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Zanshin -- 100% Attention

"Zanshin" is often defined as a "lingering mind." I'm sorry, but that definition does not make too much sense to me. My Kendo Sensei, Chiuchi Furuyama (who taught at the Kaimuki dojo and the University of Hawaii, among other places) once told me that zanshin was like when a bird touches the surface of a pond and lifts off. I still have not idea what that means!

I think that zanshin is emphasized in sword arts. I primarily learned Iaido from Furuyama Sensei. When we performed a kata, we would visualize the attacker that we were cutting down. We would visualize his attack and our response. We would "see" each of our cuts as if they were really being made. At the end, when we returned the sword to its saya (sheath), we would keep our focus on the attacker, who lay dead on the ground. We would maintain awareness so that if he suddenly jumped up or attacked, we would be ready to cut him down again.

Our awareness "lingered" on the attacker. We did not let ourselves become distracted. Out attention was focused like a laser.

At the end of kata in Karate, when we return to our starting position, it is important to maintain zanshin. The kata is not over until the final bow (or whatever signifies completion in your system). As we are stepping back, we have be remain aware and ready to defend ourselves. We cannot let our attention wander. In fact, we are most vulnerable when we "think" things are over.

Even when we perform our final bow, we have to remain aware. The attacker could jump up and attack again. Someone else might attack us. A bus might come crashing through the wall. Who knows what could happen?

We must remain aware. We must be aware.

Of course, this is not something reserved only for the last movement of a kata. It applies all the time -- in the beginning, middle, and end of each movement. Zanshin is constant. We are vulnerable at any time there is a gap in our awareness, concentration and focus.

Taken further, we should not only reserve zanshin for kata. We should be aware before, during and after kata. We should be aware while in the dojo, but also before we arrive and after we leave. We should be aware at all times.

There is a teacher here in Hawaii named Masaichi Oshiro. He is retired now, but people who know or learned from him often comment that his eyes were like laser beams. I have met him and it is true. Come to think of it, people said that he had "steely eyes."

With a person like that, there is no opening. His zanshin is too great.

Sensei Chiuchi Furuyama passed away many years ago. I will always remember his warm smile and kindness. I never became skilled in Iaido or Kendo, but my first and third sons did take up Kendo. My first son was twice a member of Hawaii's team for the World Kendo Tournament. When he was just three years old, he would tag along with me to Iaido practice. Furuyama Sensei eventually let him use a small toy sword and copy us. My son probably does not remember Furuyama Sensei very well, but he helped to fuel his interest in Kendo and Iaido.


Charles C. Goodin