Shinsa and Shiai – Quotes for Inspiration (Part 2)

Here’s some more inspiring quotes for those preparing for a shinsa or shiai on the topics of:

  • Determination
  • Effort
  • Winning and
  • Losing

On Determination

  • “Guts are a combination of confidence, courage, conviction, strength of character, stick-to-itiveness, pugnaciousness, backbone, and intestinal fortitude. They are mandatory for anyone who wants to get to and stay at the top.” –  D.A. Benton
  • “It is your determination and persistence that will make you a successful person.” – Kenneth J. Hutchins.
  • “I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.” – Wilma Rudolph.
  • “The determination to win is the better part of winning.” – Daisaku Ikeda
  • “Men who know exactly what they want of life, and are determined to get it, do not stop with wishing. They intensify their wishes into a burning desire, and back that desire with continuous effort based on a sound plan.” – Andrew Carnegie.

On Effort

  • “Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.” – Zig Ziglar.
  • “You find that you have peace of mind and can enjoy yourself, get more sleep, and rest when you know that it was a one hundred percent effort that you gave–win or lose.” – Gordie Howe.
  • “I think my greatest victory was every time I walked out there, I gave it everything I had. I left everything out there. That’s what I’m most proud of.” – Jimmy Conners.
  • “It takes superhuman effort to focus on a task when you’re surrounded by distractions. But when you remove distractions in advance, no such effort is required: concentration flows.” – Nick Winter.

On Winning

  • “The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.” – Vince Lombardi.
  • “There is one quality that one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” – Napoleon Hill.
  • “Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people, and heart. Winning is the result.” – Joe Torre.
  • “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On Losing

  • “You learn more from losing than winning. You learn how to keep going.” – Morgan Wootten.
  • “Losing is part of the game. If you never lose, you are never truly tested, and never forced to grow.” – David Sirlin
  • “If you learn from a loss you have not lost.”  – Austin O’Malley.
  • “Losing is no disgrace if you’ve given your best.” – Jim Palmer.
  • “Most players … do not like losing, and consider defeat as something shameful. This is a wrong attitude. Those who wish to perfect themselves must regard their losses as lessons and learn from them what sorts of things to avoid in the future.” – Jose Capablanca.



Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai – A Deeper Look (Part 2)

In case the approaches described in “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai (Part 1)” prove insufficient or ineffective, then there may be a deeper issue.  Looking under the hood may help.  An underlying belief may be causing the nervousness or anxiousness.  If so, in a nutshell, one would need to identify that belief and then debunk or neutralize it.  I expand on the steps with examples and describe the ABCDE Model from REBT and, in brief, Learned Optimism.  Please note the disclaimer below.*

May you be free!

The Steps with Examples

  1. The first step is to identify the problematic belief if any.  This may require genuine introspection.
    1. For example, some may believe strongly that their sense of self-worth is tied to their performance results and how well they do.
    2. “If I don’t do well, then . . . (fill in the blank).”  For example, “people won’t respect me”, “I’ll disappoint my peers, sensei‘s or others,” or “I’ll be an embarrassment.”
  2. Once identified, the second step would be to question the validity of the belief.
    1. For example, “Is my self-worth truly tied to my performance results or other external, impermanent attributes?”
  3. The third step would be to insert a new belief.
    1. For example, “No, perhaps I am worthy period – irrespective of the lack or presence of accomplishments, rank, wins, etc.  I only need to do my best”

This approach to calming the body and mind is referred to as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and embodied in the ABCDE Model described below.  It can be quite effective, cathartic and freeing.

Of course, this approach can be applied to other aspects of kendo and life.  For example, how we rationalize and then respond to events such as losing an initial point in a match or setbacks in life can be pivotal to our performance, resiliency and well-being.   The cultivation of effective and constructive ways to handle such events and setbacks can be developed according to the practice of Learned Optimism.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, this  is a distinguishing characteristic of athletes such as those at the Olympic level who rise instead of falling in the face of adversity [Bayer] [Seligman98].

The ABCDE Model

The “ABCDE” represents: Adversity → Belief(s) → Consequence → Disputation of Belief(s) → Effective New Belief(s).  Given an “Adversity” (also referred to as an “Activating Event”), a person may react or respond with a “Consequence” based his or her underlying “Beliefs”.  Once the problematic “Beliefs” are identified, the next step would be to “Dispute” or question the beliefs and, if possible, insert “Effective New Beliefs”.  In the eariler example,

  • The “Adversity” is the shiai or shinsa event.
  • The “Consequence” is the nervousness or anxiousness.
  • The first step identifies the “Belief(s)” which produces the consequence given the adversity.  e.g.  My self-worth is tied to achieving a higher rank or winning.
  • The second step is to “Dispute the belief(s)”.   e.g. Is this really true?
  • The last step is to insert into the mind “Effective New Belief(s)”. e.g.  “No, I am worthy person.  I only need to do my best.”

For more information, there are number of resources on the ABCDE Model, REBT, CBT and Learned Optimism.  A few are listed in the References below.


* Disclaimer:  the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Copyright 2017


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

Many members of the dojo where I practice are preparing for shinsa.  A common challenge for them, myself and perhaps many is in handling the potential onset of nervousness or anxiousness on the day of a shinsa or shiai.   It is likely a natural way for the mind and body to prepare itself for an important and highly anticipated peak experience.  However, for some, this may at times lead to a pounding heart, butterflies in the stomach, cold sweat, the tightening of muscles, an anxious mind or a “sickness” such as doubt, fear or confusion (a subset of the four sicknesses shikai 四戒 [KendoInfo_Shikai]).  Indeed, we may witness someone typically fearless, decisive and strong in keiko become uncharacteristically fearful, indecisive and weak in shinsa or shiai.

This article is intended for those who may experience this issue and wish to manage it more effectively.  I list 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:  There is a wealth of information dealing with this topic for athletes (under sports psychology), performers in the arts, negotiators and others who may deal with similar situations.  In case the approaches described herein prove insufficient or ineffective, there may be a deeper issue at hand covered in a Part 2 article (A Deeper Look).  Cited references are included at the end.

May the force be with you!

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 or haya-suburi and with big kiai.
  2. Practice meditation (mokuso) or deep breathing.
    1. For example, close the eyes and for periods of four seconds each, breath in deeply, hold the breath, breathe out deeply and hold the breath (and repeat).
  3. Deliberately tighten the muscles in the abs, rectum, fists and/or face and hold as long as desired.  Relax and then repeat.
  4. Stretch.
  5. Do self-massage deep-tissue therapy.
  6. 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.   These approaches essentially re-orient the attention of the mind or move it towards a state of no mind (mushin), of being in the-zone, flow-state or, equivalently, open-focus [Wiki_Flow] [KendoNotes_Open Focus].

  1.  Practice mindfulness.
    1. For example, close the eyes, breathe deeply and watch your breathe or thoughts.
  2. Practice image-training.
    1. For example, imagine yourself in a beautiful, strong, calm and composed kamae.  Envision yourself executing a magnificent men strike with a big kiai.
  3. 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, . . .
  4. Practice the open-focus techniques described in [Fehmi] [KendoNotes_Open Focus].
    1. There are a growing number of neurofeedback devices such as the muse which may enable a person to move to the open-focus state more easily.*
  5. Others:  listen to your favorite music or a guided meditation.  Make and listen to your own self-guided meditation or affirmation recording.

* Though I have not personally tried neurofeedback, I have heard from a meditation instructor on the effectiveness of  muse for her husband and teenager son.

(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.  I eventually overcame my fear of speaking in front of large classes of students through many opportunities of giving presentations.

An interesting example of the effectiveness of this technique is an experience of a well-known psychologist – the late Dr. Albert Ellis.   To address his social anxiety of approaching a lady, he approached 130 women during one summer and eventually “was freed from his crippling social anxiety [Tobias14].”

Things to Consider Before the Day of Shinsa or Shiai

  1. Practice keiko with the mindset of being in a shinsa or shiai.
  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. Practice and develop mindfulness and resiliency to help you handle adversity and tough situations more effectively [Wiki_Mindfulness] [Hauck16].
  6. Practice any of the techniques described above to identify and perhaps adopt those which work for you.


[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,”, June 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2017

Shinsa and Shiai – Quotes for Inspiration (Part 1)

Here’s some inspiring quotes for those preparing for a shinsa or shiai on the topics of:

  • Preparation
  • Practice
  • Habits
  • Success and Failure

Additional quotes on the very related topics of “Determination, Effort, Winning and Losing” can be found in a separate post “Shinsa and Shiai – Quotes for Inspiration (Part 2).  It is interesting how they seem to apply to many aspects of life.


On Preparation:

  • “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”  – Alexander G. Bell.
  • “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” – Colin Powell.
  • “Poise and confidence are not possible unless you have prepared correctly.  Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Poise and confidence are a natural result of proper preparation.” – John Wooden
  • “The score (Shinsa) will take care of itself when you take care of the effort that precedes the score (Shinsa).” – John Wooden (with the text in parentheses added).
  • “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant.
  • “You have to rely on your preparation. You got to really be passionate and try to prepare more than anyone else, and put yourself in a position to succeed, and when the moment comes you got to enjoy, relax, breathe and rely on your preparation so that you can perform and not be anxious or filled with doubt.” – Steve Nash.
  • “If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” – Mark Spitz.
  • “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” – Bobby Knight.
  • “Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” – Roger Staubach.

On Practice:

  • “If you don’t practice you don’t deserve to win.” – Andre Agassi.
  • “The greatest mistake is to continue to practice a mistake.” – Bobby Bowden.
  • “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi.
  • “Talent is never enough. With few exceptions the best players are the hardest workers.” – Magic Johnson.
  • “The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.” – Anson Dorrance.

On Habits:

  • “Good habits are difficult to acquire, but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to acquire, but difficult to live with.” – Zig Ziglar.
  • “Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it everyday and soon it cannot be broken.” – Horace Mann.
  • “A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them.” – Frank Clark.
  • “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle.

On Success and Failure:

  • “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln.
  • “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.
  • “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Sir Winston Churchill.
  • “Things that hurt, instruct.” – Benjamin Franklin.
  • “It’s not whether you get knocked down.  It’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardo.
  • “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” –  Bertie C. Forbes .



Ways to Relax Tight Shoulders (肩に力を抜いて!)

Some fellow members at the dojo where I practice have asked about ways to relax tight shoulder muscles.  What follows is my journey in this area and ways I have explored with the help of friends, my chiropractor, therapists, meditation teachers and sensei’s.  May this article be of value to all who may be experiencing a similar issue and in need of relief.    Please note the disclaimer below.*


I have struggled with tight shoulders for many years in kendo.  For the initial years, I was likely oblivious to them – noticing them haphazardly at times after a shiai or keiko had I been stiff, slow, anxious or with a strong desire to “win” or do my best.  During my years in Japan, a teacher and professor, Yokoyama Naoya (横山直也) Sensei, would admonish me with a gentle smile saying “Relax the shoulders” (肩に力を抜いて, katani chikarawo nuite) when he noticed my tense shoulders at practices.**  Then about ten years ago, after the tension and pain in the shoulder, upper back and neck area became more prevalent, I began a journey for relief and healing there.

Though still a work-in-progress, I have now become more in tune with my shoulders, more aware of my state of mind and more relaxed there during practices and matches.  This is largely due to an array of tools and techniques (listed below) that I have learned thanks to many others and with exploration over the years.  I have found some of these, like deep-tissue self-massage therapy and posture checks, indispensable.  They not only help prevent, reduce or release the tightness in my shoulders, but they have also helped me strike hits with more ease (less stiffness) and speed.  My body feels better and more responsive.

Ways to Relax the Shoulder

I list off the ways that I have explored below and expand on some of them later.  For me, the pressure-related approaches provide immediate physical relief.  And the mind-related approaches can provide relief when the source of the tension are from thoughts and stressful situations.

  • Physical approaches:
    • Pressure-related:  Deep-tissue self-massage therapy, Lacrosse ball therapy, Foam rolling, Acupressure.
    • Stretching:  Yoga, Stretches, Pole stick stretching, Chin-up bar stretching.
    • Posture related:  Back, chest and spine positioning when seated, standing or walking, sleeping on a more firm surface.
    • Motion related:  Arm motion, Tai-chi, Lifting-up the shoulders to the ears tightly and then releasing and relaxing them.
    • Temperature-related:  Exercises to warm up and build heat in the shoulders [1], Heat therapy (e.g. sauna, hot water bathing with or without epsom salt, hot yoga), Cold water therapy.
    • Breathing: Deep breathing exercises, kiai with all one’s energy.
    • Others:  Acupuncture.
  • Mind-related approaches:

Some Ways In More Detail

  • Deep-tissue self-massage therapy (this links to an article with further links to videos and more details) and Lacrosse ball therapy are the most effective and immediate ways for me to relieve shoulder muscle tightness or pain.  If and when a massage therapist is unavailable, it is possible to find relief with the lacrosse ball – though some hard-to-reach areas (e.g. under the arm and rotator cuff) may require some contortion of the body.
  • Pole stick stretching refers to the use of a long pole (e.g. broom stick or bamboo pole) to facilitate deep stretching of the various parts of the shoulder muscles.  Here’s a couple of video examples: Rotator cuff stretches, Frozen shoulder exercise – pole mobility.
  • With regards to posture, part of the cause of my shoulder and neck issues stemmed from poor posture when standing or seated especially when using a laptop for extended periods of time.  A head and neck positioned forward instead of above the spine, a forward leaning spine and forward-hunching shoulders apparently (and perhaps obviously)  place a large amount of stress on the muscles struggling to support unnatural body positions.  The challenge is in noticing this since it is difficult to see ourselves.  I only became aware of this thanks to my massage therapist and chiropractor.   “Ways to Check and Improve Your Posture for Kamae – Wag your Tail” addresses these issues.
  • The Mind-related approaches have become increasingly effective for me.  At a shiai or shinsa, for example, thoughts racing through the mind, excitement, anxiety or a feeling of un-centeredness can arise which may contribute to inducing tension in the shoulders and body.  To counter this, the cited approaches can help calm the mind and body and eventually relax the shoulders.  Their value and effects may take a while to notice or realize.  Part of the challenge is becoming more aware of the mind and body, moving to that state of flow, or filling the mind with empowering and energizing thoughts.

Bon courage!

[1]  This tip was suggested by Shigetaka (Shane) Kamata Sensei (8th Dan) (Thank you!).

* Disclaimer:  the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

** One way of noticing tight shoulders in others is by viewing their shoulder positions from behind when they are fighting.  His or her left shoulder may be noticeably higher than the right one or both shoulders may be raised.

Copyright 2017


How to See the Chance for an Ippon (Translation of 一本を取るチャンスの見つけ方 by こごろ一様)

This is an English translation of a second article in Japanese by Kogoro-Sama  from Web-Kendo at with his kind permission to post it (Thank you Kogoro-Sama).   Translated by KendoNotes.

In kendo where winning or losing is decided in the blink of an instant, the one who strikes when one should strike to take advantage of an opportunity wins the ippon (point).

One cannot win in kendo by only striking blindly.

So, in kendo, securing the ippon in terms of timing is very difficult.

With regards to discovering and ascertaining this opportunity when one should strike, Takano Sasaburo (a swordsman of the highest level during the initial period of the Showa era (1926 to 1989) who developed the present Nippon Kendo Kata) described the “Seven Opportunities” in his literary work called “Kendo Teachings” which follows.

  1. Avoid the essence of the opponent and strike the emptiness.
    • Avoid where the opponent places his/her attention and strike where there is no attention or energy.
  2. Strike at a stiff head or a suspended mouth
    • A chance appears when the opponent expects something to happen or when the opponent is about to move.
  3. Strike if you see movement of kogishin (a confused mental state resulting in hesitation).
    • The term “movement of kogishin” (the state of doubt and hesitation) refers to when neither the intention of striking nor the spirit to defend functions.
  4. Strike when (the opponent is) at home.
    • At home (when tired or confused) refers to the state where the spirit and body does not move and there is no change.  This is a good opportunity.
  5. Strike when (the opponent) is rushed.
    • An opportunity arises for sure when the opponent is rushing or impatient.
  6. Strike when (the opponent) is exhausted.
    • Strike when the opponent has exhausted his/her energy or spirit.
  7. Strike when the sword tip (kensaki) drops
    • When the opponent is in chudan or jodan kamae, strike at the instant the sword tip drops.

To hit a point, one must judge these (opportunities) instantly and make a decision. As the ability (of the opponent) goes higher, such opportunities become rarer and finding such moments become more difficult.

This is not something that can be mastered overnight. However, major progress is possible by keeping these opportunities in mind while one practices keiko day to day.  Also, conversely for oneself, it is important to avoid succumbing to the same seven opportunities that the opponent is looking for.

In kendo, “seeing” is most important. In particular, in shiai (competitions), whether one can see the state of the opponent and oneself determines the match.

There are often times, when one thinks both people are quietly in kamae (the “on guard” position), that a match is determined by such moments (opportunities). It is imperative to react upon detecting such opportunities.  Conversely, one should not give such opportunities to the opponent.

Aren’t these things as described, which cannot be achieved or obtained by only speed or physical ability, needed in kendo?

In order to take advantage of these moments (opportunities) in kendo, apply seme (pressure) on an opponent during a shiai.  Moreover, if one sees things from an earlier perspective, the fight (shiai) starts from the day-to-day keiko practices (beforehand).

I believe that this concept of seizing such instantaneous moments is the way of the sword.  In this regard, doesn’t this seem to be a deep aspect of kendo?


Translation Copyright 2016

Open-Focus, Mushin and Kendo

Revised on Oct 17, 2017 with editing and additional references.

Several years ago, I came across an insightful book The Open-Focus Brain by Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins [Fehmi].  The possibility of the “Open-Focus” concept improving my kendo piqued my interest.  According to his biography, Dr. Fehmi holds a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA, has worked with sports teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the New Jersey Nets and has certification as a “speed and explosion specialist”.  And according to the book cover, the principles described therein could  help enhance sports-related performance.  I describe here the open-focus concept and its relation to 無心 (mushin) and kendo.  The break-down of the article is as follows.

  • What is “Open-Focus”?
  • Open Focus, 無心 (mushin), In-the-Zone and Flow-State
  • How to Achieve Open-Focus?
  • How to Achieve Open-Focus in Kendo?
  • The Benefits of Open-Focus in Kendo
  • Wrap-up & References

What is “Open-Focus”?

The authors note two general states of mind or approaches to “paying attention”.

The first is a “narrow-focus” approach where our mind is sharply tuned to a particular task, sensory input or thought.  It is associated with an emergency mode of paying attention, higher heart rates, higher respiratory rates and greater energy required to maintain this heightened state. Based on his neurofeedback studies of the brain, Dr. Fehmi found that the narrow-focus approach tends to illicit brain waves with higher frequencies referred to as beta waves (13 to 50 Hz).

The second is an “open-focus” approach where our mind is diffuse, non-focused and relaxed yet still alert – not attuned to any particular task, input or thought.   It tends to illicit brain waves with lower frequencies referred to as alpha waves (8 to 13 Hz).  In this state, the author discovered that

My muscle tone softened, and I moved with a newfound effortlessness and fluidity… Anxiety evaporated.  I felt extraordinarily present, centered, poised, open, lighter and freer, more calmly energetic and spontaneous.  I laughed and smiled more.  Untoward events no longer threw me the way they had before… I was in the zone” [Fehmi, p.31].

This is generally the state we wish to be in where our body moves with ease, our strikes are effortless and smooth and our mind is clear – unfettered by thoughts, worries or fears.

Open-focus, 無心 (mushin), In-the-Zone and Flow-State

I believe that these terms refer to the same state.  Mushin translates to “no mind” or the “absence of mind” in English.  Minoru Kiyota equates mushin to the flow-state in [Kiyota02, p. 2] and the following description from [Wiki_Mushin] reads like one for open-focus:

[Mushin is] a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything . . . achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life.

There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is their trained natural reaction or what is felt intuitively. It is not a state of relaxed, near-sleepfulness, however. The mind could be said to be working at a very high speed, but with no intention, plan or direction. [Wiki_Mushin]

How to Achieve Open Focus? 

The answer to this question is rather remarkable.  When Dr. Fehmi initially “tried” to generate alpha waves, he failed.  However, when he eventually “surrendered” and gave up trying, he discovered to his surprise that he was able to generate strong, clear alpha waves.  He developed a set of exercises to help induce this state [Fehmi, p. 63-70] via objectless images to foster “an awareness of space, silence, and a sense of timelessness” [Fehmi. p.39].  Here are a few of his examples to meditate on:

  1. Can you imagine the space between your eyes?
  2. Can you imagine the surface of your tongue?
  3. Can you imagine the space inside your ears?

With practice, he and students of his exercises were apparently able to move into or maintain the open-focus state at will.

How to Achieve Open-Focus in Kendo? 

We could practice the open-focus exercises mentioned above and become more skilled at moving into that state.  We can also probably accomplish this by applying the well-known saying in kendo:

 遠山の目付け [enzan no metsuke] – Gazing to the mountain in the distance.

I recall sensei’s advising students to avoid looking intently at one particular part of the opponent such as the kote or eyes, but rather looking through a person and seeing the entire person and environment.  This has the desired effect of relaxing the eyes (also referred to as “Soft Eyes”) and diffusing attention.  Incidentally, the book describes a similar way of “looking” where we relax the eye muscles while also paying attention to areas in the periphery around an object of initial focus:

I noticed that the brain-wave training broadened my attention; I took in the world visually in a very different way. I now perceived larger scenes without focusing on any one element and with much less effort [Fehmi, p.34].

It is important to note an underlying and perhaps obvious premise.  We need to be able to execute movements and techniques automatically and effectively.  And this comes through practice.   Apparently, “Chiba Masashi sensei used to practice a continuous set of 3000 suburi every day [KendoInfo04].”

If we do aspire to reach a state of no-mind in our keiko, the answer lies in constant repetition of the basics. – Geoff Salmon [KendoInfo04]

What are the Benefits of Open-Focus in Kendo?

The benefits are probably well-understood by most people in kendo and athletics [Kiyota02, p. 2].  Here’s several practical and psychological benefits that I am aware of in the context of kendo.  First, we can become harder to “read” and can avoid telepathing our intentions to the opponent.  For example, if we are intent on hitting kote, our eyes and kamae may reveal this to the opponent.  Second, I believe our reaction time can be faster.[1]  When I remember to practice with open-focus, it seems that my body can perform, for example, oji-waza during kihon-geiko much more quickly and easily.  Third, it seems to help increase my awareness and sense of the opponent.  For example, there are times when I can perceive a (usually weaker) opponent’s intention to initiate a strike (perhaps due to changes in facial expressions or body movements).  This is probably quite related to becoming a clear mirror:

Mochida [Moriji (10 dan)] sensei’s spirit had become a clear mirror – if you thought about striking him that thought would be reflected in his heart and in that instant he would strike. This is because he pursued kendo with his spirit. – Morishima Tateo (8 dan Hanshi) [Kenshi247_11]

Lastly, prior to and during matches, shiai‘s and shinsa‘s  it can help us be more calm – free from thoughts, distractions, anxiety, fears or emotions that may hinder us from being or performing at our best.


I have only recently started applying the open-focus approach to my kendo practice with the aforementioned benefits.  Part of the challenge is in remembering to adopt this mindset and making this a habit.  I anticipate it will have additional benefits in life outside of kendo, too.


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

[KendoInfo04] Geoff Salmon, “Getting lost in the moment,”, May 2004.

[Kenshi247_11] George McCall, “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 3),, Mar 2011.

[Kiyota02] Minoru Kiyota, Kendo: Philosphy, History and Means to Personal Growth, Shambhala, 2002 (Book). Section 2 of Chapter 1: “Mushin: An Altered State of Consciousness”.



[1] From a neuroscience perspective, the control path starting from the visual sensory input to eyes, to the brain and eventually to the muscles is likely shorter and faster in this state.  There is likely less processing (or thinking) at the brain enabling a faster response time to the point where we may function with so called “muscle memory.”

Copyright 2016