The Meaning of Zanshin

There is an old Japanese samurai saying, “When the battle is over, tighten your chin strap.” This refers to constant awareness, preparedness for danger and readiness for action. The Japanese saying itself focuses on the end of a combat engagement when it is natural to relax awareness, thinking the danger is over, when in reality it often is not. This concept carries over into the dojo which is not just a training hall but a place where a certain awareness of the possibility of serious combat must constantly be maintained. But for the serious martial artist this heightened state of awareness becomes a natural part of the psyche, something that is automatically turned on while awake as well as during sleep.

In karate practice when kata are completed students are expected to stand quietly for a few seconds. This is zanshin practice, the maintenance of readiness for action even though the physical aspect of a particular kata is finished. Zanshin also supports good technique in the kata. The idea behind partner practice is that technique becomes second nature, while Zanshin continues to be developed.

Zanshin is what many soldiers, law enforcement officers and advanced martial artists endeavour to develop. In some forms of meditation and Zen, Zanshin is also a goal for students, total attention to the moment, the focusing of the mind (without thought or emotion) on everything around them.