The four main mindsets of karate

When it comes to karate, it’s no good just being technically proficient. If you haven’t got the right mindset, your techniques will suffer and you will not progress.

During gradings, especially at a higher level, the judges look for that focus, that mentality that you know what you are doing and you are in the zone. A person may do the best technique in the world, but if their fist isn’t clenched tightly, for example, it shows that they are not fully committed to it.

While we were training in Bulgaria, Sensei Roger spoke about the four mindsets, explaining how each of them prepare you properly and put you in the right frame of mind to improve your karate. So, here they are, explained briefly.

Shoshin (Beginner’s Mind)

This the open-minded attitude of being ready to learn, without any preconceived notions or judgements.

When we enter the dojo, we always bow. This is not only a sign of respect, but it should also remind you that you are coming in to train and to switch your brain on. If you come in with a half-hearted attitude, you shouldn’t really be training.

This is not just when you first start karate, it should be carried with you as you advance in grades – even for dan grades. The first black belt is ‘shodan’ – meaning ‘first’ – as it is the first level of dan grades, so it is a new beginning in your karate life.

Mushin (No Mind)

Mushin is about clearing your mind and focussing fully on what you are doing.

When we train, we should forget everything that’s going on outside the dojo – work, school, taxes, etc. – and focus on the karate. You enter the ‘zone’ where all you are thinking about is the techniques you are doing.

When you partner with others, your mind should be on what you are doing and what the opponent is doing. Nothing else in the world matters.

This isn’t always easy in a dojo full of other people training, but it is important to try and block some of the noise out and focus.

Fudoshin (Immovable Mind)

This is the state of mind where you think, “I am going to do this. Nothing will stand in my way.”

No outside influences should affect your mind. You set your mind to something and do it, whether it be performing a good technique or fighting an opponent.

Sometimes a strong mind can be a powerful force. If you step up to spar against someone and you are nervous and have a weak stance, you have already lost. If you start with a strong stance, fierce kiai and a determined look, the opponent will know you are someone to be reckoned with. It will also give you confidence going forward.

Zanshin (Remaining Mind)

This is probably the one you will be most familiar with, as we mention it frequently in training. Zanshin is about awareness.

When fighting, you must learn to read the opponent and predict when attacks are coming. Even when you have finished sparring, you should still be aware that anything could happen, so keep your focus on the opponent until the very end, when you’ve bowed and left.

When you are training, you should have an awareness of what is going on around you. Although this sounds slightly contradictory to Mushin, you should still have a sense of your surroundings and be prepared for anything.