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The Concept of Mushin in Taiho-Jutsu

When the Oriental martial arts began its boom in the U.S. in the 1960s, there was a sense of the "mystical" attached to it. This was fueled by domestic and foreign movies of all calibers, articles of revered, legendary martial arts figures (alive and dead), and new martial arts students telling of the exploits of their sensei (that they heard about, not witnessed). Along with the esoteric trappings, the concept of mushin was introduced.

Mushin, a Japanese word comprised of two kanji (mu = nothingness, shin = heart, mind, spirit), is a shortened version of mushin no shin (the mind without the mind). It denotes a mind that is neither preoccupied nor focused on any particular thing. Even emotion is absent from one who is in this state of mind. Many cite aikido’s founder, Morihei Uyeshiba, to be the classic example of one in a mushin state when he would be defending against multiple attackers in demonstrations. A "mystical" state was described where the master would have an empty mind, and in anticipation of an opponent’s moves, position himself to successfully defend. The junior author recalls asking his primary sensei about this concept prior to being awarded his Shodan. The question asked was, how do we really know we’re that good, that we have reached that level to where we can somehow connect with the cosmos to be like Uyeshiba. His tongue-in-cheek response was to train with him to where we “know” no one can block our strikes, and no one can penetrate our defenses. Then walk over to the biggest guy in a bar, spit in his eye, and see your "mushin" in action.

How does this relate to taiho-jutsu? An officer faces a myriad of challenges on a daily basis. Some are minor and less threatening, others may be major and life-threatening. When confronted by the major, reaction time is vital. S/he does not have the liberty of thinking about and evaluating the situation. The action must be instinctive. The only way an officer's reaction to danger will rise to that level is through practice with the proper mindset. To elaborate, the level of practice must be intense and almost constant. This extends beyond the training offered at any police academy or FLETC.


We must preface this discussion by stating that when we speak of training, we are not necessarily referring to one who attains a high rank, regardless of the art or the rank. One could achieve a mushin state studying and practicing nothing other than the basic taiho-jutsu course. What we refer to is practicing to the degree where taiho-jutsu becomes what we eat, breathe, think, and feel, not at the exclusion of living, but incorporated into our living and our life. One analogy could be a grandmaster level chess player, who is able to foresee a wide array of possible opponents moves long before they are made. The difference is that the chess player is focused and thinking. The taiho-jutsu practitioner should be so skilled, that the mind is clear and s/he is simply defending and arresting. It is almost robotic in nature, a state of "martial meditation" in action. This cannot be over-emphasized. For an officer to advance to this mental state, it cannot be in a vacuum, sans the physical training. It is not a Zen exercise. It is a real physical regimen which can save one’s life by acting in a manner which even the defending officer might wonder how s/he did what s/he did after the fact. Those who have trained against one or more attackers while blindfolded may have briefly experienced this state of mind.

Is the mushin state achievable by any law enforcement officer? In all likelihood, yes. Can the taiho-jutsu practitioner achieve this mindset? With the proper training, continuing and intense, in all likelihood, yes. However, it is not an easy path. To react swiftly and smoothly, almost ferociously yet with a clear, calm, "nothingness" mindset, is not practical. The first step in choosing this "road less traveled" may be equated to the following story: A tourist in New York City stops someone on the street and asks how to get to Carnegie Hall. The response — practice, practice, practice!"

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