Aggressive, Offensive… And Fudô-shin

Last week we had some “trouble” in class.

Let me tell you:

It was a normal Wednesday evening and, as always, I was teaching Karate. This particular class had just started, and it was a senior/advanced class. Oh boy.

For warming up I thought we should do some light sparring, instead of running like we usually do.

Nothing serious, just to get the body going.

“Okay everybody, pair up, light free kumite, take it easy” I shouted. Takedowns and joint locks are of course allowed too, along with knees and elbows. But most people stay away from those.

Anyway, after some rounds (changing partner and so on) I notice that two guys two blue beltsaren’t getting along that well. Their kicks and punches were gradually becoming harder and harder, and I could sense that something was wrong between them. It was too hard for light sparring, I can tell you that.

After a while, it really escalated!

Sparks were literally flying, so I had to stop it before it was too late.

“Okay everyone, that’s enough, let’s take a break!”

Everyone stopped and bowed to their opponent. I told everybody to come closer, because I had a something to say. As the students gathered around me, I couldn’t help but notice that the two “unfriendly” blue belts were standing as far away from each other as physically possible!

I said:

“In Karate, it is a good thing to be offensive. If you are not offensive, it will be hard to win. It is good to be defensive too. You should have the ability to switch in an instant between offense and defense whenever you like, to maximize your chances of winning. Right?”

Everyone nodded.

“But… sometimes things can get out of hand.”

I looked at the two blue belts. They didn’t react. Whatever…

“So I have a question for you all: What is the difference between being offensive and being aggressive? And which one do we prefer?”


Nobody had a good answer.

But I think it is really important to know the answer. Because one of these should be avoided like the swine flu, and the other should be practised like hell. If you don’t know the difference, you really need to know it. Now, I’m not an expert, but this is what I told them:

“When you are aggressive, you let your emotions take control. When you are offensive, you are in control”

And there it is.

Is that the whole truth?

I don’t know, but that’s what I think. And everyone seemed to agree on that.

Aggressiveness should be avoided, offensiveness should be practised.


  • It is not easy to be offensive.
  • It is easier to be aggressive.

It is easier to let your feelings (like anger) control you, instead of being in control yourself. That requires practise. That requires something we call “fudô-shin” (immovable mind) in Japanese (the kanji to the right).

A mind that is not disturbed by feelings.

A mind that is concentrated on its mission.

To change perspective a little, let’s take an intellectual fight as an example, instead of a physical fight:

Imagine you are doing a hard math test.

  • You have one hour to complete a mathematical task, and you decide to attack the problem in an aggressive manner. You start slowly by trying different approaches and formulas. “Oh this is really hard” you think. You eventually realize that this is taking too long time, so you start writing faster. You are running out of patience. Then you see that you have been thinking wrong, you are in a dead alley. You used the wrong formula. You need to start over. “No way!” you scream, rip the paper to pieces, spit on the table, break your pen in half and flip the table over.

That was the aggressive approach.

Not particulary constructive, right?

Here is what the offensive approach would look like:

  • You sit down and think through a strategy for solving the problem. You decide to try a couple of formulas and methods, systematically attacking the problem from different angles, offensively. When one doesn’t work, you try another, then another, and another, constantly with an offensive mindset, trying to “defeat” the task at hand. Eventually you decide that one method seems good so you keep using that way, and after a couple of wrong turns, you finally solve the problem.

That is the offensive approach.

And the same applies to physical problems and tasks.

Like Karate.

But why can’t we let emotions control? Wouldn’t that be convenient? Why is it that bad to let loose aggression in, let’s say, a street fight for your life?! Just open that bottle o’ rage!

Well, the body, or should I say brain, doesn’t exactly work like we think it does.

Here is how I understand it:

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) in your brain is vital for understanding aggression. That is because reduced activity of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been associated with violent, aggressive, behaviour in many tests. At least in mice! This brain region, the PFC, has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision making and moderating correct social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.

This is the key.

To sum it up, when you are aggressive, the activity is reduced in the PFC. And that partially shuts down your skills in many areas, including (like I just wrote) decision making.

That is *really* bad.

Especially if the decision could change life… to death.

The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the PFC is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, prediction of outcomes, and the ability to suppress urges. Et cetera.

So, if you are being aggressive, not only can you not correctly decide which move you are going to use in a  fight, but you can’t even predict the outcome of that move, decide if it is good or not, or suppress your urge to “overkill” if you somehow manage to defeat your opponent in the end!

It doesn’t matter if the opponent is a human being, a math problem or a traffic jam.

Forget about being aggressive.

Offensive is what wins.


Let me conclude by telling you another story:

Yesterday I participated in a Submission Grappling tournament. Let’s not go in on details, but if was the worst competition I have ever been to, actually. Anyway, something interesting happened on one of the mats.

A really big, buff, guy suddenly started screaming!

He kind of looked like Steven Seagal on steroids. At least in the face. But ten times angrier. And bigger.

Apparently, he had just lost his match, because the referee saw him tapping out. However, that’s not what he thought.

Oh… no….

This guy just HAD to show it, loud and clear, to everybody. All other activities stopped in the arena. Everyone were silently looking at this crazy wrestler who stood in the middle, waving his arms cursing and screaming: “Who saw me tap out? Who saw me? Nobody, that’s right!”


I mean, he was like a volcano that had just exploded. It was unbelievable.

What a baby!

Then the head referee said: “I saw it. And you are disqualified!”

The crowd clapped their hands!

And the stereoid-wrestlers behaviour after that… well it’s something I’d rather not write about. You can just use your imagination.

Later, after the “incident”, people talked of course. It seems like he, the big angry wrestler, had once been an Olympic wrestler, but never made it to the actual Olympics. So now he goes around to different grappling tournaments, showing his… umm… “character”.

And based on the way he walked, talked and acted, I am quite certain that his whole life is centered around one thing.

The same thing that probably stopped his Olympic career.

You know it.



  • Gary S.
    Kudos once again Jesse. Keep it up!
  • Thanks, I'm trying! :)
  • Igor
    Awesome article, again::)
  • Ny Iago
    I second your definition. Offensives are best done with destructive intent without the distortionary emotions that aggression entails :)
  • Mario
    Your article is a product of a rich experience like you to go in to the deepest part of the experience.Let me share my thoughts. THINKING,FEELING,WILL POWER and ACTING.(this may sound psychological) In a given situation,in order to achieve the goal,these four factors function as one. But at times,some are on the level of:Thinking Only(just imagining),Feeling Only (emotionalism)and Acting Only(physical movements) and above all,lacking in will power.The result is a divided and unfocused being. Fudo-shin is "a mind that is not disturbed by feelings" which is related to mu-shin "no mind".For me fudo-shin and mu-shin is the harmonous relationship of thinking, feeling, acting and will power. They work as one.That is why offensive is an an experience of focused wholeness while aggression is division.
  • Shayan
    I never even thought about how much better it is to be offensive than aggressive, until I read this post. Thank you for an incredible post Jesse!
  • Orville Wares
    I just want to tell you that I am just newbie to weblog and really enjoyed this website. Likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog . You definitely have tremendous well written articles. Cheers for sharing with us your blog.

Leave a comment