One of the first things that struck me about training with the students of the Honbu dojo is their concentration and focus. Each technique is delivered with full speed, power and utmost concentration and you can see that sensei’s famous words “each technique concentrate” have rubbed off on each of the senior grades. Rather than falling into habitual and rhythmic ‘counting’ patterns, in kihon (basics) and pair work, each technique is delivered as if it’s the first and only one. There’s also an emphasis on ‘not rushing’ techniques, and a slight pause or ‘focus point’ between each that’s just enough to keep those twitch fibers tingling and your partner on their toes.
“This is the mind of complete action. It is the moment in kyudo (Zen archery) after releasing the arrow... In shodo, it is finishing the brush stroke and the hand and brush moving smoothly off the paper… Zanshin means complete follow through, leaving no trace. It means each thing, completely, as it is… a mind of continual readiness, like a mirror ready to reflect whatever is shown to it…” (Zen monk, The Venerable Anzan Hoshin Roshi, 1988).Zanshin refers to a state of ‘presentness’ and sensitivity to your surroundings in the absence of conscious thought. In holding the ‘yoi’ position for a moment at the end of a kata you’re practicing zanshin – continued alertness and readiness even though the physical part of a technique is complete. In martial arts, people talk about zanshin training awareness and the cultivation of that ‘sixth-sense’ – the ability to anticipate an attack before it arrives.
I think in our eagerness to complete a task we can often rush through kata or techniques, neglecting the finer details and finishing touches. Zanshin requires that we don’t become distracted by thoughts of the final product or what’s coming next. ‘Without this kind of ‘focus’ I think it’s very hard to improve in training. Routinely ‘going through the motions’ only serves to further ingrain what you’re already doing. And, this isn’t always a good thing as the one thing harder than learning new techniques is ‘unlearning’ bad ones.
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