Zanshin – More Than You Think

As a Karate-ka, it is natural to always be aware of your surroundings.

At least if you have been training for a long time.

Maybe this is what the Japanese sometimes refer to as Zanshin. You know danger can always be close, thus you are not taken by as much surprise as a normal person if something unexpected would happen. Relaxed alertness.

And I’m not just talking about being physically assaulted by someone, rather more trivial things like for example: crossing the street, checking that the door is locked, tying your shoelaces, choosing the best seat on the bus/restaurant/train, how to walk around the corner, how to walk on the sidewalk, how to greet/help people, and so forth.

The list goes on.

In all of these things there is a way of doing that is “better” than other ways, and using your awareness and “safety-thinking” you can easily find that way. Most people just don’t think about it.

A way that maximizes your safety and awareness, while still maintaining the social norm.

This is not something that is easy to learn from a book (or a blog for that matter). It is something that evolves naturally in an sharp and focused mind, with the relevant experience.

But you don’t need intelligence to have this awareness, I doubt Einstein thought of things like these when he went out for a stroll.

You just need that special feeling.

So how do you get it?

You get it when you are exposed to it, it’s a direct result of experience. That is why a Karate student most likely will have a good sense of this awareness, because he/she is exposed to potential conflict in his/her training (although in a somewhat safe environment), and thus evolves a sense for it. People punching, kicking and screaming at you three times a week is a whole lot compared to what a “normal person” is exposed to, in terms of conflict.

Believe me.

And this experience, combined with the right type of mindset, will produce a sense of awareness not found in other people, except maybe some people working in the security business, military and so on.

This is not something new though, even the samurai knew about this. Actually, people have always done, since the birth of mankind.

But in our current “safe” world, this skill is degenerating quickly.

The famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi had this to say about the subject:

“Both in fighting and in everyday life, you should be determined though calm. […] Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken…

– Miyamoto Musashi

This is what my whole post was about.


  • Igor
    Always thought that Zanshin is the mind state of being untouched (like when performing kata), staying calm, with your mind and body... Could it describe both (since the Japanese symbols always have more meanings), or was I just totally wrong?::)
  • Santana
    AHA! So that's what it is... After practising Karate for more than half my life, I can actually give this "alertness" a proper name... rather than just calling it "paranoia"... Thanks, Jesse, for letting me know I'm not just a random 'wierdo', I'm actually a 'Karate-enabled-wierdo'!! NOTE: Reading through your fun-tas-tic blog, I've come to realize I've been missing far too much cultural and background knowledge that I actually find useful for better understanding what we are on about at the Dojo! I'm glad for your entrepreneurship and being willing to share your knowledge this way!
  • Leo
    Still great, like a classic. ;-)
  • maja
    the first time I heard about zanshin was when my sensei was driving me home after training (we both stayed late to practise. I think he was teraching me a kata) because it was so late. I was trying to explain to him my mindset when I leave home to walk somewhere. I was talking about how I might for example be going for a walk on the forest and I'd be completely lost in my own world, but as soon as I hear someone aproaching I'm drawn back to reality. I was trying to say that it wasn't like being afraid, and I wasn't exactly tense either. I was just... ready? at that point he cut me off "zanshin. the word you're looking for is zanshin." he then expained it pretty much like you did here.
  • ??????????
    has to be the single hardest thing on earth, seriously, the body gets tensed only when the brain is tensed, likewise when the body is loose the brain is loose, that is of course why most if not all centrally acting supressants have the side effects of delayed motor function or even tripping or dying (the very reason that barbiturates are no longer used for the most part) (like that seen with common anti-anxiety meds, antiepileptics and so on) so staying super charged but in ninja mode and the body to be relaxed, that's physiologically speaking impossible (but i do get that very trained people can very possible attain that state)
  • If we want to watch the forest or the field awaken and revive the birds, we must first get up before them; we must be in a state of keen attention, fully awake before the first bird wakes up, and even before the birds know that morning has come. Then we have to go to the field or the forest and settle down completely still, quiet - without tension, so that no rustling frightens the sleeping creatures around, otherwise they will run away or fly away where we will not hear them, nor will we see them.Bird watching on the one hand implies stillness, silence and peace, but at the same time extremely "live" attention, because if you lie in the field, falling asleep, the birds will fly away before you realize that the sun has burned your back. It is absolutely necessary to combine this vigilance with stillness and lack of tension; it is a contemplative preparation for contemplative silence.It is very difficult to strike a balance between, on the one hand, vigilance, which allows us to respond to everything we encounter, with a perfectly clear mind, free from prejudice and after, and on the other hand - with the still rest that will not allow us to respond to the opposite without projecting on it the reflection of our own presence, which would be detrimental. True silence is something extremely intense, it has the quality of "density", density, it is real, it is real and alive.

Leave a comment