What is Mu Shin?


MushinIn Japanese martial arts the training of the mind has always been at least as important as the training of the body - if not more so. One of the reasons for practising mental control is that an uncluttered mind will quicken your reaction time. When faced with an attack the most salient factor tends to be the speed with which you recognise and respond. At a basic level of competence, reaction to attack is simply a conditioned reflex, but at higher levels of martial arts this is not as desirable as it may seem. The beginner may think being able to "react without thinking" shows the highest level of attainment. No so. If people are trained to react reflexively in a certain way this can very easily be turned to their disadvantage. Do not fix your mind on things as they are not always as they seem. Skill in self-defence is not gained by slavish mechanic repetition. Technique has its place, but so too does instinct. The true expert must always be ready to adapt at a fraction of a second's notice.

Mu-Shin, a Japanese concept, means "no mind". That does not mean "mindless", rather that when you enter a state of mu-shin you are void of thought, you have no emotion, no expectations or anticipation. The idea behind this is that you leave your mind and let your body do what it has been trained to do. It is essential not to be too tense since this can inhibit movement, nor so relaxed that you become careless, dreamy or sloppy. In practice this means you retain an awareness of a situation at least on a moral and ethical level. You want to be in control of yourself. 
Mu-Shin is something to strive for in your martial arts training. It is not easily attained. Once mastered, it can be applied in all aspects of living, to great advantage.

Miyamoto Musashi

miyamoto musashi book of five ringsMiyamoto Musashi was a historical character (d.1645) who understood the importance of martial training. He was a talented swordsman, said to have have engaged in sixty sword fights without a single loss, who developed a two-sword fighting style and his strategy for winning is often applied in today's world, in business and in martial arts training, with or without weapons.

In his "Book of Five Rings", or "Go Rin No Sho", he wrote:

"If you practise day and night in the ichi school strategy, your spirit will naturally broaden. This is large scale strategy and the strategy of hand to hand combat propagated in the world".

Think like a samurai

  • Do not think dishonestly
  • The Way is in training
  • Become acquainted with every art
  • Know the Ways of professions
  • Distinguish between gain and loss in wordly matters
  • Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything
  • Perceive those things which cannot be seen
  • Pay attention even to trifles
  • Do nothing which is of no use

Musashi also wrote

  • The first of three methods of forestalling an enemy is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken no Sen (to set him up)
  • The second method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai no Sen (to wait for the initiative).
  • The third is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai no Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).
"There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy's spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him. It is impossible to write about this in detail".

Musashi developed his strategies in the bloody battles of ancient Japan. By all accounts he had the appearance of a scruffy ruffian, which strongly indicates that we should not judge someone's abilities by their appearance. Musashi's strategies are relevant for today's martial artist even though most battles are not to the death, but in surviving day to day.

Hachiman in prehistory

According to legend, Emperor Chuai died while at war with Korea around 190AD and his wife, pregnant with Ojin, amassed an army and crossed the sea to Korea to avenge her husband. The legend tells that while at sea the baby was ready to be born, but the Empress spoke to her unborn child "If you are a prince, you must listen. I am crossing the sea to attack the enemy of your father. Since I am only a woman, I want you to act as my commander in chief. If you are destined to be sovereign of Japan you must remain unborn during the time of the battle and command the ten thousand horsemen of your army. If you do not heed these words and insist on being born at once I will cast you into the sea".

Ojin accordingly remained unborn and his mother waged a successful attack on Korea. He was born when she returned to Japan three years, six months and three days later. He became emperor and died aged eighty. Emperor Ojin took the name Hachiman Taro Yoshiie and through his military prowess and virtue as a leader, became regarded and respected as the ideal samurai through the ages. Hachiman is a revered as a deity in both Shinto and Buddhism. In the 8th century AD he became Hachiman Great Bodhisattva (八幡大菩薩 Hachiman Daibosatsu) A Bodhisattva is an enlightened one who chooses to remain with the living to help and enlighten others.

Hachiman protects honest people, just as he protected the early fishermen and at the other end of the social scale, rulers of Japan. His deity is revered as a god of warriors

There are approximately 25,000 shrines to Hachiman in Japan, including one built in 1063 by the Minamoto family (for whom Hachiman was an ancestor) in Kamakura, Japan.