View Full Version : Zanshin.......

27th November 2000, 07:42
Good day and how do ladies and gentlemen. Just recently I've decided to make my first training pilgramige to Japan to train. Feeling slightly apprehensive about the impending trip, I asked my senpai and good friend of many years what my biggest failing is in bujutsu, hoping to improve on it before I left. The answer.....Zanshin. I was hoping it was a technically bad habit that could be broken with a little bit of work. The answer being what it was, I have a lot of work to do and a lot of philosophising (I hope I spelled that right) in my immediate future. Unfortunately, there's not much in the english language that can easliy quantify Zanshin, so basically I'm left with a concept that I have very little understanding of beyond the bare bones deadened english translation. So, what is Zanshin to you? How do you approach it personally and does your art have a slightly different slant on it than most others? Do one of the 'Koryu snobs' have any pearls of wisdom for an aspiring 'snob'? Can anybody recommend good literature that I can gripple with for six months or so before I go?
Thanks in advance for your time, I'm anticipating long replies.
P.S.:Please don't say the force!

Neil Hawkins
27th November 2000, 09:58
Zanshin is an extremely complex concept, that I fail to exhibit continuously. I can't adequately describe it so to start the discussion here's some clues from two top notch budoka:

Zanshin, the “spirit that lingers on,” is an inevitable characteristic of the more experienced bugeisha. He exhibits it in the most chaotic moments of battle as well as in the periods of his life that are perfectly peaceful.

The concept of Zanshin is a complex one, integrating physical presence, technical skill, and emotional attitude. Vigilant calm. Action in repose. Mentally, Zanshin is the quality of diffusion, a steadfast awareness of all that transpires without focusing on, and so being distracted by, any one phenomenon. Bodily, Zanshin is expressed through a posture that is relaxed yet resonant with potential power. When an accomplished bugeisha moves decisively, his technique appears to vibrate past the conclusion of the action. Facing multiple opponents, his concentration is never arrested by one of the many. Both these occurrences reveal a state of advanced Zanshin.

The beginner is apt to mistake a fierce grimace and a stance of rigid aggression for Zanshin. But such artifice is only a charicature that cannot be maintained for very long. It is too exhausting an effort, and in misses the point. True Zanshin developed over a lengthy period of rigorous training, is never so concentrated a force. It is not a tsunami, a single wave expended at one place in one moment and then gone. Zanshin is like a great ocean, bottomless and alive with latent, surging energy. Like the rhythmic pounding of its surf, the force of Zanshin lingers on.

From The Sword and the Brush by Dave Lowry

Dave's poetic words are good, but Pascal Krieger thinks there's more to it...

(State of Awareness)

It is not easy to translate Zanshin. Literally, Zan: leave, left behind; Shin: mind. Not much help there! But if this concept is so indefinable, it is because it embraces many others, which will be treated separately. Let’s then acknowledge that these few lines on Zanshin form an introduction encompassing the elementary concepts of Metsuke, Shisei, Ma-ai, Kiai, Kime, Ri-ai, as well as the more general concepts such as Fudōshin, Kan-ken, Muga-mushin, etc.

The concept of Zanshin is handed down in two stages. At the first stage, the beginner, completely unaware of what this concept might contain, will have to be content with copying only the external aspect. Attention concentrated on the opponent’s eyes, body position should be straight and firm (but allowing rapid displacements), and there should be meticulous observance of distances – always just out of range. Energetic Kiai, a good control of the movements and proper timing add the final touch to the overall picture of Zanshin. I have simply portrayed the important points of Zanshin, but I would add that from it should emanate a feeling of powerful bearing and strong presence.

But this is only an image. If it does not reflect an inner Zanshin, a Zanshin much deeper, more real, then it is only a mock Zanshin – forms and figures lacking true meaning. The second stage consists of giving a deeper dimension to these right movements and correct attitudes, a much more arduous task than the first stage. It is a process of elimination, until one attains total inner emptiness. One can be completely receptive only when one is devoid of all subjective emotion. Alertness is not the same as a state in which worry, fear, anxiety and nerves rule. Neither is it a state of overwhelming calmness. If an attempt at defining Zanshin is to be advanced, it is the attitude of someone whose physique is in a latent state of alert and whose mind is totally emptied, and is hence receptive to the most subtle signal.

Zanshin in its pure form is a state of grace where one feels totally ready. This is one of the most amazing experiences felt by a Budō trainee. From an undefinable vibratory phenomenon, Zanshin then becomes a practical reality. The concept of Zanshin is developed very early and throughout all stages in the study of Shindō Musō Ryū. From the first Kata onwards, an extreme alertness is required of the beginner. Unaccustomed to this effort, he will sometimes experience a seemingly unbearable strain.

Moreover, it is quite interesting to watch people go about their everyday activities to realize just how much our civilisation lacks Zanshin. To stand behind a door that might suddenly open at any moment, tripping over an obstacle, grabbing a hot plan, bumping one’s head when getting up, shoving back when being shoved, plus all the countless oversights of day-to-day living: keys left inside the car, mislaying valuable objects, etc. It is all typical of a cluttered mind, a sensitivity lacking in the body.

The notion of Zanshin, developed to a high level, will not fail to have very positive consequences on one’s everyday activities.

From Jodo: The Way of the Stick, by Pascal Krieger.

I like to think of it as total preparedness, a mental and physical readiness. The calmness (or lack of tension) one should exhibit comes from the acceptance of the outcome, one cannot prepare totally without acceptance.



28th November 2000, 02:12
Hi Sheridan,
Neil gave you lots of good material to work with. I'd like to add my two cents. I asked about this one in the sword forum some time back, specifically because that was the context I wanted to address. Unfortunately it got moved to the philosophy forum and died. Hope you have better luck.
I would think how you express zanshin would depend on your art. Overall, it is situational awareness, primarily readiness for the next possible attack. There are numerous approaches and interpretations, but in sword arts it would be seen by an observer as calmly holding a stance after a technique or form is completed, control of your sword, no extraneous movement, yet with 'open senses', ready to burst into motion if needed. Control and readiness. My sensei liked the phrase 'calm within the storm, storm within the calm.' That can apply to many things, but works for me for zanshin.
I am also interested in seeing other interpretations or views from various styles. Would also like to hear more about your pilgrimage, where and with whom, what style or art.

Earl Hartman
28th November 2000, 03:06
These replies are all very good, of course, and they come from the most impeccable sources, so I hope that nothing I say can be taken to contradict them.

One thing, though, is that zanshin can be written either as "reamining mind" or "remaining body". Thus, zanshin refers to the mental, spiritual, psychological and physical condition of the person. Normally, and most prosaically, it refers to the posture, both mental and physical, of a person after he/she has "completed" a technique, such as a cut or thrust. I put "completed" in quotes because the idea of a "completed" technique is a trap; often, it is precisely the idea that something has been completed that casues a person to drop his guard and leave himself vulnerable.

In a practical sense, then, zanshin is the state of never dropping your guard and leaving yourself open to attack. By this I do not mean that one should be always in a state of mental tension, always fearing an attack and jumping at the slightest sound or movement; rather, I mean that one's physical and mental state must be such that any attack, of any kind or from any quarter, can always be successfully dealt with. Zanshin thus can be seen as a constant state of awareness/readiness.

I do not know what art(s) you practice, but this was brought home very forcefully to me in my kendo practice: one false move or sray thought, and POW! I was looking sideways through my men or chasing after my shinai as it went spinning across the room.

Good luck.

2nd December 2000, 22:17
This thread is loaded with genuinely great advice, to it I would only add this. If you have not read "Zen and Japanese Culture" By D.T.Suzuki, be sure to do so. Then read "Secrets of the Samurai" by Ratti/Westbrook. Since you will be living in a foreign country, and I do mean foreign. Be prepared for heart rending culture shock. I lived in the North of Tohoku for three years, and my experiences haunt me to this day. It was that great! I had no idea what budo really was when I got to meet the master of all budo at his tiny school full of devoted students. He had instructed ever major Japanese movie star and martial artist known in his day, but he was consumately humble and shy. What a great old man. He could use a manriki gusari with such skill it was disturbing. I saw him throw one center punch and it redefined how I used mine from then on. Simply amazing. Anyway, you will see similar things I am sure of that, but be prepared for the culture shock, the language, and being unable to read anything you see. You learn to appreciate form and beauty every time you look at a line of store signs. Be sure to read a few books on the People, I can recommend a humorous one, it's called Nihonsense and another is Exploring Tohoku. I can't stress enough how important it is to know how to behave there.
Finally, the state of mind you seek cannot be found through explanation, it will be found in the doing. In the small moments when you stop seeking it and just are. You will find it.
Total exhaustion and ardent training will reveal zanshin, from then on you will come to it easily.
When I say ardent I mean it, if you have not trained until you drop from pure exhaustion on a daily basis, don't expect the martial arts to give anything back beyond physical gains in abiltiy.
Once you have trained this way, you will never be the same.
Good luck, I hope you find what you seek.