From Yushin to Mushin

   by Carol Gittins

In studying and practicing karate, we strive to reach the state of mushin, the state of the peaceful, ready mind and body. Achieving mushin is not a matter of sudden enlightenment that occurs like a lighting flash, but rather is the result of the long process of working through yushin, the state of attaining the ready mind and body.

But what comprises yushin? It cannot be the mindless repetition of basics, kata and kumite--people do that for years and never substantially improve themselves. I believe that Sanchin kata, the three battles kata, holds the key. To attain mushin, we must fight the three battles, those of body, mind and spirit, in the ongoing process of yushin, with each battle being more difficult than the previous one

The first battle we face is the physical battle, that of preparing and conditioning our bodies. We do calisthenics and endurance drills to condition and strengthen ourselves. Also, we do basic techniques and drills until certain responses become reflexive--we block automatically, we step to the side to avoid a rushing attack, we block and counter. At this point, our bodies have become those of machines or animals; no thought is given before a response, and anu stimulus prompts a response. (During and attack and response drill with a partner, how many defenders respond to the counted number rather than the actual attack? You may have heard some martial artists tell about hitting a friend who approached from behind, bragging, "My reflexes just took over--I couldn't stop myself." In both cases, the people are still engaged in the first battle and are not even considering the next battle.)

The second battle is that of the mind, learning to discipline it so that the body will react appropriately as well as reflexively. The yushin related to the mind is to train it to awareness and to quick evaluation. Therefore, whenever we do a technique, we should visualize all of its possible applications and monitor the effectiveness of the techniques as compared to other techniques. This is especially important when doing kata. All variations of each move and their applications must be understood and committed to mind and memory. In addition, during interaction with a partner or partners, we must study our partners for clues about their intentions, balance, range of movement, eye contact, and everything else that signals and attack. We must train our minds to be aware of all around us so that we can respond accurately and effectively in case of need. The mind can learn to perceive stimulus more quickly--think back to the first time you saw full speed sparring. You didn't really see what was happening, unless you had previous fighting experience. It was only through repeated viewing and participation that you learned to see what techniques were being used and to evaluate which were actually effective. (Have you watched a baseball game? How long did it take for you to determine which pitches were good and which were not?) It is true that involving the mind may slow our responses down at first, but with repeated usage, neural response time is shortened as the brain makes stronger connections between need and response. Examples of this include shifting gears in a car, catching thrown objects, and using stepping stone to cross a stream.

The third battle, that of spirit, I cannot claim to understand, or even conceptualize. I believe that it must encompass the bushido readiness to give up your life combined with a peaceful acceptance of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. I do not know how to approach this third battle, except by trying to subdue the ego, being willing to do whatever is necessary, being tolerant of things which do not hurt anyone, and living in the here and now. This may not be the way to wage the third battle, but I do know that this battle is the most important.

We all must attempt to practice yushin in the hope of eventually attaining mushin. To do so, we should exercise not only our bodies, but our minds and spirits as well. I look forward to responses on this article. I know some of you have insights and information to share. Please do so.


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