Learning and Practicing Zanshin in karate and in life.

   There is a martial arts thinking, known as the concept of Zanshin.  Zanshin is a term all Japanese martial arts use. It literally means “remaining mind.” The term refers to the movement and the body’s specific posture, after a technique is executed.

      This moment is critical. The full explosion of energy must be naturally followed by a complete and heightened readiness; A state of emptiness of pre-conception that can react rapidly to anything; A state of natural preparedness that causes one technique to flow into the next, with a powerful spontaneity.

       It amazes me, how perfectly a cat often embodies this state of readiness. Effortlessly and flawlessly, a cat can go from relaxed to engaged; from stealth to predator.

readiness like a cat

     For the effective martial artist, the learning and practice of this alert, aware, focus & ready state of mind is inescapably tied to breathing techniques. I spend much time and try many angles to get my students aware of their breathing and how it influences their preparedness to execute dynamic techniques. When air comes in, it must result in the loosening and relaxing of the diaphragm and when air is exhaled, it must result in the tightening 0f the diaphragm and tensing of the relevant muscles.             

     Here are some examples of how this concept applies to various martial art forms. In kyudo, zanshin refers to body posture after the loosing of an arrow. This posture is to be maintained during and after the action. 

readiness like shooting an arrow

     In karatezanshin is the state of total awareness.  The Mind is to be “like a moon”: In Shotokan, this means to be so aware that you see and feel everything around you like the transparency of a moonlit night. “Mind like the water”: Means in Shotokan to be so placid that any disturbance can be felt from anywhere in the lake. Both of these indicate that we are to have an Open awareness in life. It means being aware of one’s surroundings and enemies, while ready to react. It is a state of readiness and preparedness. I train my students regularly, in the importance of a “Ready position.”

mind like moon

     In  kendo, zanshin is the continued state of spirit, mental alertness and physical readiness to meet the situation (such as an opposing attack) that must be maintained when one returns to ready, after attacking. It is an essential element in defining a good attack.

     During the practice of aikido, the way to practice zanshin is to focus on the just-thrown opponent, while holding your ready position. Doing this maintains awareness, in case there are additional attacks or attackers.

mind like water

     A Kenpo site defines it as: Zanshin means to have a correct, perfect, crystalline awareness. I like that phrase. It leads to what all this martial arts talk has to do with mindset, outlook and daily life.

readiness at the starting line

     So how do you take this Zanshin karate mindset and apply it to daily life? I teach my karate students that moving with an aggressor can be like reading the tide. There is more success to be found in moving with it, than just trying to stop it. I help my students with mind like a moon training and mind like still water training, to help them get in sync with what is going on around them. Also, making them move in synchronous harmony with a class opponent can help them get in to the picture of other person’s body movements. So it is possible not only to prevail because you have terrific power but because, you use your opponent’s power to your own advantage. This same principle can apply in daily life, if Zanshin is applied!

Here are some important concepts to work on your own sense of Zanshin & apply it to your personal situation.

  1. Realize that You have within you, intuition power. An uncanny sense of being able to feel what is important. Sit down and make a list of times that hunches have proved right in your life. Look for the signals when a hunch may actually be your Zanshin, trying to come into life. Your intuition is important in all aspects of life and super important, if you are to grow in karate.

  2. Believe that you are the head and not the tail. God puts in you the ability to grow and develop but you must concentrate on the positive qualities, He has put in you to do this. Have faith in your own ability to triumph over adversity. I love what Dr. Robert Schuller used to say. Tough times don’t last. Tough people do! If you want to win in the arena; start by believing that you will win, when training in private! Even if winning is at times just being willing to grow, through a challenging situation.

  3. Dr. Robert SchullerInstincts are powerful. I remember one time on a hunting trip that I had a strong feeling to look to my left, at which time I discovered a very large boar hog coming after me. Had I not looked up, feeling something, this unannounced guest would have gave me a rude awakening. A hunch saved my patooka. Learn that spidey sense is not only the gift of Spider man. It is yours as well. Practice listening to your instincts. Our life is often layered and the realization you need may be just under the observable surface. Hunches are powerful in life and especially in the dojo. Learn to pay attention to them.

  4. One of the chief side benefits and merits of Zanshin is avoiding pitfalls. I would rather avoid the cliff, than figure out how to survive the fall. Having a sense when something is out of whack is not always something you can measure or explain. Just learn that it is real and pay attention to the hunch. It is a mistake to press full steam ahead, when your gut instinct tells you something is wrong. Learning when to be cautious is a powerful protective property of zanshin.

  5. caution signWe are creatures of design and purpose. And creation is shot full of elegant purposefulness. Consider the compass. A hiker can carry with him a device that always points true north. There is this kind of reliability in nature. It is true in life’s circumstances, as well. Just remember, the compass you need to carry is already, inside you. There is an internal sense of direction that will not fail you, if you learn to heed its pointing.

    inner compass

     So there you have it! Zanshin is not only a critical component in the mind and training of every good martial artist. It is also the bedrock mentality of anyone who would have perpetual success in the whole picture of life.       Here’s hoping that you discover your own powerful hunches, instincts and intuition. And that having made the discovery, you train to let this state of Zanshin, readiness be with you continually. As you are loose and ready to proactively respond to the ever changing situations around you, both in karate and in life; you will find greater power to perform. You will discover more explosive karate techniques and how to make your life dreams come true.

Here are some hints on how to work on Zanshin in your martial arts training:

1- After you have practiced a technique, stop a moment and feel what you feel. Detect if there is a readiness moment, when your senses tell you that you can launch your most powerful follow up.

2- Practice tightening and loosening deliberately. Make sure you are completely focused when you strike. And completely relaxed, when you are between techniques.

3- Learn that the body will move faster than the mind. Do not let conscious thought slow you down. Let go. Let it flow. Let it rip. Let it zip. You may have speed you never dreamed when you move from your Zanshin moment.

4- Practice doing the same technique repeatedly, over and over. Mark the technique when you feel more efficiency, speed and power. Give your self an atta boy or girl, and make that the new benchmark.

5- Have a period of time when you do your techniques meditatively, letting your best state of mind follow through into your execution.

6- Improve your Bunkai (idea behind) the technique your are practicing. Your readiness hunch will flow more freely, as you increase your understanding of the technique and all of its possible objectives and purposes.

7- Practice explosiveness. Don’t just move. Blast forth. Be like a rubber band, when it is let go. Let your built up kinetic energy snap, into the initiation of your technique.


aka “Sensei Tim”

About timothygrantcarter

Author, Trainer, Pastor, Spiritual Coach, Inspirational Speaker, 12 step follower Thinker, Entrepreneur, Outdoorsman, Hunter, Fisherman, Gardener, and Shotokan YonDan (5th degree black belt). Visionary; Maker of original sayings, slogans and giver of spiritual help. "If God has a pulse, then I can feel it." Nicknamed "Slam" / Creator of #Slamism ... 's on Twitter @cccdynapro
This entry was posted in Face Page, Karate & Athletics, Slamism, Strictly karate and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s