In traditional karate, once formal training exercises are completed and before the student bows to indicate they’re finished, there’s a short pause.
In Japanese that interval or pause is called “zanshin”, or “remaining mind.”
This is a very important part of Japanese martial arts. Zanshin is when the practioner takes a second to reflect, takes a second look around and make sure that he or she is safe. It’s a state of complete awareness once our actions are complete. It’s the samurai who’s finished his last sword strike, and then taking stock of both his conduct and his surroundings.
In modern practice, that pause is basically the same. It’s mental sensitivity, an ongoing presence and preparedness that keeps us engaged in the moment, even though our physical movement is over.
It can be difficult to rest in the pause, because we spend so much time striving for improvement. Our practice, like our lives, moves forward constantly. We’re evaluating, editing and adjusting.
Zanshin, on the other hand, is a pause where we’re moving neither forward nor backwards. We just remain in readiness.
What makes it beneficial is this return to a centering principle. Hopefully our practice brings about a mindset whereby we’re improving (or at least striving for improvement) on a consistent basis, in the martial arts and in the rest of our lives. That’s our forward motion.
But there’s a power – a purpose and necessity – which comes from being rooted, grounded and present in the moment. Such an awareness anchors our actions, reminding us of critical concepts. It’s not meant to spin us off into heavy analysis, ruminating over our faults and shortcomings.
By incorporating this momentary touch of awareness, zanshin prevents us from just blasting through what we’re doing mindlessly…and from making the same mistakes over again.
To pause, to get centered, to reflect, gives one a sense of renewal that leaves us calm, energized and prepared for whatever comes next, on the mat or off.
– Gene Dunn & Foundation of Love
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