The Aikido Mind of the Modern Samurai
The Aikido Mind came from the five Spirits of Budo ‘The Way of The Warrior’.
When one adds the spirit and mindset to the way of the warrior, we now have ‘Bushido’ – The Way of the Warrior’s Mind and Spirit. Bushido is the software that gives elegance to a martial artist.
This article is not just for Aikido, it is for people who want to be the best he or she can be in their martial art.
Whether you are practising Kyokushin or GKR Karate, Boxing near Chatswood, part of Judo NSW, or doing Muay Thai in Sydney on a higher level, you need a proper mindset to keep you going (otherwise like everyone else, you’ll quit) and achieve heights in your martial artistry. Yes, that’s right, it’s no longer just learning kata or sparring. With the right mindset, you become a good artist in your art.
In Aikido, ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ are sometimes interchangeable, the same way that Ki can be translated into intention, living energy, spirit, momentum, or force.
In this post, I want to talk about the ‘Five Aikido Minds’ or the ‘Five Spirits of Budo’. This is Aikido Mental Training.
Due to the purpose of this post and for simplicity, I will call the ‘Five Spirits of Budo’ and ‘Aikido Mind’ interchangeably.
Aikido Mind: Shoshin – Beginner’s Mind
The Aikido mind starts with the kind of attitude that you probably had when you first started martial arts. You were excited and eager to learn Aikido.
You had an attitude of openness, eagerness, and had no preconceptions of how to do your techniques. Remember when all you want is to just learn? This is the Aikido mind that you should have, even when you get to the point of learning advanced Aikido.
Shoshin is the first Aikido Mind we gain and probably the easiest one to lose. We need to have the curiosity (Shoshin) of a child to progress and master any endeavour.
Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you already know everything that you need to know. You will become complacent, arrogant, and you will no longer learn and improve.
The person who thinks that he or she already knows everything is not open to learning anything new. You will notice that you fell into the trap of ‘Anti-Shoshin’ (for the lack of a better word) when you negatively criticise other martial arts or other styles of Aikido that don’t look like yours.
You can spot ‘Anti-Shoshin’ during Keiko. Here are examples of ‘Anti-Shoshin’:
- Your technique didn’t work, so you blame your uke for grabbing you or punching you incorrectly. Your technique didn’t work not because of your uke, but because need more practice. Admit it’s your fault, have the beginners mind, and move on to correct your technique.
- You couldn’t throw someone because they were too tall, short, fat, thin, didn’t commit, or they were purposely stopping you. You blame them and correct them instead of correcting your technique. This may help your ego but it won’t help you improve your Aikido.
- You went to an Aikido seminar and you were training with another person from another dojo. Your technique didn’t work because they were doing it differently than what your Sensei taught you. You blame them and their Aikido style. You leave the seminar in a belief that the whole thing was a waste of time because they didn’t understand the ‘real’ Aikido. This is ‘Anti-Shoshin’.
‘Anti-Shoshin’ is arrogance that can get yourself beaten up or killed in a fight.
To progress effectively in Aikido, maintain Shoshin – the beginner’s mind. Choose Shoshin even when you get to the higher levels of Aikido. Maintain Shoshin when you are training with others and continue to learn Aikido and Budo from everyone you meet.
Shoshin is what is going to help you keep going in your Aikido journey. Remember, your attention and intention follow your curiosity – your Shoshin.
Aikido Mind: Zanshin – Lingering Mind
Zanshin is a state of mind where you are totally in the NOW – the present moment. It is a state where you are completely aware of your environment and your surroundings. You are relaxed but aware and alert.
When doing ‘Tai No Henko’ or ‘Morote Dori Kokyu Ho’ at the beginning of each class, exaggerate the Zanshin at the end of your Kiai. A little tip, the purpose of the fourth move in Morote Dori Kokyu Ho is to train your Zanshin.
The most noteworthy element during randori and especially on the multi-attacker level is the element of Zanshin. If you are not aware of everyone, then you will be overwhelmed because every attack is a surprise. When I say everyone, I meant every single person attacking you. The reality is, unless you are a miracle worker, gifted, and blessed by the gods, you can only deal with one person at a time. Zanshin is necessary to position yourself to deal with one person at a time. The fun part is doing this without concentrating too much on one person in a relaxed state.
Now, let me break your mind. Imagine Zanshin as a version of ‘happo-giri’ (eight directional cuts) on a multi-dimensional level. Have a happo-giri awareness on both the horizontal level and also on your vertical axis. If you could see this three-dimensional shape, then you would see that Zanshin covers every direction.
It is a state of being totally aware of your environment – front, back, up, down, and both sides.
Zanshin is a state of total awareness where your mind is alert and prepared for action. This can only be achieved by serious practice, real focus without effort, and most of all not playing around. Zanshin can be achieved by being strict with your training. Consequently, Zanshin is a state of mind where the concept of takemusu can spring forth.
Mushin – No Mind
Mushin literally means mind-no-mind or empty mind. It is a state where you are acting but not having to think about your actions. Achieving the state of Mushin is at the core of Japanese martial arts and can only be achieved by years of practice.
Mushin was popularised by the movie ‘The Last Samurai”.
The moon’s reflection in a lake is only clear when the water is perfectly still. If there are waves or ripples, the moon’s reflection is distorted. You could think of Mushin as being in a state of mind where there is no distortion or thoughts, yet you are still acting.
Think of it like this, when you first learn to drive a car, you have to mentally think about everything you do. You consciously think about turning on a turn signal, checking both ways, where your hands are, your speed, etc. But once you have mastered driving your car, you do all of those things without having to think about doing them. That is Mushin. You act without having to think about what you are doing because you have mastered that specific action.
The Japanese say that Mushin cannot be understood with the intellect, but rather, it must be experienced. And that is true. When you go into Mushin, your mind is quiet, but your body is acting. To achieve this state, your mind must be free from any conscious thought, including anger, hesitation, doubt, fear, or thinking about how to do what you are doing. You simply act. You allow your spirit to guide your body.
Fudoshin – Immovable Mind
Fudoshin represents a mind that is totally at peace, in every situation. It is a mind that is filled with courage and determination. There is no fear in the immovable mind. It is in a state of complete composure and peace.
The word Fudoshin came from Fudo Myoo, a venerated god in Japanese esoteric Buddhism. Fudo is the righteous warrior’s god and guardian. Fudō converts anger into salvation, he has a furious, glaring face, as Fudō seeks to frighten people into accepting the goodness of life. Fudo carries “Kurihara” or devil-subduing sword in right hand (representing wisdom cutting through ignorance). He holds a rope in the left hand (to catch and bind up demons). Fudo often has a third eye in the forehead (all-seeing- Zanshin). He is often seated or standing on a rock (because Fudō is “immovable” in his faith). Fudoshin means Fudo’s state of mind.
When you have achieved the immovable mind, you will feel that you can achieve anything, that you are invincible. Your mind cannot be disturbed, no matter what. In this state, you are able to face fear, danger, and even death with a calm spirit. No one can intimidate you, not one attacker, and not even multiple attackers.
When you develop your mind to the point of having Fudoshin, or an immovable mind, you will be free from anger, fear, and doubt. You will approach every situation with a calm mind that can’t be moved.
Senshin – Enlightened Mind
The enlightened mind is the highest level of the five Aikido minds. At this level, you will hold all life as sacred. You will be able to perceive how everything fits together to make the whole. You will understand how each part of the Universe is connected and how something that affects one part of the Universe will ultimately affect us all. I believe Osensei have achieved this level.
Once you reach this level you will see the world in a totally different way. Your thoughts and intentions will be pure and sincere. You will wish harm to none. Your mind and spirit will become one.
Reaching Senshin is truly rare. It is not something that you can force, but something that will come after a lifetime of practice in controlling your thoughts and purifying your spirit.
Think about it, some people achieve enlightenment through various practices. Some lead a monastic life and meditate for hours and hours. Some even do corporal rituals like some extreme yogis from India. Osensei did it through the practice of Aikido. I think that is amazing, and the idea of enlightenment is more real for me, now that I am aware that it could be done.
Us Aikidoka has an opportunity to achieve enlightenment through our Aikido training. For me, this is the most exciting part of Aikido.
This is a very basic overview of the five minds of Aikido. Each of these can be delved into much deeper. It was my intention to give you a basic overview of each part, a basic understanding if you will.
In conclusion, we must be sincere in our training. This is my challenge to myself and to you. Put your spirit, mind and body into your training each and every session. The only purpose of training is to get better. Even the most incremental progress (kaizen) is still progress, you are getting better. So next time you go to Keiko, adapt the five minds there and then. Start growing your Aikido mind.
A lot of my fellow Aikidoka friends asked me to share this post in a more public space. I hope you benefit from the Aikido mind. I hope this post helps your Aikido. Even more, I hope that this post helps your personal life, as it has helped me.
The information from this post is as old as the Samurai.
If you want to read more and deepen your understanding of the Aikido Mind and the Five Spirits of Budo, then read this book.