushin becomes zanshin when that nut swings the pool cue at you. You block, blend and take away the weapon without thinking, but you could also dislocate two or three joints if he keeps giving you trouble. It's that hyper awareness that allows you to protect yourself with control, but also gives you the ability to protect yourself with great power.

That power requires the responsibility to recognize whether the guy is just trying to pick your pocket, or brain you with a club... which goes back to Mushin ... But that's a topic for another thread, another day.

What do y'all think?

10-28-2003, 12:18 AM
Hi Paula - not really.

Mu shin - No (empty) mind just means that you have no expectations with regard to what your opponent will do and how you will counter. You are NOT saying to yourself - hm I bet he is going to rabbit punch my nose so I better cart wheel over hime ala matrix and kick his butt (litterally).

Zan shin is a little tougher. I suppose the closest English equivilent could be Attitude. Normally we display Zanshin at the end of technique but you could just as well display it when you walk into a crowded room or at the beginning of a confrontation. In a Judo match (at least in my sorry case) I somehow know I am going to win or lose even before contact and this depends on who out zanshined who.

Kevin Leavitt
10-28-2003, 12:54 AM
Sort of the ole...think about not thinking!!!

Chuck Clark
10-28-2003, 07:19 AM
I would add awareness to the mix for zanshin.

Many people think it is just at the end of a technique. No. It should be focused with a sort of "follow through" and total awareness of both the opponent and everything within sensory range of all your senses.

Paula Lydon
10-28-2003, 07:40 AM
~~So, Peter R., if I understand your explaination (simple and direct, thank you, something I can follow before coffee)one may exhibit mu shin by holding a mental state of being detached from any and all outcomes in life,in general; also maintaining zan shin--presence, awarness, 'attitude'. Then not mutually exclusive and maintainable states 24/7(?) Fill in any gaps, please :)

Yann Golanski
10-28-2003, 10:39 AM
I do not think that mu shin means being detached. It means (at least to me) to be reactive and not expecting of anything.

Zan shin is (at least to me) being aware of what happens around you.

Maybe an analogy would help... If I am standing in hamne and uke is about to attack me. I must not expect a certain attack or consentrate on what technique I want to do. I must let uke attack and react to his attack with whatever is appropriate to this attack. This is mu shin.

When I am throwning uke, I must make sure I am safe and do not harm him. If I thrown him, I must make sure he has room to ukemi. If I lock him, I must make sure it's not his bad wrist. I must as well make sure his mates are not around to attack me while I am watching the floor... After all, this is maybe san-nin randori. This is Zan shin.

Can you do both at the same time? ... Let me get back to you in 20 years.

Note that one of the key concept in Shodokan Aikido is mu shin mu gamae.... go and try to translate this into english...

10-28-2003, 05:37 PM
Paula Yann is correct. Or as Monty Python says "Always expect the unexpected."

There is a strong relation between the French concept of Sang Froid and Mushin and I suppose in both cases an outside observer would see a detachment but in reality there is a very strong focus.
I do not think that mu shin means being detached. It means (at least to me) to be reactive and not expecting of anything.
Mushin Mugamae - No mind no stance - simple eh? It really is an elegant construct and I have been meaning to ask whether the different characters used for Mu have any meaning beyond appearances.

And yes Chuck I agree awareness is an important part of of Zanshin. Dare I say displaying an attitude of being aware. It is difficult to find word for word translations.

L. Camejo
10-28-2003, 08:06 PM
Placing these concepts into words could be a job.

To me, mushin is a state (mental) which when maintained, also encompasses the body (physical-mugamae). In this state, one is open and prepared to deal with all possibilities, whether in training, in life, relationships, whatever. It's like you are nothing, only taking form when something enters or changes your perceived reality i a way that requires you to respond.

In my practice, I try seeing myself as a sphere, no edges (i.e. no predetermined mindsets), from which I can respond perfectly with the right technique/response to fit the situation before me (whether in training or otherwise). I guess its about keeping the mind totally clear to allow the universe or your higher self to naturally tell you which is the best response at the best time. In this way mushin may even be linked to perfect timing and perfect response by maintaining clarity. Removal of the preconditioned lenses we usually see through so to speak.

To add another element of it, mushin is allowing the mind to access unlimited responses by focusing on no particular response at all (0=infinity).

Zanshin on the other hand tends to mean awareness, sensitivity (which may also be an element of mushin), attitude and focus (particular and general).

Simply put, zanshin is being aware of multiple sides of a situation almost simultaneously. Being aware of and dealing with the attacker in front of you who is about to formulate an attack, as well as simultaneously being aware of your surroundings and his friends, as well as beyond them bringing awareness to the environment that one is in and its subtleties. (Not necessarily focussing on all these things, but being aware of their place in your immediate situation).

This awareness should always be on in my book, even while sleeping. It is situational awareness and sensitivity to one's surroundings, but it is also the ability to influence one's environment based on this knowledge. I think its a combination of Chuck and Peter's ideas, and Yann's to a point. Zanshin should be maintained from the point one steps on the mat, if not always. It is not limited to the end of technique, it exists throughout as interpersonal awareness.

In my humble opinion, the right combination of mushin and zanshin brings one very close to the realisation of the Takemusu Aiki concept. So, yes they can coexist.

Of course I can also be totally wrong as well:).

Just some thoughts.


10-29-2003, 05:24 PM
IMHO, nothing is mutually exclusive.

At a higher level of logic both "mu" and "zan" are "shin", or mind.

The "mushin" empty mind is used to empty the internally focused intellectually obsessing mind chatter. The "zanshin" or extended mind is an externally focused mind. Perhaps by internally emptying we can extend externally further.

10-29-2003, 06:51 PM
In the world of martial strategy you must maintain a normal, everyday mental attitude at all times. Wether it is just an ordinary day or wether you are in a combat situation, your mental attitude should in essence be the same. One should have the feeling of being broad and straight, without being too rigid or too soft. Through total composure you must maintain mental balance at all times. You should not lose your self control even for a moment. You must study this very hard so that you will be able to maintain a relaxed state of mind at all times.
This is the mental attitude of budo in Musashi's Book of Five Rings. Basically this is the concept of "mushin".
When you are physically calm you must be mentally alert; conversely, when you are physically active, maintain a serene state of mind. In other words, your mind should not be be directly affected by your body and vice versa. Be attentive at all times to all things without being overly anxious. You must maintain a gentle countenance and a sturdy state of mind. Do not let others perceive your true intentions. One who serves others should be generally aware of the overall flow of things, while one who leads should be aware of everything including seemingly inignificant matters. Regardless of the social positions people hold, everybody should sincerely respect each other as equal.
In the second paragraph, Musashi states even if your mind is relaxed it also has to be attentive and focused at all times. This is "zanshin". Both go hand in hand. It's like yin and yang, though both are opposite of each other, they are still together.

My experience training with ki-no-kenkyu-kai actually made me realize this. Especially the last part of the second paragraph, respect your opponent's Ki.

The book of water actually discusses a lot of this issue, "mushin" and "zanshin". This is only a couple of paragraph.

10-30-2003, 03:46 AM
Just a few murky thoughts to cloud the issue even further.

I have always thought of the relationship between mushin & zanshin best described as "relaxed awareness"

One way to describe this in the context of training is having no expectation of either the attack or your response (true jyu waza)but each feeding off the other.

Outside of the dojo I beleive mushin is the ability to remain calm and unruffled in any given situation (work, social, family) whilst zanzshin is knowing when to react and in what manner.

10-30-2003, 08:52 PM
Thalib-san, in that very same book, Ochiai puts forth the notion that Musashi was talking about "heijo-shin" (ping chang xin if you're using pinyin) in those passages. Through the lens of my very poor colloquial Chinese, it just means "ordinary heart", or equanimity. For me, this means you regard highly stressful, dangerous situations with the same mindset as you'd treat another day at the office (while producing a positive, efficient outcome, of course). This seems more elegant than trying to reconcile "mushin" (wu xin in pinyin) and "zanshin" (can xin in pinyin). But then what do I know... ;)


11-12-2003, 06:33 PM
Zanshin is also what is important AFTER the technique. It is the lingering awareness.(if I'm not mistaken, the kanji litterally means "remaining mind" [nokoru and kokoro]) I guess the best analogy would come from action/ horror movies. After the bad guy/monster gets knocked out, some idiot always pokes it and gets eaten. This is NOT having zanshin.

11-12-2003, 07:31 PM
in my understanding mushin and zanshin is like petrol and car, one cannot go without the other. zanshin i think is a state of awareness to our surrounding while mushin is a state of relaxation of body and mind, resulting in automation of movements, or to some of us is called 'reflex'. Zanshin without mushin resulting in rigid, not flowing movements and mushin without zanshin is what Paul Mihalik has described above.

11-12-2003, 07:41 PM
A great topic and some very insightful replies. I'm not left with much to say, for you all have posted most of my thoughts on the matter.

I think this is where some of O'Sensei's words come in: "It is not a question of speed..." And George Leonard Sensei's "Expect nothing. Be ready for anything." And Morpheus's "Free your mind" (from The Matrix.)

With a truly unclouded mind (which I have only sometimes,) the perfect reaction to the situation naturally occurs. With more aikido training (I'm but a yonkyu,) I will not only get better technically but also mentally. I've witnessed first-hand the incredible zanshin and no-mind of some aikido masters, so I know it is possible. One day...


Ghost Fox
11-13-2003, 06:58 AM
With a truly unclouded mind (which I have only sometimes,) the perfect reaction to the situation naturally occurs.

It should be pointed out that the unclouded mind is only one part of the equation. In order for the perfect reaction to occur naturally we must train and train diligently so that our movement and techniques are natural. One reaction to a situation is limited to those responses that are seeded in the spirit.

Great topic.

Mushin - Ready for No-thing.

Zanshin - Ready for Every-thing.


11-13-2003, 08:05 AM
Nice one Lost-san...

That correlates to a concept I've been thinking this past few years:

Assume nothing

Expect everything

11-14-2003, 03:56 AM
To have true perception one must not have preconceptions i.e. one must have 'no-mind' to be aware of what is happening at this very moment.

A sensei I know talks about 'dealing with what is happening now'. I used to think it was zen bu**sh*t for ages until I realised it is impossible to be responsive to uke without this (unless you know exactly the way uke is going to move or attack). I think this is a secondary stage of training (i.e. after learning techniques, it is then being able to repsond naturally without a preconception of what they are going to do).