Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What is Zanshin?

There is an old story about a young man who sought teaching from a great swordsman. After being accepted, the student endured several years of personal service -- cooking, washing and cleaning for the teacher. Then his lessons began, but not practice with a sword. His teacher began to surprise him with incessant attacks with a practice sword -- when the student was cooking, sleeping, anytime. Over time the student's pains and bruises lessened as he gradually learned to avoid and dodge the attacks. Finally the student asked the teacher when actual sword training was to begin. The teacher then replied that he had been taught all that he needed to learn. This was zanshin, such total awareness that the student could sense and then avoid the attacks.
The story illustrates the awareness we all seek to attain. Zanshin loosely translated means the state of total awareness. It means being aware of one's surroundings and enemies, and also being prepared to react. It is what I call developing radar and taking in not only the person that seems menacing or off, but your surroundings as well. The only way to cultivate this type of awareness is through practice and being immersed in the type of situations that would warrant using and needing this type of awareness. In many schools attacks are non linear or you face several opponents at once. In other schools, blindfolds are used to heighten the remaining senses and create a state of Zanshin.

Whatever your method we can all benefit from walking around more aware of our surroundings. Take stock of where you are and who is around you. Take in the surroundings. Are they dangerous? Do they have the potential to be dangerous?

There is an old samurai saying, "When the battle is over, tighten your chin strap." This refers to constant awareness, preparedness for danger and readiness for action.

Even when it seems things are not dangerous, maintain a state of readiness. It is always better to be prepared and not need to take action than needing to take action and not being prepared.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

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