Monday, May 27, 2019

Zanshin, Fudoshin, Mushin

How can Martial Arts help Zen practice ?

So I first was interested in Martial Arts, then I found Zen. I have heard many many time that Zen would help me get better at Martial Arts. And you know what ?

I really don’t think it happened.

I started martial art in 1969 (maybe 1968 - I am not sure).  But really got serious about them in 1986. That’s still 33 years ago. I have a decent level, I am not master, but if I keep training for 20 more years, I might become one.  All of this came for one and one reason only. I kept coming.  From 1986 up to now, even if I changed 3 continents, Only once have I been witohout training for  sveral month, because of medical problems. I must have been practicing at least 31 years out of those 33 years.

I am not gifted, I have met gifted people. They left. I stayed. I kept training, practicing, I got punched, kicked, I won some fights, I lost some. I lost more than I won, but when I lost I trained harder. I became better.

So I’d like for you to consider something. :

Zen won’t help you get better at Martial Arts, but Martial arts will help you get better at  Zen.

The reason for this is that if you try to it is more difficult to fool people with bullshit in Martial arts than it is with Zen.

Bullshit in Zen : 

Many people do not have a clear idea of what Zen is, even that it is anything Buddhist. So any one can pretend to do Zen and be a teacher, and write cool books about it, and give conferences and  seminars, and intellectualize a lot, and they will find a bunch of followers because people want the silver bullet. It is much easier to read a book, or listen to a Youtube speech about Zen, that it is to sit quiet and at times in pain watching thoughts pass and fade away.

Bullshit in Martial Arts :

There is little of it. If you really want to know how good you are, you get in the ring, and you see what happens. If you win, good for you, go try someone bigger and learn from them.  If you lose, go train harder. Don’t go read books about technique or motivation or fighting spirit, find a good coach, and train harder.

That’s what Martial Arts teach you. The truth is not in books or therapy or meetings. The truth is in your training harder :  keep training and keep coming.

The key to becoming a better at anything (Art, martial art, math, fly fishing...) is to train, and the keys to effective training are :

    • Dedication : keep coming. No matter how bad or discouraged you may feel.
    • A good coach or Sensei – someone who has been there.
    • Trust your coach.

These are also the keys to effective Zen training.

Now I understand that most of you are not at all interested in Martial Arts, but you do not have to leave, because a lot of what I am going to speak you can also practice in other disciplines  - Sports and Arts – without having to get in a ring. And I will be happy to answer some questions at the end on these matters.

There are many ways that Martial art training can help Zen training.

Today I will get into 3 different set of minds that we often mention in Japanese Martial Arts.

I will  shortly explain what they mean for martial arts or fighting (combat) purposes, then I will explain how this some how relates to Zen

1 - Zanshin, Fudoshin, Mushin

Now you realize that the 3 terms end up with the sound “shin”...

1.1 SHIN

Shin is often translated in English as “Mind”, but “Mind” is a very vague concept in English. Shin is better understood as the Heart and writes like it.

Shin is :
    • the Core or Heart of a person.
    • Willpower, Motivation, ability to act
This is different from intellect, intellect can give you very good reasons to do something, but if you do not have the heart, you won’t do it. 

1.2 - ZANSHIN: attentive mind, all encompassing awareness. 

It is being aware of your environment, ready to react. There is a little tension involved, you cannot be too tense because if you focus on something particular, you might miss other important signals.
Being too focused is the open door for your opponent to deceive you.
Zanshin is general awareness , global, peripheral vision. The more you train, the more you learn how to focus and detect potential threats.


At the end of a Iai waza, you return to the place you started from in a Zanshin state of mind. All your senses are alert, nothing is focused, you thrive to be aware of everything around you.

One day I was competing in a Karate tournament with a Bo (Long Staff) kata. The Kata included a long jab with the tip of the Bo before a 180 degrees turn. As I was going to jab, a young child from the crowd of spectators ran across the ring. I was in a Zanshin state of mind and saw the  child without looking at him. I stopped my Bo a few inches from him.

There is nothing special about Zanshin, anyone may train his Zanshin, the more you train, the better you become, unless maybe you've got ADD, (which I believe is only a sorry excuse)

1.3 - FUDOSHIN : immovable mind 

- a state of equanimity or imperturbability. The mind is quiet, not disturbed by anything. In a fighting or warring situation, this is ideal, total , natural, self control.

It is also sometimes called Heijoshin.

Let me read to you a quote by sword master Shimabukuro Hanshi from his book Flashing Steel :

Heijoshin (or peace of mind) is the by-product of a person’s complete inner being. It can only be achieved by refining the whole inner essence and this can only be accomplished if one’s intellect, emotions, and character are developed in balance. Heijoshin literally translated means constant stable spirit. Such a translation hardly does it justice...
To achieve heijoshin as a martial artist requires a lifestyle of discipline, effort, sacrifice and commitment. Such a commitment to developing excellence of character is what sets the martial artist apart from most people in a confused and unhappy society. As we discover, the true nature of martial arts training leads us to a fuller understanding of the nature of life itself. With this understanding comes peace of mind and true and lasting happiness.


Only circumstances will let us know how good our Fudoshin is, once again it depends on training. Fudoshin is a higher level of achievement than Zanshin.
Training in fudoshin requires, on top of intellectual and emotional concentration, to developing one's acceptance of others and of circumstances.

Possibly, becoming aware of a deeper level of connection between oneself and others is one key to developing Fudoshin.

1.4 - MUSHIN : literally "no mind" or “Empty mind”

– sometimes defined as the spontaneity which allows immediate action without conscious thought; in my Martial Arts experience, I have experienced Mushin very few times. I actually had to use my training very few times in real fighting conditions. I was once in Paris and a group of obnoxious teenagers surrounded my sister and I . One of them became more disrespectful or threatening than the others. I kicked him without even thinking about it. (It might not have been the smartest thing to do, but we can speak about this later)  the point is that I did not even think about kicking this young man, it just happened).

I also experienced Mushin when practicing Ju Jitsu Katas with a partner. We did it, when it was over we could not believe how well it had been. This situation happened twice in over 30 years of practice.

Mushin is something you cannot speak about when it happens, only afterwards, you know that something close to perfect happened through you. And then you cannot find words to describe it.  Mushin is bigger than you. It just comes through you. When you realize how great it was, it's over, you are not in Mushin anymore.

You can also experience Mushin in other areas such as playing music, painting, or dancing.


When it happens, it glows through you, there is awareness, but there is no feeling of ego. As soon as the ego comes back and gets aware of it, it is gone… I am sorry if this is not clear, like I said earlier, you cannot find words to describe.

I believe that in order to experience Mushin in a way or an other, is is much better to be very fluent in it. It might be possible to experience it with very little training, but this is not my case.

The danger with Mushin. There is a big danger with Mushin, which is to let everything and anything happen as it flows through you (as maybe I did when I kicked this guy) As we all know, terrible things can be and have been committed by individuals, who later on explained that they were not really responsible as they were in a trance like sort of state of mind.

This has to be seriously considered. I do not know how it can be prevented. The key might be to have a teacher you can debate this with.


    • Mindfulness
    • Zazen


And here I have to say something about mindfulness. We don’t teach it in Zen, we just teach Zazen. But Mindfulness practice really can help Zazen. It is a sort of warming up for Zazen- a “Zazen-light”.

in Mindfulness, the one I have practiced, you try to be aware of feelings and mind.

2.1.1 - Mindfulness of feelings :

Pay attention, you will realize there are only 3 kind of feelings.
    • pleasant,
    • unpleasant
    • neutral

Which correspond to
    • Greed,
    • Hate
    • Delusion.

This is Zanshin.

With practice, you will quickly realize that only one kind of feeling exists at the same time and that they can vary very quickly.

2.1.2 - Mindfulness of Mind (thoughts and emotions)

This is a little different, thoughts and emotions are more complex than feelings, there are lots of different kind of them, observing your thoughts and emotions will make you realize that :
  • No 2 emotions or thoughts happen at the same time. 
  • Thoughts or emotions – if given enough time and power - get one of the 3 feelings to arise.
  • Thoughts and emotions tend to follow patterns of habits : One particular thought generally leads to one particular emotion and a particular feeling. (often deluded thought leads to thoughts of greed or rejection)

So once you are aware of this, you become able to stop a pattern of thoughts, you recognize the sprout that is going to grow into a bad tree and you kill it right now. It is like when you feel your opponent is going to do something, sometimes you can even know it before he does. And you prevent it from happening.

Because you have become aware of the impermanence, constant firing and patterns of mind activities, it becomes easier to detach from them, kill them in the egg, before they becomes strong and upsets you. So you get closer to Fudoshin.

2.2 – ZAZEN

Zazen really is about Mushin – empty mind. We try to realize Mushin. So if we use the pond analogy we want our mind to be like the surface of a pond with no ripples on it.

So we try to not let the wind of thoughts or emotions come up and create waves on the surface of the pond.

But of course if we try to achieve anything there is already an attachment to something, we are doomed.

This is what practice is about. While in theory we are doomed, you can write many books about this kind of apparent contradiction. But it turns out that theory is not practice.

It is like in Tai Chi when you try hard to relax, on the paper it seems doomed, but in reality, this is the way it works, slowly.

If we practice and train hard, we can make it happen, little by little it is not hard anymore, we become fluent. so all that I described about Mindfulness applies to Zazen.

We use Zanshin to cultivate Fudoshin, and we sit patiently, then small moments of Mushin happen, which we won’t be able to describe, but we will remember. The whole idea is to let it happen, more and more often, without attachment to it.

And here Zanshin and Fudoshin help again. If Mushin happens, just acknowledge it, become aware of the possible pleasant feeling associated to it, and drop the feeling...

This is the transcript of a talk I gave at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center on  May 5, 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019


Zanshin is awareness

Zanshin is often described as alertness and awareness of one's environment.

Outward Zanshin

This Zanshin directed to the external world is useful on battlefields of any kind.

But without being able to turn Zanshin inward, no progress will occur.

Inward Zanshin

Only Zanshin turned inward : awareness of one's posture, movements, timing when practicing solo allows us to correct our technique.

Think about it...