Martial Arts Philosophy: Zanshin, Mushin, & Fudoshin

While the martial arts are physical in nature as they work through the human body, there are also many spiritual aspects to the arts. Esoteric concepts that are at play, working through every set of movement- invisible to the eye, but every present.

So how does the martial artist go about cultivating these spiritual aspects?

As a Western student, the first step in the process is to understand how the martial arts are transmitted if one is now already aware of it. Much of this comes from our Western educational model- how we learn things in the West shapes how we expect to learn- an academic model used by school and higher education.

The challenge is that the martial arts don’t operate by this model, and if you use this model, sorry to say, you will never make any real progress.

In our educational system one attends class, memorizes facts, followed by passing those facts back on standardized test. This continues over in the higher educational model, only more specialized with new facts that need to be explored through papers, projects, and tests.

This leads to an academic understanding of theory that can be understood by the mind.

Compare that to the martial arts that can only be understood by the body.

We can discuss and explore philosophy though debate, academic papers, and theory. Martial arts philosophy is explored through movement.

Through training.

Movement in the martial arts powers the philosophy of the martial arts and the only way to approach, understand, and use this spiritual philosophy is to just train.

One can not be taught, one can only experience, and a good teacher will put you in a place to experience these philosophies.

They can be felt, and not explained.

That said, in this post we are going to explore three of the main philosophies in the (Japanese) martial arts.

We are approaching them academically for the sake of a post with words, so you can begin to look for them in your own martial arts training- but ultimately they will not be found here.

The fist is Fudoshin- an immovable spirit.

This is a total body understanding in the martial arts- shin, gi, tai. A fighting spirit, a spirit of total commitment, a spirit of victory, or completing the task regardless of the outcome, even if that means death. Any hardship encountered is irreverent.

Second is Mushin- no mind.

In that moment of the martial arts, there is only movement. There is no time to think, analyze, debate, or figure things out. You trust in the movement passed to you by the tradition and the power of the gods (kami). The moment you stop and think, engage the rational mind, analaize academically you are not moving in the martial arts.

Thinking destroyed physical movement.

If you are thinking you can be captured and your body lead to a point of no return, if you have no mind (mushin) you can’t be lead or captured.

There are many zen concepts and elements to be found here.

The final in the three (pyramid) is Zanshin- total awareness.

Zanshin is cultivated through perfect movement in the martial arts- perfect movement in your own training to the point where martial arts distance, timing, and balance is perfect. By being perfect in your movement you become aware of all that could happen next.

This leads to the awareness of zanshin, and in your own training by seeing and being ready for all outcomes, without thinking (mushin) and powered by an immovable fighting spirit (fudoshin), we arrive at the spiritual tech in play behind the martial arts.

The invisible that powers the visible.

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