Makati Aikido Club
Relentlessly pursuing excellence


Zanshin: some concrete pointers

(The following is part of a letter I sent to a friend, an instructor of an affiliate dojo, in 2002. Although addressed to a fellow instructor - and please forgive the nakedly pedagogical tone - I think it will be of interest even to beginners. - RSReyes)

As you know very well, I have focused since 1999 on footwork, posture, centering/alignment, and wrist action. I trust you are practicing on those basic aspects constantly; they will never go out of style.

But in recent months, I have been emphasizing zanshin. Yes, I have talked about this before, but I am now in the stage of integrating the zanshin with the basic concepts (footwork, posture, etc. above). When I practice my Aikido, or lead one of my classes, I think of zanshin in the following specific ways:

  1. Focus, concentration (the classic, standard way to describe zanshin). This is sometimes expressed as "being alert for attempts by uke to counter our technique."

  2. The psychological and physical connection of tori to the uke. (Psychological connection: I strive to always be alert to uke's intentions. Physical connection: I strive to detect the direction and flow of uke's force so that I can lead it.)

  3. Tori should beware the trap of subliminal self-congratulation after each throw. It is the secret, brief self-congratulation that makes most tori drop their concentration between attacks, and makes their Aikido slack and disjointed (and boring to look at). Instead, tori should train himself to maintain an alertness/wariness for the next attack by uke. (Thanks to Dam Amaranto for first articulating this insight.)
  4. Tori should approach uke aggressively, immediately after the throw/technique, in order to take over uke's space, and to manipulate uke into attacking again in a half-cocked, premature manner. This lets tori maintain control of the situation.

  5. Tori should have a mind-set of "seeking to unbalance uke," rather than of "performing a technique." Tori should deliberately "forget" about performing a beautiful technique, but should instead focus on keeping uke off-balance at all times during the interaction. If tori has a strong foundation in footwork, posture, centering/alignment, and wrist action, his movement will be both effective and beautiful; but the beauty part is a byproduct of the effective Aikido and economy of movement, not the conscious goal.

  6. Tori should be aware that most unskillful Aikidoists put all their consciousness and energy only into doing the throw or the lock, and then mostly drop their concentration once they think they've "done the job." This common error disfigures your Aikido by making it sloppy and rhythmless. To improve, tori must recognize that he should devote equal concentration and energy to the period in between attacks. He should not relax his concentration, or "drop out of character," in between attacks. (Good theater actors "stay in character" even during the portions of the performance when they are offstage.)

  7. Tori should strive to attain economy of footwork all throughout his time on the mat. Not just during the execution of a technique, but also in the period between techniques. No stuttering steps, no careless shuffling, especially between attacks. Striving for economy of footwork dispels the absent-mindedness - and the self-congratulation - that seizes us in between uke's attacks. Economy of footwork manifests a deep sense of stability to the watching shihan/examiner; and the quest to achieve it educates the tori's body to attain balance and centering.

  8. At Makati Aikido Club we try to capture the 7 aspects of zanshin listed above by practicing jiyuwaza frequently. We do jiyuwaza in sets of 10attacks/10defenses/swap roles. Sometimes we spend the entire class doing only jiyuwaza, especially when most of those present in class are advanced students (brown belts and up). When we do jiyuwaza, I emphasize to people that I don't care if they repeat techniques and don't show much variety; I am trying to get them to experience the zanshin/alertness/unbalancing/opportunistic mindset, not show off how many techniques they know. I try to eliminate the frantic, rushed, beleaguered feeling that most people display during jiyuwaza/randori.

Please try to incorporate this in your practice. You will see a definite improvement. (But it is very important that by the time you introduce students to this, they have already made footwork/posture/centering/alignment/wrist action second nature.)

Copyright 2005 Makati Aikido Club. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, redistributed, or rewritten.

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