Tag Archives: kendo zanshin
In the writings of the legendary swordsman Yagyu Munenori he describes the “Returning The mind” this notion is the same as zanshin. When you strike your opponent with your sword and think, “I’ve struck!” the mind thinks “I’ve struck!” stopping at this thought the mind is distracted in the recent past. If the opponent continues to strike your original strike will be have lost its meaning and you will be defeated. Returning the mind as Munenori explains is not to return your mind to the place you’ve struck rather to turn your mind back and observe your opponent. Munenori goes on to explain that the ultimate state of mind is not returning your mind at all but to continue the attack striking a second or third time, also stated as “having no space to slip a single hair.” The original teachings of kendo are still revelant today.
In kendo the connection with the opponent is often described as a string between you and the opponent that moves and stretches but must not be broken. Zanshin or translated the “lingering mind” is the conclusion of a kendo strike but not the end of the kendo match it is merely an extension of this connection with the opponent. In a kendo match zanshin when properly done forces one to continue focusing on your next attack without any space for the opponent to gain any advantage if he decides to attack. Your focus, awareness and connection with the opponent continues throughout the match until the match is over.
Miyamoto Musashi the great master swordsman never mentions zanshin in his book “the five rings.” Musashi’s views on swordsmanship was molded by his actual battlefield experience. As with every aspect of kendo everything is connected and related to the whole experience of wielding the sword. Details and notions such as zanshin were actually integrated into strategy or “heiho.” Musashi mentions “holding the pillow down” as ensuring the opponent does not rise up and strike again by being alert even after making a decisive strike defeating the opponent. The enemy may be defeated but may not or has not given up. Not allowing the opponent to rise again has implications in keiko as well as shiai keiko. In keiko there are no judges to stop the match and one must continue to be alert defeating the opponent over and over again. In shiai keiko the same notion can be said as the opponent may not know he has been defeated and called to stop by a judge. Striking and defeating the opponent over and over until he has given up is an important lesson.
Sutemi and Zanshin are some of the many parts of an attack that defines kendo as separate and distinct from other sword arts from other countries. Sutemi is defined as: The state of giving (something) one’s all, prepared even to give one’s life, without thinking of the outcome. Zanshin is defined as: The body and state of mind in which, even after striking, one is alert and ready to respond instantly to a counterattack by the opponent. These two components in actual battle with a steel blade comprise a completed cut in which the mind and body of the opponent (if still alive) is given the time (seconds) to realize that he has been cut and mortally wounded by your sword. Sutemi emphasizes a deep cut through the body of the opponent, not a timid superficial cut, or a timid attack as it would be without sutemi, a complete mind, body and spirit attack. Like all Japanese martial arts, kendo in real combat is meant to be decisive and a match may be over in a matter of seconds.