“The mind must always be in the state of flowing, 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 means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself 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.”—Takuan Sōhō
states of mind
The way I see it there are two states of mind that I need to have for my karate training. I would guess that many others use something sort of the same mindsets.
At the start of learning something new or perfecting something I need to be mindful of what I a doing. I need to watch and listen to my teacher and absorb what is being said. I need to be able to practice what I was taught effectively paying close attention to the details of the task sat hand. Being mindful helps me to be careful in how I am training my muscle memory. Trying to change your muscle memory after even a short amount of time can be enough to drive some batty.
The mindful part of training can make or break you in someways. It is so important in making a persons basics a strong foundation to their karate training. You can practice for years and years, but all of that practice can be a waste of time if what you are doing is incorrect. Incorrect practice just reinforces sloppy bad techniques that not even you mother likes. If feel we must be mindful in our techniques and our practice.
Mushin, or ”without mind”. This the other half of the puzzle for to me. You need your Mushin to take over when you need it in a real life or death situation, while you are playing kata at a testing/grading or tournament or anywhere that you need to get specific job done and you need your training to take over. The last thing you want is to be looking like you are thinking all you are in front of judges or being thinking too much as someone tries to end your life for enough money to their next hit of crack.
Part of the way I see the mushin is that it is a state of mind where you need your training to take over from (hopefully) years of mindful training to save your life.
Hopefully I will write on this more later, since I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I could say about this.
IF anyone actually reads this and they disagree or or agree, let me know! I am no expert on this (or anything else for that matter), but I like to always learn and hear no ideas.
“The word "kalakuta" was a caricature of a prison cell named Calcutta that fela inhabited 'The Kalakuta Show' by lemi ghariokwu ”—
Kalakuta Republic was the name musician and political activist Fela Kuti gave to the communal compound that housed his family, band members, and recording studio. Located at 14 Agege Motor Road, Idi-Oro, Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria it had a free health clinic, and recording facility. Fela declared it independent from the Nigerian government after he returned from the United States in 1970.
the compound burned to the ground on February 18, 1977 after an assault by a thousand armed soldiers (as you see in the album cover)During the attack on Kalakuta Republic by Nigerian soldiers, Fela’s mother was thrown from a window and died after an 8-week coma. Following this attack, Fela married 27 of his backing singers in a mass wedding ceremony at the office of his lawyer, Tunji Braithwaite.
Musings on Mushin: Karate's Equivalent of Mindfulness
Posted March 22, 2012 at 10:15 pm
At the tender age of twenty-three, French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal claimed to have empirical evidence that the void exists. As the story goes, when René Descartes, notorious denier of “the void”, heard about this he wrote a bold letter stating that the only void that exists is inside the head of Pascal.
As you see, the philosophical controversy over the concept of “emptiness”, the “void”, or “nothingness” is not a new phenomenon – clearly, the old Frenchies loved arguing about it.
So how about Karate?
What is “emptiness”, “the void” or “nothingness”? What should we know about it, and how does it relate to Karate?
(Hey, don’t look at me! Sure, I’m known to say that “the hole” is the best part of the donut, but that’s just a joke!)
All I know is that in Karate, or Budo in general, this concept of emptiness is applied in something known as “mushin” (actually, this term is shortened from mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning ”mind without mind”) and that venerated Karate masters such as Funakoshi and Mabuni often wrote poems pondering the inherent mysticism associated with the void.
“When the spirit of Karate-Do (Bu) is deeply embraced
It becomes the vehicle (described as a boat) in which one is ferried
Across the great void to the ‘world within’ (described as ‘Bu’-island)”
- Mabuni Kenwa (1889 – 1952)
“As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even small sounds, so must the student of Karate-Do render of their mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything they might encounter. This is the meaning of kara or “empty” of Karate-Do.”
- Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957)
The term in itself, when you think about it, is quite interesting. I mean, if you try to think of “nothing” you will sooner or later inevitably think of something concrete, like a black or white surface. It’s difficult. Because clearly, if something does not exist it’s impossible to think about it. That’s why people have a hard time understanding the void. Which, in turn, is why we call it different stuff: “the void”, “emptiness”, “nothingness” or the number “zero”. Why? Because labels help us grasp this weird concept, and then proceed to think about it.
But, of course, there’s a paradox here:
- Labels, names and words are limited.
- …but the void is unlimited.
Putting a name on nothingness is to limit its existence.
So let’s try to dive a bit deeper into the void then.
In this internet-driven world of constant online connection, it is safe to say that our lives are cluttered by noise (of all kind). No question about it. And sure, while the general noise of life can be beautiful, relaxing and certainly inspiring, like the ballads of song or the sound of happiness embodied in laughter, there is also this constant, harmful, noise that
eventually becomes the status quo of how we live our lives.
You probably recognize this phenomenon in those moments devoid of audible commotion, as they might suddenly turn into awkward instances of discomfort instead – and that’s when we know we have become addicted to surrounding ourselves with background noise, losing the uniqueness of moments of quiet that provide us with the exceptional clarity, inner balance and present-mindedness which we all crave.
Just the type of mindstate you would want to have in Karate.
When constantly surrounded by the noise of everyday life – from the sound of the alarm in the morning, to the car radio, our iPods and MP3 players, music on our computers, to TVs and so much more – the constant stream of noise and sounds becomes the natural state of life. Almost every waking moment is consumed or accompanied by noise. Thus, strangely enough, the peaceful pace of nature (called “silence”) often and quickly becomes a discomfort for people (most joggers can’t even run in the woods without loud music in their ears – that’s messed up!)
I mean, is it just me, or have we lost something essential to ourselves when moments of quietness are considered socially awkward, even when interacting with friends, family members and/or acquaintances?
Sometimes it seems we have become so entrenched in noise that we forget what it is like to live, work, even sleep or simply exist in the midst of silence.
And this is unfortunate.
Because during moments of silence and nothingness, a purer side of ourselves reemerges.
This could be you.
I truly believe that if we actively try to seek out those few precious moments of emptiness, or nothingness, then our “soul” somehow floats up from the dephts of the clutter and brings us back to our original nature – if only for a moment. That’s when, often without so much as realizing it, we embrace the present moment for all of its worth and abandon the common chaos and noise of everyday life. Then, devoid of the noise of life and “thinking for the sake of thinking,” in this void we somehow regain the peace of mind of living in the moment – the unfamiliarity of living consciously and fully in the present time.
Also known as mushin.
The power that comes from moments of silence and quiet – those times in nature or alone to ourselves when our minds become blank and free – is unimaginable for most people, as they probably don’t even remember the last time they arrived at a state of mind that allowed them to fully exist in the moment. Those rare moments of silence when we abandon the confines of our thoughts; the constant stream of consciousness and thinking that begins when we wake and pauses when we sleep.
Devoid of the clutter of noise, we are nothing more or less than in existence; we are because we are and the universe is because it is.
So embrace mushin, and try to lose yourself for once.
If only for a moment.
“See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.
We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
- Mother Teresa
Stress: Kick the Habit
Managing our work, home, social, and personal lives can be quite challenging. Many times we find ourselves wishing for more hours in a day to get those last few things done while admiring those who have the ability to do several things at once. Sometimes seemingly impossible expectations are set for us for our performance at work or school, the stress of which can spill over into our home lives. Eventually, everything boils down to the point that we realize that we (the individual and the nation as a whole) are stressed.
Many times, people will try to distract themselves from whatever is causing them stress. These distractions are typically more passive in their results and generally do not help the person feel any better in their daily life. Such distractions could include things like watching the television, playing video games, reading, or other such activities. While they do not answer the problem of the individual’s stressor, there is a benefit provided to the person by temporarily alleviating stress. Who hasn’t enjoyed unwinding after work by watching a favorite television show?
A more active means of alleviating stress is done by performing an activity with the intention of deliberately getting rid of stress. Some people choose to do things such as running, playing an instrument, or engaging in some sort of hobby. The biggest difference between an outlet and a distraction is that the outlet gives the individual a chance to focus the mind entirely on another thing. For those who play an instrument, think of a time when you were playing your music piece and you reached that state of mind where you were flowing effortlessly through the music, allowing yourself to become one with the music (so to speak). In the Japanese martial arts, this state of mind is called “mushin” or “mind of no mind”.
While these stress distractors and outlets can be very beneficial in their own right, they do not actually eliminate those factors that cause stress for a person. To eliminate stress from your life, it will take much more effort than just running a few miles in the morning. It will require a change of one’s mindset. To illustrate this, I will use the example of the angry driver.
We have all seen the driver on the road who becomes enraged at the drop of a hat, or in this case, being cut off in traffic. In order for the driver to get rid of the stress of driving and, in turn, get rid of his rage, he will need to actively learn to “let go” of these feelings. By doing so, he will soon realize that being cut off by another driver is not as big of a deal as he once thought. He will realize that he can simply press his break pedal and continue about his business. By “letting go”, he will also find that his relationship with his family will be much more pleasant now that he is returning home from work in a pleasant mood. There is much to be gained in letting go.