Japanese Martial Arts: Students Mental and State of Mind – Part 4

|This post is written by Saladine|


Certainly when one wish to learn something, there are steps that needs to be followed. Have you ever heard the terms “Empty your Cup”? This term applies when you want to learn something. The idea is, if your head full’s of assumption on what will you learn, you will have a hard time to understand what the teacher tried to explain, and the teacher is having difficulty to convey the right information to you. This kind of practice needs to be corrected, one-way or another. In Japanese Martial Arts, there are several philosophical concepts the students need to follow in order to walk the path of understanding. What I will discuss today is the right State of Mind that needs to be followed.


State of Mind

No matter how hard you train, no matter how often you forge your body, if you do not train your mind it’s practically useless. Yes, the aim of every martial art is to have balance with mind and body, and it can be attained by the right practice and guidance. Is it important? Very! Well, you can understand when you look at it.


Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.


“I don’t know why i use this picture. Funny, yes, but even the master of Aikido still try to be humble and learn from everything”

The phrase is also used in the title of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who says the following about the correct approach to Zen practice: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. In another words, beginner’s mind embodies the highest emotional qualities such as enthusiasm, creativity, zeal, and optimism. Having an open and enthusiasm attitude makes one question everything while doubting nothing, and achieve understanding without any restrictions.



Zanshin (残心) literally means “left over” or “remaining heart / spirit”. Zanshin refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness, where one hones the perception of their surrounding. This includes the body posture where a technique is executed, awareness of incoming enemies and the surrounding environment.


“Okay, no, its not commercial folks. Observe how they attain range (maai), focus, and stance that makes Zanshin. Total awareness”

In each martial arts, the use of zanshin differ entirely. In a sports such as kyūdō, zanshin means the body posture after the loosing of an arrow; the posture is intended to reflect the higher meaning of zanshin, which is a mental aspect maintained before, during, and after an action.

In karate, kendō and aikidō. zanshin is the state of total awareness and the continued state of spirit.It means being aware of one’s surroundings and enemies, while being prepared to react;. Put it another way, a mental alertness and physical readiness to meet the situation (such as an opposing attack) that must be maintained when one returns to kamae after attacking.

Within the context of ninjutsu, especially inside Bujinkan, zanshin is a collective simulated combat in total or partial darkness, which allows one to become more acquainted to fighting without the aid of light.




Mushin (無心) is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. What kind of mental state that is? It’s when you don’t think of anything in your head while reacting with your environment instinctively. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus opens to everything. It is the highest level of mental state and the longest to achieve, in all four described.


“Notice the eyes closed?”

Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is their trained natural reaction or what is felt intuitively. It is not a state of relaxed, near-sleepfulness, however. The mind could be said to be working at a very high speed, but with no intentions, plans or direction. In analogy a clear mind is compared to a still pond, which is able to clearly reflect the moon and trees. But just as waves in the pond will distort the picture of reality, so will the thoughts we hold onto disrupt the true perception of reality.

Is it easy to attain? No. A martial artist would likely have to train for many years to be capable of maintained mushin. This allows time for combinations of movements and exchanges of techniques to be practiced repetitively many thousands of times, until they can be performed spontaneously, without conscious thought, thus changing your natural reactions to be more effective in combat or whatever else you may be doing.


Interesting Trivia: Some masters believe that mushin is the state where a person finally understands the uselessness of techniques and becomes truly free to move. In fact, that person will no longer even consider themselves as “fighters” but merely living beings moving through space.

+1 Trivia: mushin cannot be obtained during combat. It can only be achieved by repetitive practice of forms in the martial arts and incorporate it in the unconscious minds of the practitioner.


Fudōshin (不動心) is a state of equanimity or composure of one self. Literally translated, it means “immovable mind” or “immovable heart”, it is a state of mind where one does not waver and keep their cool despite the hardship they intake. In simple terms, an Unshakeable Mind.


“Keep it cool even in encountering a close half-naked man wearing boxing gloves”

I can’t really explain fudoshin in direct fashion, but if you’re interested in learning more, you can refer to the PDF Here. The first 4 pharagraph clearly describe what fudoshin is like being used.

And, well, that’s about it from me. Japanese Martial Arts, be it ancient and modern, takes many form and practice, but they have the same philosophical concept. I cannot stress enough the importance to train the mind, since most students I see only focus on the body. There are several students who think martial arts are just for fun. I can’t really say their wrong, yet I’m disappointed in seeing the lack of eagerness and respect from them.

I’m hoping from this last segment of Japanese Martial Arts, some will realize what kind of goals and achievement they wish to obtain while practicing martial arts. Journey? Enlightenment? Smaller belly? Whatever it is, you must keep in mind that a martial art does not come easy, and it’s really time-consuming. Yes, you need to give sacrifice on some part of your life.

If you do not understand your goal in learning martial arts, it is best if you didn’t learn anything from the start. Vague destination leads to vague realization, and that might not be what the instructor wants. Keep in mind of your goals, for it can be the motivation to move on. Well, changing the destination in the middle of the training is also a possibility.

Personal Request: please understand what shoshin means. It is the very foundation of learning everything


About Saladin

Another weird college kid in search for something not boring. Have a very high confidence in everything I do, and can debate to death to prove a point. Majoring in International Relation, studying diplomacy, but love martial arts. Never allow me to see your gesture, if you don't want to be judged. Oh, and god, I love sweet!

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