Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Meditation on Zanshin

I will have to confirm with my Sensei, but one of the terms I need to eventually define in order to move up in the Kyu (belt) requirements is Zanshin. According to Wikipedia and other sources, Zanshin is Japanese for:
"A state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. The literal translation of zanshin is 'remaining mind.'"
Another site defines Zanshin as:

"Zanshin means 'the remaining mind' and also 'the mind with no remainder.' This is the mind of complete action. It is the moment in kyudo (Zen archery) after releasing the arrow. This is 'Om makurasai sowaka' in oryoki practice and drinking the rinse water. In shodo, it is finishing the brush stroke and the hand and brush moving smoothly off the paper. In taking a step, it is the weight rolling smoothly and the next step arising. In breathing in completely, it is this breath. In breathing out completely, it is this breath. In life, it is this life. Zanshin means complete follow through, leaving no trace. It means each thing, completely, as it is."

Upon contemplation of this idea, I cannot help but think of the concept of 'neutral" in improvisation. Although not an exact translation, to be neutral, for an actor, is to be in a state of relaxed awareness. In my dissertation I write that the neutral space and body translates as pure readiness while, at the same time, being at rest:
First, it is important to understand that the term neutral does not imply a middle place of opinion, nor is it a space of Ismenism (from the Antigone) or of sheer motion (See Kenneth Burke) where forces act upon you. Rather, it is a space of pure potentiality where all possibilities reside at rest until called upon. As Frost and Yarrow (1989) explain, the neutral space “is highly charged. The body has a wide range of available resources; neutrality engenders a state in which they are ready to go into play, but not programmed to operate in a predetermined way” (p. 65). Neutrality is dependent both upon absolute preparedness, as well as the ability to not predetermine, necessarily, how one will utilize the prepared resources: “Performance cannot afford to be approximate, even though it may respond to the demands of the moment or adapt to the feedback messages it is receiving from the audience” (p. 65).
In a sense, it is a space where we have completed one task but are completely ready for the next one. For example, after completing a kata, instead of relaxing and being "done" with the form/movement, I am reminded by my Sensei that I should never assume an ending - attackers may still be around, and I may still be required to act. As such, zanshin will work to save me just as a neutral space of "theatrical" energy will work to offer me a new script when it seems like my lines have ended. As in real life, if we are not in touch with Zanshin, we could easily be blindsided. R


  1. "It is the moment in kyudo (Zen archery) after releasing the arrow."

    See, this is why I'd never make it. I'd end up shooting my eye out with the arrow.

  2. I find the concept of being neutral interesting. Just the idea that when we have a mind empty of thoughts and are imbued with our pure essence, that that could be considered neutral. Is such a thing possible? Perhaps to early in the day for such thoughts and I haven't had a joint in ages, so the thought is interesting yet ephemeral at best...

  3. dear Omnipotent one, you make me laugh. But I totally understand. I have not be allowed to "play" with the weapons yet because my "aim" or "mi" (hum, or is it spelled "my") is questionable at this point! But a good idea for a new post!

  4. Trudy,

    I love the idea of neutral and as an improv artiest, i have spent most of my life trying to obtain that space. it is difficult but so magical when you touch on it. I have inhabited the "neutral" totally a few times and it is kinda like that "feeling" from the movie Matrix where you think you are no where and everywhere at once. I was not aware of my actions, but was in absolute control of them and my choices (if that makes any sense) ! back to grading now - sigh, I am grading finals. R


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