Showing posts with label 残心、mindfulness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 残心、mindfulness. Show all posts

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Staying Aware: Zanshin

気 を付ける、残心、中心する、意識, 無心、ki wo tsukeru, zanshin, chushin suru, ishiki, mushin, paying attention, staying alert, being focused、awareness.

These are terms that everyone has come across in budo training.  Some, like ki wo tsukeru and zanshin are heard regularly, others aren’t heard as often but are just as important.  Budo is all about physical technique though, so why should we spend our time on mental areas like these?  Physical technique is great, but it is the mind that is the true weapon and how we train that is even more important than how we train the body.

Many of the things that change average technique to great technique are not technical.  They are mental.  Doing things like controlling timing and spacing begin with mental awareness and focus.  I don’t care how good your technique is, if your timing or spacing are off, the technique is worthless.  Understanding timing and spacing is mental.  It’s about awareness and focus.  This is where practice gets interesting.  Learning another armbar variation, or another way to do kiriorshi frankly doesn’t teach you very much that can be applied anywhere except in the very closely defined realm in which it is learned.

Learning to let go of all the stuff cluttering up your mind so you can pay attention, stay alert, be focused and aware of the world is tough stuff.  I’m still learning how to do it.  One of the nice things about budo practice is that the correction is usually really fast when you lose focus and let your alertness, your awareness, go.  I’ve gotten hit in the head more than once because I wasn’t paying proper attention.  The physical practices should lead us into the mental ones.  

In budo we often talk about zanshin 残心 and mushin 無心。  You’ll notice that the last character is the same in both words.  It means heart/mind and represents “the psyche; the mind; the emotions” (definition form the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary).  In zanshin, the first character is for something that remains, that is left, that stays.  The idea is one of staying aware, staying alert, your mind remaining on the situation at hand.  In koryu bugei, as well as in kendo and many other modern budo styles, the idea is that the kata doesn’t end when the action ends.  

You have to stay aware and focused even after the fight is finished.  Even though you have ostensibly won, you can’t just relax and let  your focus go rushing away.  The action might not be over yet.  What if your adversary has friends who come along suddenly?  Or what if the adversary isn’t quite finished? If  you just relax, drop your guard and start thinking about how glad you are that the fight is over, you will be surprised by anything that comes next.  The Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu kata called Yaegaki is a great example.  The kata assumes an adversary directly in front of you.  Once she has been dispatched, you start to sheath your sword.  When it’s almost all the way back in the saya, the adversary rallies to take a swing at your leg.  If you have relaxed, you won’t be able to respond in time to save your leg.  If you are still aware, if you are practicing zanshin, you can.  

All koryu bugei kata that I am aware of require that the student practice maintaining awareness, zanshin, even when the action is over.

Really though, the training is to be aware from well before the action starts.  In kneeling kata like Yaegaki or the much less complicated Mae, the kata doesn’t begin when the action starts.  It begins at the moment you start to kneel.  In paired kata, such as in  kenjutsu, the kata starts as soon as you bow to your partner, and it doesn’t end until you’ve moved apart and bowed to signal the end.  I have memories nearly as vivid as the bruise I got one day when my attention wandered after the action of a kata was finished and my partner, the instructor, recognized this and caught me in the solar plexus.  I had dropped my attention because we were “done”.  Except that we weren’t.  We were still close enough together to be immediate threats, and I should have been maintaining zanshin.  I wasn’t, it was clear to my partner, and he gave me a gentle reminder.

Zanshin is focused awareness, but it’s not so narrowly focused that you forget about the rest of the world.  You have to be aware of what is around you at the same time that your attention is focused on your adversary.  This is the mental extension of the metsuke that I wrote about previously.  With metsuke, you want to keep you keep focused on your adversary, but you can’t lose your peripheral vision and awareness of your entire opponent.  If you only look at his weapon, you miss what he’s doing with his body.  If you only look at his face, you don’t know what he’s doing with his weapon.  The saying in budo is enzan no metsuke 遠 山の目付, or roughly, “looking at a far mountain”.  The idea is that your gaze is focused on one point, but your peripheral vision is still active and taking in the whole of the scene.  In budo, the idea is that you are focused on your partner but you can still see his entire body and weaponry in your peripheral vision.

This focused awareness, in my experience, is something like this.  Your attention is fully focused on your partner, but you are still aware of your surroundings as well.  In the dojo you don’t want to move into the way of another group who are also training, you don’t want to run into a wall, and you don’t want to hit anyone you aren’t training with at that moment.  I first experienced this type of awareness at judo practice.  During randori (open grappling practice in this case), the mat would be filled with grappling pairs, most standing, and a few on the ground.  I had to be completely focused on what my partner was doing while at the same time being aware of the people around me on the crowded mat.  

At first I had trouble just keeping my attention on my partner. I would drift back into my own mind thinking about what to do and immediately get thrown.  I didn’t have enough awareness to encompass my partner and the rest of the people on the mat.  Fortunately, my partners generally did.  Gradually my ability to focused improved, and then my awareness started to expand.  I learned to be aware of the world around me without taking my attention off of my partner

This is a part of zanshin. You have to maintain your focus on your partner without losing your awareness of the rest of the world.  In solo iai practice, the reasons for this can be made explicit; they adversary may not be finished, or there may be other adversaries still around.  It’s more difficult to model this in paired kata, but the aikido training technique of multiple attacker randori can do a good job of this.  You have to remain aware.  Zanshin.  残心.

This whole line of thought was kicked off by a piece I read in which the author talked about trying to make a list of things to do while she did dusted the dojo.  Since dusting didn’t require her focus or real awareness, she tried to do other things like make to-do lists with her awareness.  One of the long, slow lessons I have taken from studying budo is that whatever I am doing, just do it.  I don’t have enough awareness to spread it out to multiple activities and do any of them well.  The more I practice just doing one thing and being aware of what I am doing, the better I get at it.  

This is a lesson that is not unique to budo, but is fundamental to any of the Ways.  In fact, it’s one that is probably better taught in other Way traditions such as shodo and sado than in budo.  In calligraphy and tea ceremony, the practice of focusing on what your are doing, and only what your are doing, is right out in front.  In budo it’s awfully easy to get tied up in the cool techniques and dealing with an opponent and forget to be focused and aware of what we are doing.  

Zanshin is helpful in just about anything we do, even simple, mundane tasks such as dusting.  I find that the simple tasks get done faster and better when I am mindful of what I am doing.  If I let my mind go flitting wherever it pleases, I miss details of what I’m doing and end of doing a poorer job than I can.  But the other benefit of doing simple tasks mindfully is that I am practicing being mindful and aware of what I am doing.  The more I practice this with simple tasks, the easier it becomes with more difficult, complex tasks (like trying to catch the tsuka of sword while the swordsman is trying to hit me with the sword).  And as I get better at mindful awareness in the dojo, the better I am at applying it throughout the rest of my life.

That’s the thing about training a Way, whether it is budo or sado or shodo or kado or any of the others.  The training is not just about the particular isolated skill of fighting or making tea or writing pretty characters or arranging beautiful flowers.  It’s training for all of life.  In this case, it is training our mind how approach and deal with any task, to be focused and aware of what we are doing, but not so absorbed that we forget the whole world.  We have to remain aware.