Zanshin and Mushin

In Japan, they have terms that correlate with various Japanese art forms.
Randy Channell Soei introduces two words: zanshin and mushin. What do these terms mean? Read on and discover how these terms relate to a tea ceremony and how they can also apply to other Japanese arts.

Nick: There are two other words, I've discovered through researching you sensei, and that's zanshin and mushin, and again, they are related to tea, and I believe zanshin is also related to martial arts.

Randy: As is mushin. For me, zanshin was one of the most powerful phrases when I was doing martial arts. I refer to it in a very simplistic way as situational awareness.

Meaning that if I'm fighting somebody, and I knock them down, or if I'm doing Iaido know what zanshin is, you make your cut, and then you assess that, you're not just going to put your blade away and walk away, you want to make sure that your opponent is actually down and done, he's not going to get back up and lock you in the back of the head when you're not looking. 

So this kind of situational awareness, or this awareness is very important, and in tea, I kind of describe it, it's a little bit different, the actual two Chinese characters for that is Mokorino Kokoro, lingering heart for an English explanation, the leftover, zan, it's left over heart.

There is one phrase in the poems of the 100 poems of Rikyu, where it states that we should not, for example, this is probably kind of out of my book as if I'm wiping the caner that holds the tea, that process is not finished after I'm finished wiping, I have to put the piece down and then I have to pay attention to where I'm going next. 

So I'm not just okay, that's done next, there has to be an element of a flow to it and so the in the way of tea in these 100 poems of Rikyu, there's one poem that says that, when you release an item, you should be like releasing your hand from the face of a lover that you're not going to meet for a long time.

So you're not just going to take it away, it's going to be more of a lingering part, your lingering heart. 

Nick: That's a beautiful way to frame it.

Randy: Yes, it struck me quite, very interesting, one of the other YouTube videos that I recommended to you was where Peter was being hosted by Yamamoto sensei.

There's a part in that video where Yamamoto sensei puts up the tea bowl for Peter, and when he releases his hand from the tea bowl, it just floored me. It was just so elegant. It was just exactly what I talked about.

You can just see that zanshi. To this day, I've been trying to duplicate that from Yamamoto sensei, but I don't quite have it. So that was quite nice, it looked like it was slow motion, but it wasn't, it was just like he just put it down and then let go, it was very elegant, the movement was very elegant, lots of heart.

Nick: I did actually notice the movements of the tea master and also the guests, and one guest after he's taken a sip and he's slowly put the ball down, he gets his right hand and kind of angles it down and puts on his knee on top of his kimono.

I'm thinking that is an expression of gratitude. So as he had a sip, he put the ball down because I think he was going to share it to the next person, but as he did that, his right hand was almost pointed down like that on an angle and on top of his right knee.

It looks so precise and purposeful. 

Randy: What would happen probably is he took a sip, and then the host would have asked him how was the tea, so then he takes his right hand down to bow and puts it down in front of him, and he bows to the host, and he says, "It was very nice, thank you."

So when he's sipping, after he's made the first sip, the host will say, "How is the tea?" and he will take that and bow to the host and say, "Kekkou desu."

Nick: Yeah, he bowed, maybe they removed the audio. 

Randy: But yeah, probably they were having a talk over it.

Nick: So there's this elegance of movement. But I was thinking, you know, if I were to describe the way of tea, or what is described as a tea ceremony, I was thinking you describe it as sort of precision and action and subtlety in communication.

Randy: Very much so, yes. There's a lot of silent communication as well, like I said, the sound of the guest drinking the tea, the host isn't watching him, he's sitting away looking away.

So when he hears the first sip, the host would know to ask, so it's this silent, nonverbal communication, and so this plays into the elegance of the gathering as well. This sign of respect and harmony and purity, they all play into each part of it.

So definitely, the way you explain it is fine, it's a very good way to talk about it. Then getting back to your other term, which was mushin, again, the previous one was zanshin. Shin means heart in Japanese kokoro

So zanshin leftover heart; mushin means no heart. But it doesn't mean cold hearted or no heart, like that, it's a totally different concept. To actually translate it in my book is "in the groove."

Nick: Yeah, I like that translation. 

Randy: Something that you do unconsciously, something that you've done many times repetitively, and then it just kind of takes you over, and you're doing it, you're in the groove, like people that are running sprinters and things like this to get into, you just know it, you're doing it, sometimes you're on, sometimes you're off. 


So when you're in the groove, you can actually kind of know when you're in the groove, and you can feel it easier. So what it means in the martial arts, I would carry you without thought or I would hit you without thought. 


So it's kind of like, it doesn't mean not thinking they have another phrase for no thought but that's a different idea. So mushin just means to be able to do something naturally without being present in the thoughts.

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