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The 3 essential states of mind for the fighter



Do you practise Kyokushin karate? You already know that it's not just a question of blows and techniques. What goes on in your head, that warrior's state of mind, is just as crucial as your physical training.


I know, and you probably do too, that certain states of mind can facilitate performance while other states of mind can interfere with it, such as a state of anxiety.


I've also discovered that these states of mind are replicable and transferable to people committed to excellence. Zanshin, Mushin, Fudoshin are three particular states of mind or Meta states (a secondary state above a primary state) that are also present in other sports, as I've already mentioned in other articles.


In this blog on The Way of the Generative Warrior, I like to share writings about the mind of a top karate fighter. It's up to you to make the right connections to use this information and test it in the field.


Mental clarity beyond blows


Mental clarity is the foundation. You know, when you're on the tatami, facing your opponent, it's not just about throwing punches. It's about staying clear, calm and focused. It's as if you're both in the action and out of it. You react instinctively, but you're also in complete control. This balance between inside and outside, internal and external awareness, is an important principle in combat.


Letting go of the internal dialogue/criticism of the cognitive mind


Another crucial point is letting go of your 'internal narrator'. Yes, I know, easier said than done". Some people also call it the little me. I like the idea. But in karate knockdown, your greatest adversary is often the one who is closest to you and who "works in the shadows". He can push you into making mistakes, underestimating your opponent or being over-confident.


Learning to detach yourself from this little self means accepting that every fight is a lesson, won or lost, and moving on to the next stage. Without becoming attached to the experience, whether good or bad. Attachment causes us to stagnate or even regress. Detachment moves us forward.


Understanding the Meta-State in Combat Excellence


To excel in karate, understanding the difference between an ordinary state and a meta-state is crucial. An ordinary state, or primary state, is our usual state of consciousness, where our reactions and thoughts are generally automatic and influenced by our habits, emotions and prejudices. A Meta state is a higher form of consciousness, a level of thought and understanding above our primary state.


In full-contact combat, particularly in Kyokushin karate, speed of reaction, mental clarity and emotional control are essential. A meta-state enables the fighter to rise above instinctive and emotional reactions, offering a broader and more strategic perspective. It is in this meta-state that the fighter analyses the situation, anticipates the opponent's movements and makes quick, effective decisions.


The True Self or the Detached Observer


In this meta-state, the fighter becomes a detached witness to his own actions, an observer who does not identify with the illusion of the 'doer'. This superior perspective enables them to remain centred and to react optimally, free from the shackles of the small ego and emotional reactions. It enables a more considered approach, better emotional management and greater clarity of decision.


For the Kyokushin Karate fighter, the meta-state is not just a philosophical concept, but a practical reality which, once mastered, can transform the art of combat into a superior form of expression.


Three states of mind in martial practice that can be considered as meta-states

In the context of Kyokushin knockdown karate, the integration of Zanshin, Mushin and Fudoshin represents a trio of optimal states of mind for all practitioners, not just the elite. Each of these states brings a unique and complementary dimension to the practice of karate. I know there are other states of mind, and I've talked about them in another article.


1. Zanshin: Constant Awareness


Imagine you're in the dojo or on the tatami in full-contact combat. Each of your opponent's blows has the power to put you out of the fight, even to injure you. For a certain number of minutes, you have the opportunity to disable your opponent or vice versa. This is where your zanshin, or lack of it, comes into play. And it's often in this 'survival state' that zanshin seems to appear spontaneously. Time seems to stop, to distort is the right word. Perception is no longer 'ordinary'.


Zanshin is this constant vigilance, this awakened awareness of everything around you. It's more than being attentive; it's a form of active presence. When you manifest Zanshin, you are always ready, always aware - not only of your opponent, but also of yourself and your environment. It's like having your eyes on your back, feeling every movement around you.


In Kyokushin Karate, this means being alert and ready, both during training and in combat. Zanshin enables the practitioner to remain aware of his environment, his opponent and himself, thus facilitating better management of distance and timing (ma-ai and Hyoshi).

It is not just a skill for experienced fighters; even beginners can benefit from learning and practising Zanshin to improve their attention and responsiveness.


2. Mushin: the Mindless Spirit


Mushin, translated as 'mind without mind', is a state of mental fluidity where the practitioner acts without the hindrance of excessive thoughts or disruptive emotions. In Mushin, actions become instinctive, allowing rapid and appropriate responses without hesitation. We can make the connection with the phenomenon of being "in the zone" as sportsmen and women in many disciplines express it.


This applies to all Practitioners. The ability to act instinctively without being paralysed by fear or anxiety is crucial at all levels. Mushin can be developed through regular practice and helps to improve the speed and precision of techniques.


In Mushin, you act without conscious thought, without the slightest hesitation that might arise from doubt or fear. It's a state of total fluidity where your actions become instinctive and natural. Imagine reacting to a situation not because you've thought about it, but because your body and mind already know what to do.


3. Fudoshin. Emotional and mental stability


Fudoshin, which I have often compared to the expression 'poker face', is the ability to maintain emotional stability, regardless of provocation or pressure. It's the mental equivalent of keeping a poker face in combat. It prevents the opponent from reading your emotions or intentions and maintains a level of control and serenity.


In combat, showing your emotions is like giving your opponent an open book on your thoughts and strategies. Fudoshin means keeping an impassive face, showing no fear, anger or frustration. You remain calm and focused, whatever the pressure. It's a crucial tool for maintaining an advantage over your opponent, for staying in control of yourself and the situation.


The Union of Zanshin, Mushin and Fudoshin


When you combine these three states, you create a perfect balance in combat. With Zanshin, you are constantly alert; with Mushin, you react fluidly and instinctively; and with Fudoshin, you remain calm and emotionally stable, whatever the circumstances. This combination is the key to becoming a good practitioner in your discipline.


In conclusion, integrating Zanshin, Mushin, and Fudoshin into your practice is not just a strategy for improving your fighting skills; it is a path to a deeper understanding of yourself and the martial art. It's a process that transforms not only the way you fight, but also the way you engage with all aspects of your life.


So practice with these principles in mind, and you'll see how they can enrich your journey in your martial practice.


Gaëtan Sauvé

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