Martial arts: Zanshin - All a question of mindset

Zanshin - Mindset

Just about everyone who is involved with karate or other budo/ martial arts knows this term: Zanshin! In the dojo sensei or trainers preach it up and down. Zanshin is something you have to have, especially in Kumite (free fight), but also in Kihon, Kata (form and especially in the belt examinations.

But what does that mean? What is Zanshin? Why is it so important? And is Zanshin needed in popular sports? Questions upon questions, but let me anticipate the latter at this point: YES! 😉 Because this article will deal especially with the question how to combine the Budo mentality and the inner attitude towards martial arts with mass sports.

Zanshin - What does that mean?

Zanshin - MindsetZanshin means translated as "balanced mind" or also "lasting mind". Zanshin refers to a physical and mental state of increased vigilance, attentiveness, attention and concentration not only, but especially in combat situations even after an attack has taken place.

According to Far Eastern traditions, Zanshin describes, among other things, an open state of mind, without aggression or intention, free of fear, leaving all options open, even your own death.

I would say that very few ( thankfully ) have ever been in a situation where you had to fight for life and death, or started karate training for that very reason. This is also the reason why I think that the interpretation of Zanshin today is a little different than it was then. Whether this is good or bad, it remains to be seen.

Oshima/Ando: Kendo, 1998, ISBN 3878920377

Zanshin - in mass sports - Karate

kraken.jpgThe following is a list of some examples, especially of karate as a popular sport. I would like to give some food for thought on how Zanshin can be interpreted and implemented in daily/weekly karate training.

Although most of these points should be known and taken for granted by everyone, it can't hurt to do them again consciously.

Note: I make no claim to completeness or accuracy 😉

1. Concentration / attitude

Already with the salutation or the mokuso (calm thinking) at the beginning of the karate lesson, one should turn on an inner switch and leave the everyday life behind, and only concentrate fully on the karate training. Everything else (work, problems, obligations, etc.), should not play any role for the duration of the training.

Conversations and other distractions should be avoided, especially during an exercise or when the trainer is explaining something or assisting another Karateka.

2. Control / Mindfulness

Everything you do, every exercise, every technique, every training on your partner should be done with absolute control. Especially beginners tend to want to make up for missing technique with strength. Nobody wants injuries on the partner or oneself due to negligent actions. So rather shift down 1 or 2 gears and do the exercises more slowly until it works.

3. self-confidence / self-assurance

Self-confidence and self-assurance should be visible over time. For example, if you have trained a kata for months for the next kyu. / belt examination, and you "can" do it, you should show that. To stroll forward shyly and before the beginning of the kata, to beep its name into the room is not enough.

An upright posture, a certain announcement and of course having fun will help. And even if you make a mistake in the kata, it should be finished with the same determination with which it was started. Just don't give up in the middle of the kata and sneak off the floor!

4. fighting spirit / will

Even if it becomes strenuous and sweaty, giving up is not an option. Everybody should give as good as he can and within his possibilities always give everything. No matter if in Kihon, Kata or Kumite. The will to achieve something should also be present in mass sports!

Conclusion - Zanshin and attitude

In principle, none of the points listed excludes the other and merge seamlessly with each other. It is the overall package that matters. Of course, these are only some aspects and examples of how Zanshin, martial arts and popular sports fit together, but I think martial sports has its right to exist alongside martial arts.

kraken l.jpg

However, I am firmly convinced that a certain schlendrian (a german word for doing things not with best quality, no motiviation, ...) has no place in mass sports / popular karate. The inner attitude to karate must be right, regardless of physical conditions and possibilities. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide how he sees karate for himself, what it brings him, and how much he wants to invest in Karate-Do...

Author: Sascha from

Author: Sascha

Some words about myself. My name is Sascha - i'm a software developer, trader and martial artist from germany. Besides programming, trading and martial arts some of my interests and hobbies are cooking, fitness and hearing loud heavy metal music. :D

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