Focusing on the Process vs. Results for Shinsa and Shiai

It is natural to focus on the “results” aspect of shinsa and shiai.  A pass vs. fail.  A win vs. loss.  Likewise for the outcomes of scholastic tests, courtships, applications, interviews, performances, negotiations, dieting, investing, election campaigns – you name it – for many endeavors.   This article is about placing more attention on the “process” for achieving results and intended for those unfamiliar with this approach.  It describes the concept in general and for kendo in particular with the following sections:

  • A Story of a Young Boy
  • Some General Articles on the Process-based Approach
  • Focusing on the Process for Kendo
  • Closing Thoughts

The journey will make you wiser and stronger.  … your happiness is in your journey, in your life, in what’s happening now… and not in your destinations, in the past or the future. – Sergio José Rodríguez Méndez [Quora_Journey].

Updates:  Added a story from [Hyams] on Mar. 13, 2022.

A Story of a Young Boy [Hyam]

A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo, he was given an audience by the sensei.   “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.

  • “I wish to be your student and become the finest ka­rateka in the land,” the boy replied. “How long must I study?”
    • “Ten years at least,” the master answered.
  • “Ten years is a long time,” said the boy. “What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?”
    • “Twenty years,” replied the master.
  • “Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?”
    • “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.
  • “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.
    • “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.”

Some General Articles on the Process-based Approach

Here are a few general and brief articles on the “process-based” approach that seemed insightful to me (and there’s many more of such articles) with excerpts:

  •  Jim Taylor, Ph.D. “In Sports, Results Matter, But to Get Them, Ignore Them – Focus on the process and the results will come”.
    • It explains the reasoning and benefits behind focusing on the process.
    • … when you focus on the process, you increase your chances of getting the results you want.  If you focus on the process, that is, what you need to do to perform your best, how you are likely going to perform?  Pretty well, you can assume.  And if you perform well, you’re more likely to achieve the result you wanted in the first place [Taylor].
  • Tom Murcko, “Focus on process, not outcome,”
    • It explains the “why” behind focusing on the process and “how” to do so.
    • It puts you in control.  You have only partial control over whether you reach a specific external goal.  But you have complete control over the process you use.
    • If your happiness is predicated on your success, and if your success is predicated on a specific outcome, you are setting yourself up for a high likelihood of frustration and disappointment.  If you instead let go of the need for any particular outcome, you increase your chances for success and contentment.
    • The more you focus on process over outcome, the more confident you’ll become, and there’s nothing more attractive than confidence. [Murcko]
  • “Process vs. Outcome Thinking – Playing with a Quiet Mind,” GolfPsych Newsletter, Sept. 1995
    • Somewhere along the way the love of the game gives way to the pressure to perform, expectations, desires, frustrations, fear of failure, impatience and anxiety related to the very challenge they loved.
    • Long before they even realize it, they have slipped into playing golf primarily for results (OUTCOME) and have slipped away from playing for the love of the game and the challenge of each shot (PROCESS).

Focusing on the Process for Kendo

Let’s see how this applies to kendo via a number of angles:  comments from Alex Bennett sensei, a saying in kendo, related principles from kyudo and comments from a senpai in education.

Comments by Alex Bennett (7 dan) [Bennett_7Dan]

Here’s a video interview by Hiro Imafuji sensei of Alex Bennett (7 dan) after he passed the 7th dan shinsa [Bennett_7Dan].  I found it helpful to hear his approach to shinsa and shiai – from 20:50 to 24:27 mins – with the mindset of doing nothing out of the ordinary.  Doing what he always did – which was kendo at the level of a 7th dan according to the judges.  Here’s some excerpts:

So that means that you have to be doing nice strong kendo:「基本道理」[kihodouri] the way it should be done in a correct kihon (fundamentals) in your everyday training.  So, that regardless whether you are training or you are in an examination or you are in a shiai, it’s still the same kendo.

And the reason I probably passed was because I wasn’t thinking:  “Oh, 7th dan, I have to do my best kendo to pass.”  I just went in there and did the kendo that I always do.  And, the kendo that I always do, according to the people who were marking it, is 7th dan kendo.

A Saying in Kendo

There is an expression that I’ve heard from sensei‘s over the years: “Do keiko as if in shinsa (shiai)” and its corollary “Do shinsa (shiai) as if in keiko.”  You may have heard this, too.  It is an approach to cultivate “Heijoushin” (平常心) which translates to an “always calm mind” [Kendo-guide_Heijoshin] or “normal mind” [BudoBum_Heijoshin] – very related to Bennett sensei‘s comments.  Where we would make it a habit to be in a calm mindset while performing with an intensity and form no different when in keiko or shinsa (or shiai).

This approach is quite different from what I and perhaps others have done in the past or may do at times.   Which is to take it easy during practices and then turn it “on” for matches or events that count.  A more in-depth look at Heijoushin can be found in [Yaegaki-kai_Heijoshin] and elsewhere.


Kyudo appears to encourage a similar focus on process rather than results.  I visited a local Kyudo dojo and one of the members explained that attention is paid to the whole process – before, while and after letting an arrow fly.  Indeed, according to the International Kyudo Federation:

The result is judged not only by whether you hit or miss, but how the Shagyo (process of shooting) was carried out. [IKYF_Attitude]

Comments from a Senpai in Education

A senpai with many years of experience in education once gave me some invaluable process-related advice on dealing with capable children or teenagers who start doing poorly in school.  Rather than focusing on the results of their school tests or grades which may be poor, she suggested focusing on their effort.  For example, “I’m proud of the effort you’re putting into your studies!” assuming this were true.  This approach is apparently more effective in turning around the performance of such students.

In the context of shinsa or shiai, one could probably benefit by patting oneself on the shoulder from time-to-time or hearing similar words of encouragement from others when one begins practicing ardently with this process-based approach.


Based on the above, the take-away message, for me, is to develop the following “habit” and mindset to achieve results and success.

  • Aim to make each practice, each keiko and each strike:
    • 1) indicative of a person who “is” already at the target shinsa level and 2) as if in shinsa or
    • 1) indicative of a person who “is” already someone who fights in a way that wins in shiai and 2) as if in shiai
  • Such that one would approach the actual shinsa or shiai the same way one practices – doing nothing out of the ordinary.

It is important to note that this approach requires not only developing a “habit” of practicing a certain way.  It also requires a clear understanding and visualization of that “certain way” or “ideal form” of the target shinsa level (or the way to win in shiai).  This relates to image training and mind-related programming.  One’s current form would ideally and gradually morph towards that ideal form.  And a feedback loop (via videos, comments from others and/or self-analysis) would facilitate minimizing the difference between the two (the ideal vs. current form) with time and practice.

Enjoy the journey!


[Bennett_7Dan] Hiro Imafuji, “Interview with Alex Bennett Full Version for Everyone,” Dec 14, 2015.

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

[HarvardBusiness] “Fix the Process, Not the Problem,” Harvard Business Review.

[Hyams] Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts, Bantam Books, 1982, p. 87

[IKYF_Attitude] “Mental Attitude of Kyudo,” International Kyudo Federation.

[Kendo-guide_Heijoshin] Hiro Imafuji “Kendo Terminology: Heijoshin,”

[Quora_Journey] Sergio José Rodríguez Méndez, “Which is more important, journey or destination?”, Jan 27, 2018.

[Murko] Tom Murcko, “Focus on process, not outcome,”

[Taylor] Jim Taylor, Ph.D., “In Sports, Results Matter, But to Get Them, Ignore Them – Focus on the process and the results will come,” Psychology Today, Dec 18, 2013.

[Yaegaki-kai_Heijoshin] Heijoshin 平常心, Brussels Yaegaki-kai, Feb 22, 2010. 

Copyright 2018


2 thoughts on “Focusing on the Process vs. Results for Shinsa and Shiai

  1. Erich January 18, 2019 / 1:04 am

    This is an important subject in Budo. I’ve trained in Karate > Kendo >even in Iaido with the same mind-set. that is “If I knew that tomorrow my skills would be put to a life or death situation I would make every second count in class.” Serious or not one has to enjoy the journey of everyday training and not a fixed destination { a Black Belt, a First place trophy etc.} which I believe leads to complacency.


    • kiai January 18, 2019 / 9:36 am

      I agree. Indeed, to savor the journey. Thank you for your comment Erich.


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