The Role of the Mind in the Development of Mushin

   by Boyd Gittins

I am sure you will agree that the martial arts provide one of the most stimulating learning environments available. Part of the environment, however, consists of tales of superhuman ability and magical power. These tales are in part the result of exaggeration of incomplete explanation, and their mystery is simply the absence of a logical explanation. I find that the concepts of yushin and mushin are often and unfortunately viewed as mysterious. This view is not surprising since even modern science has difficulty making logical explanations in the area of mental development. Yushin and mushin are worthy and, I think, attainable goals in the study of the martial arts if practitioners follow a structured and logical plan of study.

A recent article in the newsletter (ed. this was first published in the GKK newsletter, circ. 1987) alluded to the idea that to achieve mushin we must separate our conscious and subconscious mind, trusting to the subconscious. The ability to do kata while conversing was used as an example of how this is done. I dare say the practitioner who tries this will not have a quality experience in either endeavor. In any case, this is not an example of a conscious/subconscious division an both activities require conscious effort.

I don't wish anyone to hold the misconception that it is desirable to separate the conscious and subconscious minds. As I understand it, the subconscious mind may be considered the equivalent of a huge computer storage system or library. The subconscious mind cannot be expected to read itself. The subconscious can store information; it can store answers to specific questions; and it can develop informational patterns, (similarities in groupings such as correlations and queue sequences). The subconscious mind also has direct access to all environmental and conscious thought stimuli. The subconscious mind is the seat of all of our knowledge, be that knowledge right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, applicable or useless.

The conscious mind, on the other hand, is like an informational processing center and exists only in the split second of now. It has access to the same sensors as the subconscious mind. And it has the ability to analyze and formulate response to environmental input. It also has varying degrees of data accessibility from the subconscious mind. This is the glitch: All data is not equal. The subconscious mind stores information on a priority basis. The more often you make data searches of your subconscious mind, the higher the priority given that information. The more often a particular group of information is utilized or developed by the conscious mind, the more efficient that area of knowledge becomes. Initially, new concepts are grouped one behind the other like a chain. Therefore a call for information (thought) must travel down the chain one link at a time until the pertinent data is processed. With repeated utilization, development, and refinement, information groupings may become more closely attached through cross referencing like a chain link mesh. And eventually a direct connection may be made between each and every link of information. Could this be mushin?

If subconscious data is not processed at the conscious level, it is worthless. It is possible for subconscious emotional feedback to overwhelm all other thought. This may result in a loss of mental, physical, and/or emotional control. The resulting situation can range anywhere from momentary confusion to stark mindless terror. Once again, this is caused by the subconscious, not the conscious, mind.

Because of the subconscious mind's connection to sensory input and reflex, it does have the ability to call for conscious information processing. However, if the conscious mind is busy processing a storm of input and output data on a higher priority channel, it may not have the immediate capacity to process new data. This may result in hesitation. But, if the new data is so efficient that it can be processed with almost no conscious power, it can be immediately implemented. So when you calm your mind for combat, you are not eliminating conscious thought, you are eliminating unnecessary (low priority) subconscious information, clearing the channels, so to speak.

An interesting example of how the conscious and subconscious work together is the fact that untrained people exposed to violence will regress. This regression is a search of the subconscious mind for similar or related experiences so that the conscious mind will have a reference point from which to work. This search can quickly regress the emotional, intellectual, and physical abilities of an adult to those of a child, (often those of a child experiencing the earliest and most vivid memories of fear). Would you want a frightened child defending you?

There must always be a clear conscious awareness of the here and now which can overrule a runaway data search. We cannot eliminate fear from the memory, but we can buffer it with informational connections of knowledge and positive physical and emotional reaction. To be most effectively stored in the subconscious, this data must be developed on the physical, intellectual and emotional levels. In this way the subconscious is able to develop numerous cross reference connections which work to make information utilization superefficient, not superhuman. This concept as taken from the three battles of Sanchin reflects a basic philosophy of Goju-Ryu. To me, yushin is the constant striving for this state of preparation while mushin is the perfect coordination of the mind, body, and spirit through total learning.


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