Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

States Of Mind: Heijoshin

Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis

This one is for Scott Halls.

From the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary
へいじょうしん【平常心】 (heijshin)one's usual frame of mind; self-possession; composure; equanimity; an imperturbable [unperturbed] (frame of) mind.平常心保つ remain self-possessed [unperturbed]; preserve one's composure [equanimity];  keep one's cool平常心を失う lose one's composure [equanimity,  cool].
Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts   pg. 143
  1. BUDDHISM - an impartial mind and, by extension, a tranquil mind. Literally, a “normal” mind.  2. MARTIAL ARTS - The normal or tranquil state of mind which must be maintained when one is under attack. In other words, one must remain relaxed and self-confident.

Digital Dictionary Of Buddhism
The mind lacking artifice and mistaken discrimination, the natural condition of sentient beings

Heijoshin 平常心 can be a tough term to understand because it is often hidden behind complex Buddhist explanations.  The term is made up of 3 Chinese characters, but is really a combination of two words. The first two characters combine to make the common term “heijo” 平常, which simply means “normal.”  The last character is read “shin’ in this usage, but when it stands alone is read “kokoro” , which is the word for the mind, including the emotions and other parts that are usually labeled as “heart” in English.  The Japanese don’t make the mistake of separating the logical and emotional parts of the mind into separate entities.  They recognized long ago that the mind is all of the logical and rational bits mixed up with the emotional bits, rather like a plate of spaghetti with sauce on it after the noodles and sauce have been stirred together.  They can’t be separated.  It would be pointless to try.

In Buddhist terms it is the normal mind without any attachments clouding it. However, since this blog is about budo rather than Buddhism, we’re not going to get into that.  For me, heijoshin is something of a culmination of some of mental states I’ve talked about in the past. Mushin is often seen as limited, a state of mental flow that can be achieved from time to time, but doesn’t last, and certainly isn’t normal.

Fudoshin, the immovable, imperturbable mind described so eloquently and bafflingly by the Zen Buddhist monk Takuan Soho isn’t as remote and ephemeral as some flow state that we touch from time to time. An immovable mind isn’t disturbed by what happens, doesn’t get stuck on any one thing that comes along, and isn’t distracted by every shiny new idea or event.  
That’s a big part of heijoshin, the normal mind. The normal mind on a normal, boring day can move along with the activity of the day without getting caught up in any of it. Heijoshin includes more than just being imperturbable though. The normal mind in Buddhist theory, as I understand it, is one that also isn’t attached to any preconceptions. It is the normal mind we are born with, one that is not cluttered with preconceived notions, that doesn’t impose it’s own expectations on the world, and one that doesn’t color what it sees with prejudices and prior judgements.

Miyamoto Musashi wrote 常の心 which is often written 平常心in modern Japan (Musashi’s Japanese from the early 1600’s is much more difficult for 21st century Japanese to understand than Shakespeare’s English is for the average American high school student).  His phrase can be read toko no kokoro or tada no kokoro or  tsune no kokoro.  Toku means “constant, unchanging.” Tada is “ordinary, common, usual, unaffected.” Tsune is the “usual state of things.” All these together are are a good equivalent for heijoshin.

Heijoshin is the “normal mind.” Like mushin, the “normal mind” isn’t any more normal than the “no mind” of mushin is really the absence of the mind. In budo, heijoshin is the fully developed mind that isn’t disturbed or unbalanced by actions or events. It remains calm and unruffled regardless of what happens.  I don’t know about anyone else, but to me that is a very abnormal mind. All of the normal minds around me (and too frequently this includes mine) get upset and disturbed by the unexpected.
Heijoshin then, is a very unusual mind. A person with heijoshin mind maintains the same calm, balanced and unruffled manner regardless of whether she is slicing up vegetables with a knife or cutting down foes with a sword. It takes a well trained and highly experienced mind to maintain a calm and unruffled condition even in the heat of battle.

This is where all that training we do comes into play. It’s common to hear people criticize kata practice for being stiff and formal, and especially for not teaching people how to adjust and adapt to the unexpected. On the contrary, I’ve found kata training to be exceptionally good at developing students awareness, calmness and mental flexibility.  Precisely because so many factors are known in kata practice, students have the mental space to really learn to read their partner’s body and movements and learn to spontaneously adjust to differences in timing and spacing.

In koryu, you don’t get to be on the receiving end of the kata until you have significant experience on the doing side learning to read your partner.  This is important, because once you are on the receiving end of the kata working with beginners, anything can happen. Beginners mix up kata and do the unexpected with great frequency. Having a solid grounding in being able to read your partner’s stance and movement is the first step in developing a heijoshin mind. The senior is responsible for handling whatever the junior does, and quickly learns to do this causally. It’s just part of the training.

As the intensity of practice in kata increases, the student has to become more and more calm in the face of that pressure. Developing a heijoshin mind is one of the goals of classical budo practice. There are lots of stress and shocks built into budo practice. Over time, the student should gain greater and greater composure and equanimity. Certainly it is not unusual to see senior level students deal with a junior mistakenly switching from one kata to another part way through the first kata. Or getting accidentally banged with a stick during practice without acknowledging that anything untoward or painful happened until after the kata is finished.
Great Martial Arts Equipment, Clothing and Media

That is heijoshin in action. Even when startled, shocked or hurt, the student maintains composure and continues on with the appropriate action.  As students progress, the amount stress needed to disturb their heijoshin increases. Students are able to remain calm and unflustered.

In addition, students learn to recognize when they are trying to impose their preconceptions and expectations on a situation. This often happens when students decide when or how fast their partner will attack and then move at the wrong time. They have to learn to turn off their expectations and just respond to what their partner is really doing. Sometime these lessons hurt because if you decide what your partner is going to do, and she does something different, you end up catching a stick with the side of your head (this hurts and is to be avoided.  I have some experience with this form of learning).

Calm. Imperturbable. Relaxed. Without expectations. Tranquil. The Buddhists call this heijoshin, normal mind. For the rest of us it is an exceptional mind, and another goal of training.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

States Of Mind: Fudoshin

A while back I wrote about mushin 無心, usually translated as “no mind” in English.  It’s an aspect of the mental development we strive for in budo.  Another aspect is fudoshin 不動心, which is usually translated as something like “immovable mind.”  It’s quite a concept, and the main source for most of us who are not Japanese is a letter from the Rinzai Zen monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645) to the sword master and daimyo (regional lord) Yagyu Munenori. The letter is known as the Fudochi Shinmyoroku 不動智神妙録, and a convenient version of it with the original 17th century Japanese and modern Japanese side-by-side can be found here. I used a copy of the translations by William Scott Wilson in the volume THE UNFETTERED MIND as the source for English translation.

The budo community has adopted the term quite strongly, but reading the actual letter reminds you that this was not a conversation between two martial artists.  Though the main portion of the letter deals with the concept of fudoshin, Takuan is giving a lesson in the value of the Buddhist teaching regarding fudoshin, and not in how to do martial arts. The letter even includes a section where Takuan is remonstrating Yagyu Munenori for being proud of his ability as a dancer and Noh performer.  For all that, what Takuan has to say about fudoshin is certainly of value to those of us who study budo. He took the term fudo, from the name of one of the Bodhisattva, Fudomyo,不動明王, literally “immovable wisdom lord”.  Lucky for budoka this bodhisattva is a fierce warrior bearing a sword for cutting through ignorance and rope for binding demons, and not a merciful, gentle bodhisattva like Kannon.

Fudomyo-o. Photo Copyright Grigoris Miliaresis 2015

Takuan was a Zen Buddhist monk, so of course he had to speak in seeming contradictions.  Early in the letter he says

Although wisdom is called immovable, this does not signify any insentient thing, like wood or stone. It moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.

 A mind that moves as it is wont, and “that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.”  Takuan comes from Rinzai Zen, a sect that loves koan, and this feels a lot like a koan.  It’s not, though you have to do a lot of thinking and reading of the letter to get it.  Clearly, given that he say “the mind that does not stop,” Takuan is not talking about sticking your mind on one thing and making it unmoving, even if he does call it  “immovable wisdom.” So what on earth makes it immovable?

When I read it in Japanese, immovable wisdom, or fudochi is written 不動智, which is far too close to the word for real estate,  fudosan不動産 for me to easily separate the two  Real estate implies something that not only doesn’t move, but something that can’t be moved by human power.  I got stuck on the immovable part, and had trouble grasping “the mind that does not stop at all” portion. Without both though, you can’t really grasp fudoshin.

The mind of the common man sees something and stops on whatever catches his mind’s attention. Even in English we use use words that point up this condition.  We say that something “catches our attention.” If our mind is caught, it stops.  If our mind stops on something, it is caught. Takuan uses the example of looking at the leaves of a tree to describe the effect.

“When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.”

For the budoka, this is critical. Takuan goes on for quite a while about the mind getting stuck in different things; in our hand, our sword, the opponents sword, even which attack we want to use.

If our mind can get stuck, it’s not immovable. It still seems like a contradiction. This contradiction goes away when we give up the association of unmoving with immovable. If you walk up to an M1 Abrams Battle Tank, you aren’t going to be able to move it with your body.  For you, it is immovable. But the tank itself is amazingly mobile and agile.  Immovable is not unmoving.

We don’t want our mind to be caught by any particular thing.  With mushin, we are not imposing our ideas and preconceptions on the world. Fudoshin goes beyond that. With fudoshin you are not imposing your preconceptions and assumptions on the world, as that would be one trap where your mind got stuck on something from within you. Beyond that, your mind cannot be captured by what your opponent implies, suggests, feints or does. Takuan puts it “Glancing at something and not stopping the mind is called immovable.”

Takuan Soho's Grave in Tokyo. Photo Copyright Girgoris Miliaresis 2015

You can see something your opponent does, but you’re not trapped by it. If she moves her sword, you see movement, but you don’t get caught by it and miss how she changes her footwork. You see her move to your left, but you don’t become fixated on trying to figure out what the move means.  You accept it and move on.  Your opponent cannot catch your mind and fix it in one place. Your opponent cannot move your mind.

Your mind is moving, but immovable. In kata training, even in Aikido (all those prescribed attack and response drills are kata. Really.), there are many places where the action can branch in any of several directions. If you are fixated on one, perhaps the primary action of the kata, you can get walloped by one of the other branches. This is a particular trap in any sort of training drill, whether you call it a kata or not.

It’s a prescribed drill.  You and your partner both know what you are supposed to do, and you do it. Simple. A very simple trap. Your mind gets caught on what is supposed to happen. Then your partner does something easily imaginable but not what they are “supposed” to do, and you get walloped with the floor, or a stick up side the head, or some other equally unpleasant result. One example is a common Aikido technique, iriminage. There is a point where uke is directed down towards the floor. In the drill, uke stands back up instead of staying down, and is then thrown when they rise. What if uke doesn’t stand up? What if uke scoops nage’s leg as she is going down and throws you? This option can be blocked, but you have to be aware that it exists and not get stuck on what is supposed to happen. In kenjutsu, there are plenty of feints and movements to draw your partner off balance. Koryu arts are filled with startling kiai, stomps, and motions whose main purpose is to move your mind away from the real attack and fix it on something unimportant.

If your opponent can move your mind, you have lost before she is close enough to do anything to you. This is what you want to avoid.  It’s not enough to master mushin. Mushin is only part of  the mental battle. With mushin, you aren’t trying to force your preconceptions on the situation. Mushin doesn’t stop your foe from trapping your mind with her tricks and subtle distractions from the real threat though  You want to be immune to traps that will catch your mind and stick it in one place, making you vulnerable from every other angle.

If you are doing that iriminage mentioned above, you have to do the technique, but you can’t focus on it. You have to let your mind move along each of the options for uke, and negate them. You can’t get stuck on any one of them though.  For your mind to stop moving at any point is to lose because at the next branching uke can reverse the situation and attack you at a point you aren’t defending.  

My Shinto Muso Ryu teacher is brilliant at trapping my mind. He can change his stance, or adjust his balance or take an unusual breath and pull me into that action, then he attacks whatever point is open because my mind is fixed in a place of his choosing. I’m getting better. He used to trap my mind every time. I don’t know what the percentage is down to, but every once in a while I finish a kata with him and realize that I didn’t get caught by something he did. I’m making progress.

Mastery of your mind is a journey, just like everything else in budo. It is after all, bu-do 武道, martial way. We don’t get there all at once.  First we learn some physical movements, then we start adding in mushin when we can manage it, and later we begin to learn to let our mind float free in a state of fudoshin. Neither bound by our own intent, nor caught by our foe’s, our mind floats here and there, in our hands, at our sword, at our enemy’s eyes, and then upon their sword, at their feet, then back to our feet or arms or weapons. Never stopping, never caught, always moving to be aware of everything without fixating on anything. Fudoshin doesn’t happen instantly, but with plenty of mindful practice, it will grow and you will relax. Instead of being tight because your mind is focused on your legs and how you hold the sword, you’ll be loose and aware of how your opponent holds her sword, how she stands and how she moves, adjusting your sword and your stance and your position naturally without focusing on what you are doing, and without focusing on what she is doing.

Takuan said “Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well.” That is fudoshin.

The Story Of Keiko Fukudo, Judo's Only Woman 10th Dan
Mrs. Judo: The Story Of Judo's Only Woman 10th Dan

Friday, September 12, 2014

Awareness, Zanshin, or just plain Paying Attention

Awareness makes budo work. Without it, it doesn’t matter how good  your maegeri or your uchimata is.  You’re going to get clocked before you can use is. Being aware tells us what’s going on and what to be prepared for so we can deal with it when it arrives.  It’s so important I considered including it as one of the fundamental principles of Budo.  I didn’t because it is a skill built on and with the principles I discussed in earlier posts (Structure, Spacing and Timing).  Without an understanding of those, awareness can’t happen. WIthout awareness though, you’ll never get to use the skills you’ve spent so much time developing.

Awareness is a combination of the knowledge of structure, spacing and timing combined with being cognizant of the world you are moving in. If you don’t understand structure, spacing and timing, it really won’t matter how much you pay attention to the people and things around you, because you won’t be able to interpret what you see. If you understand these things, but don’t pay any attention to what you are seeing and don’t apply your understanding to the world, it won’t matter what you’ve learned because you aren’t using it.

A lot of people talk about being aware of the world around us, but what are we looking at and why are we looking at it?  Just being aware of what’s going on around you is useless if you don’t have a framework with which to evaluate what you are seeing.  Understanding your own structure lets you see what’s going on in others' structures. Understanding spacing tells you not just what is good spacing for you, but what is good for someone else. Knowing when the timing is right and wrong for you to act enables you to understand those moments when you are vulnerable to someone else.

When I was first learning the kata Seigan from the Kendo Federation Seitei Jodo set, my teacher explained that shitachi (the sword side) and shijo (the jo side) should begin moving towards each other simultaneously.  I thought he was a little bit crazy.  How was I going to be able to see exactly when shitachi would move?  I watched senior people do the kata, sure enough, they did move together. I was sure they were signalling each other somehow.  How else could you know exactly when to move together?

As I practiced with Kohashi Sensei week after week though, I began to recognize subtle changes in her body that would happen just before she stepped off.  They weren’t big changes by any means, but I could see that her balance changed just slightly as she prepared to move and so I could match her starting movement with my own. It seems pretty obvious now what I’m looking at, but it took time to develop an understanding of structure and movement.  At first I just “knew” that shitachi was going to move, but I couldn’t have told how I knew.  Now I can talk about things like a slight change in the relationship between shoulders, hips and feet.  I can see that shitachi has shifted her balance forward just enough that her leg muscles have to work to hold her from moving forward.  Her center of gravity has shifted just a slight bit in front of her feet.  

Now I don’t just “know” when shitachi will move, I know why I know and know what is happening with shitachi, and I can apply that knowledge to other kata and situations. As I develop my understanding of what is useful and effective structure, I understand more about what my partners are doing, what they can do, and what they can’t do from moment to moment. All those lessons about how to stand upright and balanced, and how to carry your weight so you can move immediately inform everything I see now.  I can see when a partner isn’t loading her weight correctly.  I understand that if my partner is slouching, she can’t breath properly, so she’ll get tired quickly.  I can see when she is ready to attack or if her balance has shifted back.  

Spacing, ma’ai 間合, is another aspect of awareness. We’re all aware of it when someone stands too close to us in public. We feel uncomfortable. We might even be aware that we feel uncomfortable because someone is too close. As we develop an understanding of ma’ai and get comfortable with our budo though, this changes. I’m an old judoka. It didn’t take too much Judo practice to change my sense of what was too close for comfort. After doing Judo for a while, you could be leaning on me and it still wouldn’t bother me.  

In Judo, we spend a lot of time training standing techniques while holding on to our partner. This is awfully close. Then when we hit the mat, we’re glued to each other, rolling around with our bodies stuck together as we fight to pin, choke or armlock our friends and partners. As we get more and more at home with this much body-to-body contact we stop feeling like people stand too close in other situations as well. After all, I can’t throw or choke you until you get close.  

This is not necessarily a good thing (though it does tend to unnerve jerks who like to intimidate people by standing too close because judoka just relax at that range, since you’ve moved into our attacking comfort zone). Being aware of spacing means adjusting what are safe, dangerous and active distances based on a host of different factors. In kata and sparring, good ma’ai is one you can attack effectively from while your partner cannot.  A lot depends then on the partner. How tall are they? How long is their reach? What kind of weapon are they using? Long sword? Short sword? Staff? Jutte? Something else?

Being a judoka who is comfortable even when people are touching you doesn’t make you aware. Being aware means understanding how quickly someone can cover the distance between you and her. This is more complex than being aware of structure, because how someone is standing influences it. Are they facing you square on? Have they turned to the side (hanmi)? Where is their balance placed on their feet?  Is their balance divided between their feet, or over just one foot? These all change how quickly a person can cover the distance to you. If her weight is divided between her feet, you partner has to first shift her weight to one driving leg before she can go smoothly. If her weight is settled on just one foot though, and that leg is not straight, she can start moving by simply pushing with that leg.  

Being aware of the spacing and the quality of the space takes time to develop and it’s an awareness that is difficult to deploy. As I was learning what is a safe spacing, I got caught more than a couple of times by teachers when I thought I had plenty of space, and they kindly laid a bokuto or jo on my head before I could react. They understood the spacing beautifully, and they were kind enough not to raise a bruise as reminder of how much I had to learn. With practice this understanding can become highly refined. I’ve seen weapons pass within a centimeter or less of experienced swordsmen who didn’t even blink. They understood the spacing so finely that they could see that the weapon wouldn’t touch them.

Once you can read spacing well, then you can really be aware of it. Until you understand it and can read it though, you can’t really be aware of it.  Once you become aware of it, then you can start manipulating the spacing, but that will have to be another post.

Each of these elements in awareness is progressively more difficult to describe.  Structure is relatively easy to describe. Spacing can be awkward because good spacing, safe spacing, vulnerable spacing and every other kind of spacing are not fixed quantities.  You can’t say “if someone is 5 feet or 10 feet or 15 feet away, you’re safe.  It depends on how fast they are, how prepared you are to move and what kind of weapon they might have.  When you start working with weapons, you spend a period of time getting hit when you think you are safe because you don’t yet understand the ma’ai of weapons and how fast someone can enter.  Just having someone describe it for you is not sufficient to understand or learn ma’ai.

Timing is even more difficult to put into words, though I keep trying.  Knowing when structure and spacing come together to make someone, including yourself, vulnerable is when you begin to understand timing. You can see when someone’s shifting their balance, or better still, when they are preparing to shift their balance, and act in that moment when they are committed to action in one direction. At that moment your partner cannot respond to you. They have to finish their first action before they can respond.

Good timing is about sensing those moments. You can’t really develop it until you understand structure and spacing. Once you have those mastered, you can develop an understanding of timing because you can see how they come together.  Timing is about being there when spacing and structure intersect in a way that is good for you and bad for your partner. Sometimes you have to set it up, as when judoka will give their partner a little push to solicit a reaction.  Better is when you can sense your partner’s movement and work with it.

Sense her attack and cut through her sword. Draw her out and cut into the opening left after her sword has passed through. Fill the space as your partner retreats so there is no opening for her to return to. Each of these things is about seeing when and how your partner can attack and then using that knowledge.

When you get to this level, then you have a framework with which you can evaluate and make use of the information your senses provide. In the dojo, understanding structure and spacing and how they go together to create optimal moments for attack is what we train for. Outside the dojo, knowing how to read someone’s structure to know how they intend to move, if they are tense or angry or relaxed or concealing something is an application of the same knowledge. Knowing when you are vulnerable or when someone has changed their spacing to make it possible for them to attack is something that can be used inside and outside the dojo.

It’s not enough to say, “Awareness is important.” or “Maintain zanshin.”  You have to know what you’re being aware of.  You need to know what to look for when you maintain zanshin and keep your mind on the job at hand and don’t relax. That only comes from mastering the essential lessons of structure, spacing and timing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A little more on awareness

On aspect of the awareness and mindfulness I was talking about in my last post in mentioned and described in Natalie Coughlin in this piece.  Training Insights from Star Athletes

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.