Mushin is the famed mindset that the samurai, warriors of Japan, would try to achieve to ready them for battle against an adversary. Mushin literally means no mind and symbolized for them, performing intuitively at their best without fear. It’s a non-thinking outlook of observing without judgment to gain a greater awareness level.
Now, different traditions have similar concepts with a different name. You may have heard the terms of enlightenment, nirvana. Athletes call it “Being in the Zone”. In Christian tradition, they would call it being filled with the Holy Spirit.
So I am going to teach you the two steps, it takes to get to the Mushin frame of mind.
Step #1, Mind Like the Moon - Tsuki No Kokoro
During a full moon, the moonbeams cast an even light over everything. They illuminate everything equally without judgment. When you apply this to your mind, it refers to our vision and the way we view the world.
In layman terms…
It’s called wide angle vision.
What is wide angle vision?
It’s goes by many different names, for example in survival classes - spatter vision and Native Americans refer to it as Owl Eyes. To discover more about developing this type of vision, you can google Owl Eyes or wide angle vision or search YouTube for more information for exercises to hone this skill.
Here’s a video about wide angle vision
Basically, wide angle vision is when we see the whole scene instead of focusing on a single point. It’s a panoramic view of everything around you like setting your camera for landscape view instead of portrait. Tsuki no kokoro is the switch from binocular vision to expanded vision.
The difficulty with this vision is that we are taught from an early age to have a focused vision of the world. Our modern lifestyle drives us toward having a focused view all the time through reading, working on a computer, watching TV, or even performing work at our job. This focused view causes many vision problems requiring the need to wear glasses.
To teach yourself and experience wide angle of vision stretch your arms out to your sides just at the limits of your peripheral vision and wiggle your fingers. Then, while looking straight ahead attempt to see your wiggling fingers with your peripheral vision. This exercise should open your vision up to wide angle vision.
Hunters and gatherers utilized spatter to see a small movements and patterns in the wilderness to locate their prey.
With wide angle vision, you will perform better in almost any sport. In karate, it enhances your sparring abilities by quickening your reactions to see and anticipate our opponent’s movements more effectively. When you correctly achieve wide angle of vision, your opponents will say that it looks like you are looking right through them and most opponents find it very intimidating. It causes a fear response in most people because this vision is a predator mindset. Think again about the hunter and gather. They would be in a predator state of mind when using this vision to do their hunting.
Step #2, Mind like the Water – Mizu no Kokoro
When a lake’s surface is still with no ripples, you can see your reflection on the water surface clearly without distortions. But when you disturb the water, the ripples will distort your image on the surface of the lake.
Mind like the Water is the state of mind of being calm, cool, and assertive. This is the same state of mind that an artist employs to draw an accurate picture of scenery. We are filled with preconceived notion of the world around us that interfere with really seeing what is actually there. This is the reason many karate masters practiced calligraphy and painting because it forces your mind into sensory awareness.
In the famous book, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the author takes you through a process of give up these preconceived notions and just drawing what is literally there instead of what we think is there. Check out my experiences with this book here. In the book, they take you through a series of drills to break through these preconceived notions that we develop through our left/ logical brain so that you can draw accurately what we actually see, instead of simplified ideas of what we think we see.
In this state of mind, you cast away any thought or judgments and merely observe. For example, in sparring, you do not try to anticipate your opponent’s movements you just see and react to them.
The best drill to practice this skill is to go into wide angle vision and while looking straight ahead then attempt to observe different objects within the scenery without looking around.
Once you achieve these two steps, you’ll enter the zone or the Mushin mindset. The essence of the Mushin mindset is seeing without thinking – without judgments about what you see, just taking it all in. It’s a right brain/ creative type of thinking. This type of thinking is underrated and much more powerful then left brain/ logical thinking. Our right brain is faster, reacts quicker, more resilient, and limitless. It’s able to react appropriately to a situation with no thought or effort because you’re more open and connected to your surroundings.
The best way I've found to practice Mushin before using it under the pressure of combat is from the old movie, Kung Fu. Do you remember the scene Snatch the pebble from my hand?
Try that with a partner. Instead of searching for pebbles, do it with a penny. You can practice your Mushin with either role.
Using Mushin, You can snatch the penny about 6 to 8 times out of 10. When you're not, I may get it 2.
Holding the pebble/ penny is even harder. If you are in Mushin, you will easily close your hand. Your partner's hand will look like they are grabbing in slow motion. Oh by the way, in Mushin, you will be able to tell the difference between a real grab and a fake.
Try it at home. If you have kids, they are great willing training partners. You get to practice and your kid will have fun.
These concepts are very hard to explain because they must be experienced to understand. These concepts have their root in right brain/ creative thinking and most of us are taught to think logically and ignore creative thinking. Asian culture's have an easier time understanding these concepts because of their roots in Zen Buddhism which emphasis creative thinking.
Our left brain/ logical brain is like that critic that criticizes everything and can do anything themselves well. Do you know people like that? The right brain is creative, non-verbal, and great at performance. When performing, most people listen and use the left brain/ logical instead of the right intuitive side. We basically use the wrong side for the task at hand.
I came across this at the beginning of the year, because I wondered why people like Musashi were accomplished artists too so I decided to learn to draw for 2010. Well, I found it took only 7 days if I drew with the right side of the brain.
The difference between my before and after drawing was astounding. When we sparring and perform kata with the left brain, it's like my before picture compared to the left brain which is my after picture.
Sensei Tim Rosanelli
Maximum Impact Karate