Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Leftover brain

In colloquial Japanese ‘zan’ means leftovers – as in food that is left over the next day. A remainder. In the martial arts, zanshin means ‘remaining mind.’

The concept of zanshin has been explained to me as the state of mind that you are in after a technique finishes. Good zanshin is a state of alert readiness for unexpected things to pop out of the relationship. As such, zanshin is to some degree the opposite of kime (explosively focused concentration or decisiveness) or of mushin (a mind that does not linger). In the context of martial arts, one wants to maintain an appropriate balance between these opposites – zanshin, mushin, and kime.

Usher-san has a great analogical explanation for zanshin. It’s like when you have a visitor at your house and they depart, you can either say goodbye and go about your business or you can walk them to their car, wave goodbye, and stand there watching them drive away until you cant see their car anymore. These two responses to their departure communicate two fundamentally different things. This last state of mind is zanshin, in which you maintain a connection with them even after the relationship is ended.

So, how do you develop or improve zanshin? Here are a few suggestions…
  • Have the entire class synchronize to each other during warmup and ukemi practice. This forces each person to maintain a connection to everyone around them.
  • Make it a class policy that tori stays ‘in the technique’ and does not disconnect from uke until uke taps.
  • Uke, don’t get up from the ground until tori is a safe distance away from you. Until then, keep your feet between you and tori.
  • Define some place in the dojo as joseki (the high seat) or shomen (the front) and make sure that as tori you never throw uke toward shomen/joseki and that tori is always between uke and joseki. Of course, tori should also refrain from throwing uke off the mats, into walls and obstacles, and onto other people. To make this exercise even more interesting, make sure that tori and uke never have their backs fully toward joseki/shomen.
  • Play a ‘gotcha’ game with other students in which they can ‘get you’ at any time that you are unaware during your daily life. Don’t be stupid - play safe with this or it becomes dangerous.
  • Play a mind game with yourself in which you imagine people jumping out at you from hiding. Find places that people could ambush you as you walk by. Try to make sure you walk by hiding places with at least ma-ai separation.

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