Kihaku & Zanshin

menuchi_kr_focusThe last few weeks I have been thinking of some of the important aspects of our Aikido training and how to share these with my students. Two of the important words I though of that I try to add to my own Aikido when I train was the concept of Kihaku and Zanshin. Below are some definitions of these Japanese words/concepts and some ideas I have to use these in Aikido. These definitions come from a Kendo manual, but I believe these can be directly related to our Aikido training.

Ki-haku (æ°—è¿«)

Def: The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.

– I think this is an essential component to our daily training. I see a lot of times people always take the relaxed approach to training. Don’t get me wrong that we should practice the softer side of Aikido. Along with that we should always be training on using less muscle and more use our opponents energy along with our hip and blending power to thrown them. However, when we train we should use our full spirit and focus in our training. This focus keeps our techniques clean and strong, and also this focus keeps us from relaxing too much. When we relax to much and don’t focus on keeping our selves and our partners safe we leave our self open for potential injury.

Zan-shin (残心)

Def: The body posture and state of mind in which, even after striking one is alert and ready to respond instantly to any counterattack by the opponent. Generally speaking, after striking one should put the proper distance between one’s self and the opponent and face him/her in chu-dan posture in order to be ready for a possible counter attack. If one cannot move the proper distance from the opponent, one should put the tip of one’s shinai in the center or around the throat of the opponent to guard against counterattack… Zan-shin is the state in which, after striking with full power and without hesitation, one faces the opponent with full spirit and with the ability to respond naturally.

– I talk about using zanshin in all of our Aikido techniques. Our mental and physical energy should be focused throughout the technique until the end and after. We see this a lot where the Aikido student goes through the technique with intent, but as soon as the person is falling down you can see slack in their bodies and mind. This is easy to see in peoples Aikdio, and can be worked on each and every technique. We use this practice a lot in our Aikido weapons where we employ the technique and pause at the end of the movement focusing our mind and out bodies to finish the technique out strong.

I really believe that both of these concepts can strengthen our Aikido and build our spirit. There is a lot to learn from Aikido along with our techniques that we can blend into our daily lives and how we face challenges that we face every day. How are some ways that you practice or express these concepts in your training?

Andrew Blevins

Comments (3)

Kara StewartFebruary 27th, 2009 at 9:43 am

I have a long way to go in reaching what I consider a basic level of these vital components in my training. I find it interesting to watch a video of my randori, for example, and remember how it felt — strong, focused, intent, present — yet what is captured on the video often doesn’t reflect that.

For me, I’m learning that I need to be much “bigger” than I think I need to be to get to a rudimentary level of kihaku and zanshin. I don’t feel internally that I go slack mentally and physically, yet the camera often says otherwise. So, I’m working on being bigger: having greater presence, both mental presentness and physical presence.

An analogy my horse trainer, Mark Rashid, uses that I find helpful is in terms of driving a car. My horse and I both need to be ready to go, in any direction, in a split second. So, while we may be standing still for a few moments, we are in the *activity* of standing, rather than nothingness and being shut down completely, if that makes sense. In car terms, we’re idling with the transmission in neutral and our foot on the clutch — ready to go in any direction, at any speed, in a second — as opposed to turning off the engine, putting on the emergency brake, and putting the key in our pocket.

In my life on and off the mat, I want to work toward being ready for whatever comes my way…the “strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter” of kihaku and the ability to be “alert and ready to respond instantly to any counterattack” of zanshin. Great way to approach life, methinks.

In the end, for me I’m finding it all boils down to discipline. It’s my choice to focus and work with intensity, or to drift off. It’s easier to choose the latter, yet I know easy choices won’t get me very far in the long run. On the flip side, I also need to be mindful not to let being “bigger” translate into being tight, braced, holding my breath, and using quick, small movements. Being “bigger” needs to be the complete opposite…I’ll be working on this for a “big” amount of time 🙂 !

Rob WatsonApril 1st, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Hello Ms. Strewart,
One thing Pat sensei has been having me work on is maintaining zanshin in the transition between techniques. This has really helped me quite a bit. I feel not so bad from the moments prior to initiation of engagement through until after the pin/throw has been released/finalized and a few fleeting moments afterwards but I tend to ‘release’ and lose zanshin (really noticeable on video).

Now I am trying to maintain that level of focus through the entire set so as to fill the time/space between techniques with attention/focus/zanshin – hopefully leading up to a constant state of zanshin throughout the day. One trick I use is to constantly remind myself that there is not one adversary but a swirling cloud of them always just out of reach. I have used this imagery before as I find it very helpful in maintaining awareness of nearby training partners and prevents throwing or falling into them (as well as watching those being thrown/falling into us/me).

Recently I have noticed I am much more aware of little details when out and about, especially in the woods, and definitely attribute this to the aforementioned imagery exercise. I can sense zanshin coming and going throughout the day. Seems like a good first step in turning it on for good.


Kara StewartApril 1st, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Rob-san, it’s great to hear from you.

I really like your image of people swirling all about. That’s great and I will use that (if you don’t mind!) in my practice.

Blevins Sensei always reminds us to be aware of and ready for multiple attackers, all the time. As he says, our partner should feel our zanshin and know that we are in control even from five feet away. That’s definitely something I’m working towards.

Neat you’re noticing more details in daily life. I find that when I get out of my head, it’s a lot easier to listen and observe and be in the moment. And, the more I practice that, the tiny bit longer it lasts. Or, at least I’m able to notice more quickly when I’ve let my mind follow a bunny trail to a shiny object 🙂 . It’s a great journey, this, with so many applications to life.

Take care, Rob-san, and I look forward to practicing with you again, here in Colorado or in San Leandro.


Leave a comment

Your comment