What is Mushin? And How to Achieve It?

By Thomas D. McKinnon

What is Mushin?

Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression means, basically, ‘mind without mind’. It refers to the state of ‘no-mindness’. Or the state of mind that is not fixed, not cluttered by thoughts or emotion. Therefore nothing will get in the way of the self as it acts and reacts according to its training and exactitude’s. In combat or in any part of life where much preparation has been undertaken.

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What is Mushin in Practice?

Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego. It applies during combat, and or other facets of life. When mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts. It leaves the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation. He reacts according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your trained, instinctive, subconscious reaction directs you to do.

The Zen Foundation of Shotokan

This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said,

“The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

This documentary about Kendoka Naoki Eiga shows in excellently his way to mushin.

No Doubt, but Belief!

Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative. Belief is the supporter of mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, the enemy of mushin that could cause your downfall. Mushin will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in enough time, training and dedication to dispel any doubts. Because doubt can destroy your mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the backstabber that could get you killed.

Kata and Mushin

Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify. Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without mushin, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practicing kata, practice mushin also.

Keinosuke Enoeda was a master of mushin.

Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to them. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state. All arts can recognize and utilize it: painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and much, much more.

Mushin Means to Trust Yourself and Let it Flow

So, for the advanced karateka, all of the training, all of the drills, and all of the countless repetitions of all the various computations of combinations that the karateka has performed over the months, years and decades are like money in the bank. The more you put in the less you have to worry about. All you have to do is ‘trust’ that you have enough in the bank.

Operating on that level you must be confident that you have done more than enough to be ready for anything that might occur. Having complete trust in your skill-set, you do not have to think about exactly what it is that you will do. You just have to know that you will react to whatever occurs, in the most appropriate way, at that moment of necessity. That is mushin.

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