Mushin is an interesting concept in the martial arts, a Japanese term meaning roughly “no mind” or “empty mind”. It references a state of thoughtlessness where a practitioner merely acts appropriately to an attack or situation without the intercession of thought. It all sounds very Zen-like and spiritual, but there is a practical side as well.

Modern neuroscience has shown that there is approximately a half second delay between a stimulus, and a person becoming consciously aware of that stimulus. To put that into perspective, a Major League Baseball batter must swing and hit a pitch before his conscious mind has told him it’s been thrown. This has a number of implications.

  1. It is indeed possible to train your body/mind to react appropriately to a stimulus before conscious perception. If it wasn’t, baseball wouldn’t exist, sword fights would always be won by the first person to swing, and driving a car would not be possible (especially in Boston)
  2. Some reality based systems are based wholly on what to do from a position you find yourself in upon flinching. They propose that the reflexive system cannot be retrained to react in any other way. While there is merit to their training, their supposition cannot be true. Reflexes indeed can be trained to react in strong and appropriate ways.
  3. I believe that removing conscious clutter through meditative practice makes us faster, smoother, better martial artists. There is less neural competition.

So, train with this in mind (or out of your mind). Center, breath, let go.

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