Little House In Ise

残心 — Zanshin

Popjisyo defines Zanshin as follows: 残心/ ざんしん : n 1)follow-through (e.g. in archery). When I first read that as definition for zanshin I thought it was awful but my feelings have changed.

My introduction to zanshin was in a cheesy ninja novel. It was presented as an almost mystical power that allowed a true budoka (or cheddary ninja) to have 360 degree spatial awareness of attack. That’s cool, I want some of that … was my youthful reaction.

I first heard about it in an Aikido context, when a sensei implied that zanshin just meant standing still after a technique was completed. That was where my disappointment with zanshin began.

Jump ten years or so forward to the point where I could look the word up in a Japanese dictionary only to see that it defined zanshin as “follow-through, especially in a martial-arts-and-crafts context”. The 大辞林 (Daijirin — “Big Dictionary” from Sanseido) really knows how to disappoint!

All that said, zanshin is a considered a basic concept in both kendo and kyudo so there must be something to it, right? The Kendo theory page describes striking with zanshin and says that physical and spiritual readiness to respond to a counter-attack should be preserved even after missing a strike. It also has a warning against accepting the result of strikes that hit their target, if this readiness is not preserved. Whew! Zanshin is so important that actually landing a strike is less important than preserving your spirit and posture…

Wait-a-minute! That sounds a lot more Aikido-y than “standing still”. Perform a technique. Whether it was done “right” or “wrong” doesn’t matter. Preserve your calm. Preserve your posture. Be still. Breath. Be aware of your connection to uke. Be aware of the other occupants of the space. This is follow-through in a way that makes for good Aikido.

So, after all my disappointments with the concept of zanshin, in the end, all of my sources of information about it held some nugget of truth — even the silly ninja novel.


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