Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai (Part 1)

Mizubasho2020SMany members of the dojo where I practice are preparing for shinsa.  A common challenge for them, myself and perhaps many on the day of a shinsa or shiai is the handling of the potential onset of nervousness, anxiousness, the butterflies or one of the four “sicknesses” (shikai 四戒 [KendoInfo_Shikai] such as doubt, fear or confusion).  Furthermore, such conditions may intensify as the start of a match approaches.  It is likely a natural way for the mind and body to prepare itself for an important and highly anticipated peak experience.

For those who may experience this issue and wish to manage it more effectively, I list a number of suggestions below under the following categories:

  • Physical Approaches
  • Psychological (Mind-related) Approaches
  • (Perfect) Practice Makes Perfect and
  • Things to Consider Before the Day of Shinsa or Shiai

Some notes:  In case the suggestions described herein prove insufficient or ineffective, there may be a deeper issue at hand covered in a Part 2 article (A Deeper Look).  There is a wealth of additional related suggestions aimed at athletes (under sports psychology), performers in the arts, negotiators and others in potentially similar clutch situations.  Cited references are included at the end.

May the force be with you!

Updates:  Added the “Whispered Ah” on Dec. 4, 2019.

Physical Approaches

Here are suggestions which essentially use the power of motion, breathing, kiai, muscle tightening and relaxation to shift the body and mind from a state of nervousness or anxiousness to calmness and strength.

  1. Invigorate the body with exercises such as kiri-kaeshi, haya-suburi or jumping jacks.
  2. Shift to “Soft Eyes” as described in “‘Soft Eyes,’ a Way of Seeing and Being – Resources and Quotes.  (I find this and the next one very effective.)
  3. Do the “Whispered Ah” [KendoNotes_WhisperedAh].
  4. Practice deep breathing.
    1. For example, close the eyes and, for about four seconds each, breathe in deeply, hold the breath, breathe out deeply and hold the breath (and repeat).
  5. Practice exertion and relaxation.
    1. For example, tighten the muscles in the abs, rectum, fists and/or face as firmly and long as desired.  Relax and then repeat.
  6. Stretch or do yoga.
  7. Relax and loosen the muscles.
    1. For example, release any tension in the shoulders, eyes, jaws or other areas, jump up and down, shake parts the body or do self-massage deep-tissue therapy.
  8. At the start of a match and from a safe distance, let it all out with a big kiai (発声 hassei).
  9. Others:  close the eyes, lie down or lean against a wall to relax, adopt a yoga pose (e.g. down-dog, chair-pose,) swing and rotate the upper body with loose arms right and left, practice Lion’s Breath (simhasana) [Prax16].

Psychological (Mind-related) Approaches

“Be master of the mind rather than mastered by the mind.” – Zen Proverb

Here are suggestions to help calm the mind and, if desired, instill empowering thoughts or a sense of spaciousness with whatever thoughts may arise in the mind.  These approaches essentially re-orient the attention of the mind away from dis-empowering thoughts.  And instead towards, for example, body sensations, mindfulness, the related state of mushin (No Mind, Flow [Wiki_Flow] or, equivalently, Open-Focus [KendoNotes_Open Focus]), positive, re-affirming thoughts or a place of awareness of the thoughts without dwelling in their content.

  1. Meditate.
    1. For more information on meditation, see below under “Things to Consider,…”
  2. Be mindful.
    1. For example, mindfully don the gi, hakama and bogu, breathe, walk, eat, observe the thoughts without getting sucked into thinking or their content.
  3. Shift into the mushin (or equivalently, the flow, in-the-zone, Open-Focus) state.
    1. These techniques are described later under the Section “Things to Consider…”
  4. Do visualizations (i.e. image-training) as described in “Sports Visualization”.
    1. For example, imagine yourself in a beautiful, strong, calm and composed kamae.  Envision yourself executing a magnificent men strike and kiai.
  5. Repeat an empowering affirmation or phrase that resonates with you [Kia17].
    1. Examples: “I am calm and strong”.  “Do your best.”  “I can do this.”
    2. “I am. . . (fill in the blank)”  e.g. a fierce competitor, a skilled player, confident, tough, . . .
  6. Others:
    1. Listen to your favorite music* or a guided meditation.  Make and listen to your own self-guided meditation or affirmation recording.

* I remember with chuckles a fellow student who had fought with ferocious intensity and vigor in shiai’s years ago with the aid of music as recounted in “On Fire in Shiai – An Anecdote on the Power of Music”.

(Perfect) Practice Makes Perfect

An effective and perhaps obvious approach is to participate in as many shinsa and shiai events as possible.  It may be more feasible for the latter and less so for the former.  For example, I eventually overcame a fear of speaking in front of large classes of students through many opportunities of giving presentations.

Here’s an interesting application of this technique.  A well-known psychologist – the late Dr. Albert Ellis – addressed his social anxiety of approaching a lady.  During one summer, he approached 130 women and “was freed from his crippling social anxiety [Tobias14].”

Things to Consider “Before” the Day of Shinsa or Shiai

The following suggestions are essentially ways to help develop an “always calm mind” (heijoushin 平常心) [Unfettered_Heijoshin] or “normal mind” [BudoBum_Heijoshin] – no matter what the situation.

  1. Practice keiko with the mindset of being in a shinsa or shiai.
    1. Then on the “day of”, perform as you normally would.
  2. Practice mock shinsa’s or shiai’s to simulate the real experience.
  3. Practice image-training.
    1. Imagine the day of the event, “your thoughts and feelings during the big moments and envision yourself performing well under stress [Hartline17].”
  4. Get out of your comfort zone.
    1. For example, if possible, visit other dojos and practice with people you don’t normally practice with – in the mindset of a shinsa or shiai.
  5. Learn to meditate.
    1. For more information, see “Some Benefits of Meditation – Reflections,” “Resources on Meditation (黙想 mokusou)” and/or “Quotes on Meditation and Mindfulness – Related to Thoughts and Thinking”.
  6. Practice and develop mindfulness and resiliency to help you handle adversity and tough situations more effectively [Wiki_Mindfulness] [Hauck16].
  7. Practice and develop the ability to shift into mushin (or, equivalently, the flow, in-the-zone, Open Focus) state as described in:
    1. [KendoNotes_MushinResources], [KendoNotes_MushinQuotes], [KendoNotes OpenFocus], “‘Soft Eyes,’ a Way of Seeing and Being – Resources and Quotes” where your attention is not stuck or limited to one area or thing but flowing everywhere and continually.
    2. There are a growing number of neurofeedback devices such as the muse which may help enable a person to move to the Open-Focus state more easily.**
  8. Practice any of the techniques described above to identify and perhaps adopt one (or more) which works for you.

** Though I have not personally tried neurofeedback, I have heard from a meditation instructor that her husband and teenager son found it (using muse) effective.  However, their effectiveness does not seem definitive [Jarrett Neurofeedback].


[BudoBum_Heijoshin] Peter Boylan, “States of Mind:  Heijoshin,” The Budo Bum, Nov 3, 2015.

[Fehmi] Les Fehmi, Jim Robbins, The Open-Focus Brain – Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, Trumpeter Books, 2007.

[Harline17] Kenneth D. Hartline, “How to Cool Nerves Before a Game,” LiveStrong.com, June 2017.

[Hauck16] Carley Hauck, “How People Learn to Increase Their Resilience,” Mindful.org, Mar 2016.

[Jameson14] Robert C. Jameson, “Be Careful of Your Thoughts:  They Control Your Destiny,” HuffingtonPost.com, June 28, 2014.

[Jarrett_Neurofeedback]  Christian Jarrett, “Read this before paying $100s for neurofeedback therapy – Neurofeedback therapy has promise, but it’s no shortcut to enlightenment,” Psychology Today, Feb 18, 2013.”

[Jeffreys14] Michael Jeffreys, “Want Peace? Stop Identifying With Your Thoughts,” Collective-Evolution.com, April 2014.

[Kia17] Barb Kia, “Affirmations Boost Sports Confidence,” SportsConfidenceTips.com, Aug 2017.

[KendoInfo_Shikai] Geoff Salmon, “The four sicknesses “shikai” – is there a cure?” KendoInfo.Net, April 13, 2015.

[KendoNotes MushinQuotes] “Quotes on Mushin, Flow and Open-Focus,” KendoNotes.com, Dec 13, 2017.

[KendoNotes MushinResources] “Resources on Mushin-noshin (the Mind of No Mind),” KendoNotes.com, Nov. 21, 2017.

[KendoNotes_OpenFocus] “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” KendoNotes,com, May 3, 2016.

[KendoNotes_DeepMassage] “Deep-Tissue Self-Massage Therapy,” KendoNotes.com, Sept 12, 2016.

[KendoNotes_DeeperLook] “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai – A Deeper Look (Part 2), KendoNotes.com, Oct 13, 2017.

[KendoNotes_WhisperedAh] “The ‘Whispered Ah’ – for Calmness, Muscle Relaxation and the Posture,” KendoNotes.com, Dec. 5, 2019.

[Prax16] Alina Prax, “Lion’s Breath,” Yogapedia.com, Dec 2016.

[Tobias14] Kristen Tobias, “A Bronx Tale,” The Albert Ellis Institute, 2014.

[Unfettered_Heijoshin] “Some reflections of a calm, steady mind – heijoshin,” UnfetteredHara.com, June 28, 2012.

[Wiki_BetaWave] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_wave

[Wiki_Flow] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

[Wiki_Mindfulness] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

[Wiki_Muse] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muse_(headband)

[Wiki_Neurofeedback] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurofeedback

[Wiki_StomachButterflies] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterflies_in_the_stomach


Copyright 2017 KendoNotes.com




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