My opponent snarls and lunges at me. I know no fear. Deftly, I slip aside and with the liquid motion of a serpent, redirect his angry energy. The smooth motion ends abruptly in my firm wristlock. My enemy’s surprised stupor is short-lived; I have incapacitated him with a willow-leaf palm and an ear-piercing cry of “Kia!”

The opponent falls to the ground, pity fills my heart, but another opponent arises. The process is repeated over and over. At some point in the cycle, I cease to be aware of The Opponent. Eventually, I cease to be aware of myself. 'I' is lost in other identities. I am a ninja creeping in the night, then a noble samurai sacrificing life for honor, then a Neolithic warrior proclaiming victory of the hunt, then all at the same time. These identities also fade. I think no thoughts and feel only the fury of my movements and the rhythm of my kata. Permeating even this is a feeling which transcends sensation or emotion. It is a calm and it is beautiful.

cc Matt Strauss

Zanshin ( a Japanese word) began as meaning a state of being where a person was totally aware of his/her surroundings during a martial arts technique. Often, it is used in "group fights", so the defender is not caught unaware by other attackers.

In martial arts practices (in my case, Judo and Aikido), zanshin is exercised to be sure not to collide with others. My personal experience is that it is a great state-of-being to master, for it is very useful in crowded rooms where many are moving about.

Zanshin can also be applied to non-martial arts activities. It does not translate directly to English, but some examples are the following:

  • Leaving the toilet seat down
  • Putting out a new roll of toilet paper.
  • Putting a book away when you finish with it
  • Cleaning the dishes immediately after use.
  • Setting your alarm clock for the next morning
  • Making your bed in the morning.
  • Keeping your clothes clean.
  • Watering your garden

As you can see, zanshin covers many topics; everything from cleanliness to hygiene to respect to readiness to preparedness. It is an invaluable virtue that everyone could develop a bit more.

Note: See Words that are supposedly untranslatable for more words that are translated with difficulty.

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