4 Powerful Mindsets of Traditional Karate

Everything begins in the mind.

If your mindset is wack, you can’t even get out of bed in the morning.

Karate is no exception.

The art of Karate involves many states of mind. Today I’d like to share 4 with you:

Shoshin, Mushin, Fudoshin and Zanshin.

Check it out…

#1: Shoshin (Beginner’s Mind)

When I visit a new dojo, I put on white belt.

Why? Because I’m expressing Shoshin.

Shoshin is Japanese for “beginners mind”.

It’s the open-minded attitude of being ready to learn; without preconceived notions, judgement or bias.

Shoshin is essential for Karate, because your mind is like a parachute – it doesn’t work if it’s closed.

The difficult part is to maintain Shoshin as you advance in grades.

Some people think they “know it all” when they reach black belt.

Those people probably don’t know that the first black belt is called “shodan” in Japanese; literally “first level”.

Black belt is not the end. It’s the beginning.

Keep this mindset.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971)

#2: Mushin (No Mind)

Next up, we have Mushin.

In Japanese, Mushin means “no mind”.

Sounds like a paradox, right? How can you have a mind of no mind?

Well, even nothingness is something. 🙂

Mushin refers to that empty-mindedness you might experience when you’re fully focused on an activity.

In essence, you enter a zone of full presence where you brain is not occupied with anything else but the task at hand.

This is what athletes and sport scientists refer to as the “zone” or “flow” state.

The difficult part is to find Mushin. Some people can access it easily on their own, but other people need a specific stimulus (optimal stress) to reach Mushin.

One of the best ways to reach Mushin is by meditating.

Think about nothing…

…without thinking about nothing.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water.” – Bruce Lee (1940-1973)

#3: Fudoshin (Immovable Mind)

If I see carrot cake, I eat it.

Nothing will stand in my way.

This unshakable resolve is called Fudoshin.

In Japanese, it means “immovable mind”.

Simply put, Fudoshin means that no outside influence affects your mind.

It’s like being in a fortress that nothing can penetrate, or standing in the eye of a hurricane.

Fudoshin is especially important when the stakes are high – like if you’re fighting, competing or grading. You cannot leave any room for doubt or hesitation to creep into your mind, because that can cause a negative spiral that spins you out of control.

Personally, I use Fudoshin for goal setting.

If I set my mind to something, I don’t allow anything to shake my belief in achieving it.

Be steadfast.

“Mankind is divided into three classes: Those who move, those who are movable and those who are immovable.” – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

#4: Zanshin (Remaining Mind)

Finally, we have a classic.

Zanshin means “remaining mind” in Japanese.

This is actually a judging criteria when you compete in kumite.

After scoring a punch or kick, you must keep your attention on the opponent – even though you already scored. If you jump around like a puppy to celebrate the point, it will not count.

Why? Because “it ain’t over till it’s over”.

Zanshin means keeping your focus lingering to make sure all potential threats are neutralized.

This is especially important in self-defense.

Relaxed awareness.

“Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.” – Conor McGregor

That’s it.

All these mindsets are important in Karate.

What’s your favorite one?

Leave a comment! 🙂

45 Comments

  • "After scoring a punch or kick, you must keep your attention on the opponent – even though you already scored. If you jump around like a puppy to celebrate the point, it will not count."According to this, most of the points in current kumite matches should be nullified :DNice article
    • Depends on how qualified the referees are :) Thanks for chiming in!
      • Ben
        So you're saying at world level they're totally unqualified?
    • Moreira
      In some federations this type of situation never result in points.
    • Alexander Vasolla
      Very true.
    • Don
      I am with you on this. I think a lot of points that are being awarded in the WKF should be nullified because of what I call showboating. I have done quite allot of teaching for competition as well as refereeing and I tell the competitors that when you hear YAME that is the only time a possible point will be rewarded.
  • ElMagoo
    As a brown belt I scored a winning point, saw the judges flags go up and stood upright straight away. I got knocked unconscious.
    • I don't know whether to laugh or cry Mark-san! Hope you learned your lesson in any case. Thanks for sharing!
  • james
    Good Afternoon Sensei,Thank you for the above words of wisdom, they all have meaning for me I will try to adopt these mindsets and apply them not only to my training but to daily life also. Stay safe, with respect James
    • Awesome! Theory is one thing, application is another. That's where the real value lies. Good luck James-san!
  • Paul
    Black belt is not the end It’s the beginning, very true you never stop learning..
  • Barb
    Mushin- No Mind, also called Zen. <3 Thank you for a great article!
  • Christopher Smith
    The most important in my view is Mushin, because it means no mind set and all of them together, similar to the Japanese philosophy of VOID from the godai, earth, wind, water, fire....
    • That's also an interesting Zen-like way to interpret the "kara" (empty) part of "karate". Thanks Christopher-san!
  • AJ
    I like al four as I feel none of them can be missed out:) And to compare with playing music; the more you know, the more you can play but at the same time you will notice and see even more clear what you actually don't know...
    • So true AJ-san! The more learn, the more we realize how much there is to learn :)
  • Robin Whale
    Shodan = 1st level?? Doesn't it mean "beginner's level", in the same way that Sho-Shin means beginner's mind? Looking at Shodan as a starting point (once the foundation techniques have been covered) is a lot more interesting concept.
  • Claire
    Great articles, thank you! Very hard to pick a favourite but fudoshin it is!
  • Fernando
    I've always tried to practice my karate based on these four principles. However, being a firm believer in the phrase "train as you fight and fight as you train", and because of my different risk jobs, Zanshin has always been a very important reference for me, and has saved me in numerous situations. When I was a Karate instructor I always remember explaining the importance of Zanshin in all training ...
  • Marty Hammond
    This may apply to beginners mind. As an adult is my 30s starting karate it was a challenge to learn how to accept advise from 10 year olds. But their knowledge is just as helpful if they've had a good teacher. I've learned so much from some dedicated kids.
  • Brian Randall
    Shoshin "beginner's mind". When I started at a new school,I did not tell them of my previous martial arts experience because it was a new style and I did not want to go in with any preconceived ideas. I wanted to be treated as a new student so I could learn. Thanks Jesse for all the great articles and the karate nerds page.
  • Patrick
    Hi! Shodan means beginner's grade but nowadays I see a LOT of 3rd, 4th and up (Dan) who are over rated...My belief is that It is more a commercial thing than a thechnical one. There is so many 5th, 6th and 7th Dan now....unbelievable!!! I respect but don't believe in the grading system anymore. Excuse my english! That is my state of mind! Hehe! Osu!
  • Pascal
    Shoshin! Stay humble and you will learn a lot from others.
  • VERY GREAT ARTICLE. I was a taekwondo prationer just joined Karate. During competition in taekwondo I scored my opponent and celebrating it before I relied I was knocked down by Twimyo Chagi
  • Akshat
    http://youtu.be/RYUhJ9N699cThis might help too. Great article as always jesse... Keep it up ?(Just excited to use the new emogi ?)
  • Hi Jessy San, I loved to read this. You're explaining it very clear, so everyone should be able to understand or to get a taste of whole cake ?. I want to put a further nuture law to it. The initiation of mindsets comes from the energy that is everywhere, in everything and everyone. It's the power who allows us to wake up every morning. The most used name for it is, Chi or Ki. It's said, where the attention goes, the energy flows. The mindsets are the extension and expression of this energy. There's a lot written about it in the classic book of chinese medicine called 'Huángdì Nèij?ng Sùwèn (??????): ca. 2698–2598 b.C. This is a huge box of knowledge and not always easy to understand, especially if one is not born and raised in the eastern culture and even for the eastern people of today. The best way is, what you did here. To take out the mystic and to give simple everyday examples. Thank you ! I would be glad to read more about this kind of knowledge! Best regards, Tanja
  • Dr Y M Chan
    Everyday when I go to work at my clinic to see my patients, my mind goes through the same 4 stages working mindset you just described. What I did not know was that this was already figured out by the Karate Masters decades ago.Maybe you should suggest this the MBA students in Harvard.Yours TrulyDr Y M Chan
  • Enrique Aledo Kemmerer
    Hi. I think it's an natural evolutioin within the time that you're practising. Start and final goal to act with no need to think what to do. And, of course, practice always as the first time but concius of what you know and so, of you still have to learn.See you next June in Spain and thanks to share all you acknowlege with everyone. Sorry if I did any mistake writing...
  • Mats
    Oss Sensei. Nice article. As I'm going to Japan this summer and hope to find a Dojo in Osaka or Okinawa for practice. I'll test your Shoshin advice. ? Best regards Mats.
  • Simon
    I went along to a new dojo recently, after moving to another town - of course i love being a white belt again, but in this case it really fits: they practice a Taiji Kase variant with a different means of generating the internal power, more akin to tai chi chuan than what western karate has become, so i am having to deconstruct every move and start again. This, i think is highly beneficial. My next big challenge was going to be mastering niju hachi ho; now it is learning taikyoku shodan! I'm really excited to be honest... :D
  • Sabine
    Great post Jesse. Can you add the Kanji for the terms? Thank you for sharing your knowledge!! P.S. My favorite: Shoshin. It's my attitude in almost everything in life. Always keep an open mind. There is opportunity to learn something in every moment of every day no matter your age. Close your mind and heart and you are already dying. Peace!
  • Hello Sir! I always enjoy your modern take on all things traditional in the martial arts. I was inspired by this post and gave a great lesson to my black belts today. Thanks for the simple break down, I plan to introduce and use this terminology with my youth students next :)
  • aung saw moen
    Zanshin reminds me of my 3rd Dan grading when we all have to take part in Randori
  • Andres
    And Senshin? I'm curious to know why it's not on the list
  • Don
    love this article; many thanks for sharing. I'm a bit nervous about my next grading - reckon shoshin is the best mindset to adopt.
  • John McNally
    Zanchin: We have a saying where I come from. It's expect it when you least expect it. It's a Street Philosophy.
  • Jeff B
    I think my favorite is Shoshin. Even though I'm a teacher, I will always be a student. Always so much more to learn. And you never know where the lessons will come from. Fudoshin is a close second..."as immovable as the mountain" ;) Great article as always!
  • Graziela
    "It ain't over till it's over" Something I didn't understand when I played tennis until about 4 years ago(I was like 10). When I started doing judo, I learned, that I can turn the whole fight around with an ippon - and your opponent can do the same. And that's something you mustn't forget! Don't get sloppy just because your opponent has currently more points than you! And don't get sloppy because you are a few points ahead! Have the same power during the whole fight, don't think about the rating, think about the fighting! Focus on the fighting!
  • Hilary James
    Interesting and inspiring, aa usual! Sochin and Mushin particularly chimed with me. Sochin pinned down the open-mindedness I've always aspired to, in any field (and often wished more people had - preconceptions and received wisdom are real bugbears of mine!). Mushin seems akin to something that happens when I paint; a sort of self-induced hypnogogic trance, that uses the efficiency of the unconscious mind to maximum power. In karate though, I seem to need that 'optimal stress'! Though I've only taken part in 2 competitions, on both occasions I did the kata better than I've done before or since. (I think that means 'Work on your focus'. For which the word 'Mushin' will come in handy as a trigger when training).
  • Chris
    As I practice full contact Karate, I believe Fudoshin is most important during competition.All the other mindsets are important too in different ways.We train to never give up!Great Article! Great Website!
  • Anna Sweeney
    Jesse-Sensei, When are you coming to do a seminar in NYC?:) I'm sorry if you already have posted about this somewhere! I seem to be having trouble loading your full events list on the Facebook page. I hope you do make a trip! Thank you! Anna

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