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  • D. Branchaud

Zanshin-It ain't over till its' over.

Updated: May 15, 2023

Once upon a time, in West Germany, I was sleeping in a tent with my mummy sleeping bag zipped up to my nose to seal out the cold November night. I was awakened around 2:00am by two marines fighting and landing right on top of me (people come and go at all hours as they prepare for, or return from, standing a guard post, etc…). It isn’t a good feeling to be under a fight while in a straight jacket sleeping bag. At one point one marine gained the advantage and had the other controlled in an armlock. The restrained marine said ‘Okay, okay, let go, calm down’. As soon as the guy let go, the formerly restrained guy (a boxer from Brooklyn) turned and clocked the other one with a perfectly executed combination of three punches to the face, ending the fight. This front row seat showed me the value of keeping your guard up even when you think the fight is over (and not trusting someone you were just fighting with). Since that time I saw many altercations where winners became losers due to a failure to remain ready after an altercation.

Zanshin refers to the practice of maintaining a state of awareness and focus. In common usage, is about awareness of the environment and attentiveness to ones opponent, especially after they have been subdued.

Zanshin is something that people in the military and police forces develop and need. While most people in the dojo are not in the same situations, it is important to strive to develop a mindset that sharpens ones awareness. Fortunately it is something that you can practice without adding more time to your training.

Like most things in martial arts, zanshin involves the mind, body and spirit, for it isn’t enough to simply pay attention to ones opponent after subduing them. One may also need to overcome fear, or pain due to injury, while assuming a physical posture and position which will provide an advantage should the situation actually not be finished.

Zanshin requires practice. It may seem that it would be obvious to continue to pay attention after having to defend oneself. You must develop habits. Zanshin that you only practice when you feel like it or happen to remember won’t be reliable.

It is important to consider your Zanshin practice with a broad frame of mind. It isn’t enough to simply keep your hands up and eyes on your opponent, your perception should cast a wide net and include all of your senses. Be aware of your position in relation to other people (who may join the fight), to environmental hazards, to opportunities, be aware of means of escape, watch for weapons the other guy (or you) might be able to grab. Listen to anything going on around you. Pay attention to how you position yourself in relation to the other person. Are you within range to deliver a finishing move? Are you safely out of range so you can escape? Are you beside his torso, or his feet or his head? Where is the position of advantage? If you are outdoors try to take high ground or have the sun behind you. These are all things that should be practiced in every class. I reiterate- zanshin isn’t simply about having your eyes and hands ready. It is a posture of the mind, body and spirit.

Applying zanshin in daily life means cultivating a state of focused awareness and readiness in all of your activities, whether they are routine or unexpected. Here are some ways you can apply zanshin in your daily life:

  1. Stay present: Practice being fully present in each moment, without getting lost in distractions or worries.

  2. Be aware of your surroundings: Cultivate a sense of awareness of your environment and the people around you. This can help you notice potential dangers or opportunities, and respond appropriately.

  3. Stay calm and focused: In the face of challenges or unexpected situations, don't panic or get overwhelmed, but stay grounded and focused on finding a solution.

  4. Maintain good posture and breathing: Zanshin is often associated with good posture and breathing, which can help you stay alert and focused.

'Be as careful at the end as you are in the beginning.'

- Lao Tsu

By applying zanshin in your daily life, you can become more present, aware, and prepared for whatever comes your way. This can help you be more effective in your actions, more responsive to opportunities and challenges, and more centered in your daily life.

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