Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Martial Arts Blog

I have been asked what Senshin means and why I chose it for the name of this blog. Senshin is one of the Five Spirits of Budo. Budo, for those of you that do not know, means the Way of the Warrior. The following information has been borrowed from a post by Dan Penrod, an aikido instructor in the United States. His explanation of the Five Spirits is what inspired me to chose Senshin as the name for this blog.

The Fives Spirits of Budo are:

  • Shoshin: (初心) Beginners’ Mind
  • Zanshin: (残心) Lingering Mind
  • Mushin: (無心) No Mind
  • Fudoshin: (不動心) Immovable Mind
  • Senshin (先心) Purified spirit; Enlightened Attitude

These very old concepts are largely ignored in modern Martial Arts. The student who takes the time to understand these lessons will mature to become a strong and competent martial artist and human being.  The student who does not take the time to know and embrace these lesson will always be lacking in their training and life.

Shoshin

The state of shoshin is that of a beginners mind.  It is a state of awareness the remains always fully conscious, aware, and prepared to see things for the first time.  The attitude of shoshin is essential to continued learning.  O-Sensei once said, “Don’t expect me to teach you.  You must steal the techniques for yourselves.”  The student must play an active role in every class, seeing with a shoshin mind, in order to steal each day’s lesson.

 

Zanshin
The spirit of zanshin is the state of the remaining or lingering spirit.  It is often described as a sustained and heightened state of awareness and mental follow-through.  However, true zanshin is a state of focus or concentration before, during, and after the execution of a technique, where a link or connection between uke and nage is preserved.  Zanshin is the state of mind that allows us to stay spiritually connected, not only to a single attacker, but to multiple attackers and even an entire context; a space, a time, an event.

 

Mushin
The ASU handbook, defines mushin to be “No mind, a mind without ego.  A mind like a mirror which reflects and dos not judge.”  The original term was “mushin no shin”, meaning, “mind of no mind.”  It is a state of mind without fear, anger, or anxiety.  Mushin is sometimes described by the phrase, “mizu no kokoro”, which means, “mind like water”.  The phrase is a metaphor describing the pond that clearly reflects it’s surroundings when calm, but whose images are obscured once a pebble is dropped into its waters.

 

Fudoshin
An unshakable mind and an immovable spirit is the state of fudoshin.  It is courage and stability displayed both mentally and physically.  Rather than indicating rigid, inflexibility, fudoshin describes a condition that is not easily upset by internal thoughts or external forces.  It is capable of receiving a strong attack while retaining composure and balance.  It receives and yields lightly, grounds to the earth, and reflects aggression back to the source.

 

Senshin
Senshin is a spirit that transcends the first four states of mind.  It is a spirit that protects and harmonizes the universe.  Senshin is a spirit of compassion that embraces and serves all humanity and whose function is to reconcile discord in the world.  It holds all life to be sacred.  It is the Buddha mind and O-Sensei’s perception of the function of aikido.

 

Fully embracing senshin is essentially equivalent to becoming enlightened and may well exceed the scope of daily aikido training.  However, the first 4 spirits are probably attainable to any serious student through awareness and hard training.  Embracing these states of mind can reward the student in countless ways.

 

Shoshin can free a student from a frustrating plateau of learning, giving him the sight to see what he would not see before.  Zanshin can raise one’s total awareness enhancing randori and free-style training.  Mushin can release the student’s anxiety under pressure enabling better performance during testing.  Fudoshin, can provide the confidence to stand one’s ground in the face of overwhelming physical attacks.  The serious aikidoka should find ways of incorporating these budo spirits in his daily training.

 

The following is a comment I received on my original blog from Jill Lampi.

I’ve been thinking about how to teach the budo aspect of karate, being a newbie instructor just learning how to deal with the varying needs of the students in the one-room schoolhouse environment.
I can see the benefit of applying the various mental states, but I’m not quite sure how to talk about them and begin to incorporate them into my lessons.
Any suggestions or personal anecdotes you can offer? My classes range from 6 year old white belts with limited attention span through to brown belts of varying ages and attention spans 😉 But mostly youth, below 12 years of age.
Jill

Here is my response.

I would, maybe start by introducing them to the term.

– Start with Shoshin. This is like a little baby when it comes into the World, eyes wide open trying to absorb as much information as they can.

– Zanshin is a state of heightened awareness. I work on this with my students and the younger ones will enjoy this. Get a blindfold and have them do kata blindfolded. Another exercise that we do blindfolded is one in the middle blindfolded. Then have 4 students (not blindfolded) on the outside: One at 12 o’clock(spot 1), one at 3 o’clock(spot 2), one at 6 o’clock(spot 3) and one at 9 o’clock(spot 4). Makes sure everyone in the group knows their number. When you call a number the person in that spot, steps in and punches stomach level. Also add the #5 and where all 4 attack at the same time. The blindfolded student has to block and counter. Call the numbers in order (1,2,3,4,5) then call them mixed up(3, 2, 4, 5, 1).

– Mushin in like being in the “zone”. I talk about when I tested for Shodan. I trained really hard on my Tekki Shodan but it was not cutting it. I just felt really uncomfortable with it. Eventually, I got to a point that it was looking good. Fast forward to grading day. I performed Bassai Dai for Shihan Okazaki and then awaited the words…Tekki Shodan. Shihan Okazaki began to speak and at that moment I went black. My body took over and I performed a kata. The next day while driving home, I turned to my wife and asked her way kata Shihan Okazaki asked for. She looked at me strangely and said, “Heian Sandan, you nailed it! What do you mean, what kata?” I didn’t register what I was doing. My body just did it. I was in the zone, Mushin (No Mind).

– Fudoshin would be showing strong composure. This will come with time. Show them how a competitor holds their ground waiting for the opponent to attack so they can catch them with an attack of their own before the opponent can land their attack.

– Senshin is what we all wish to obtain. It is something that is possible but is rare. A good movie for youth to watch to understand Senshin is called the Last Dragon. I am working on a review of it right now.


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