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What is Fudoshin? And How to Achieve It?

Fudoshin (不動心) means indomitable, incorruptible. It is the achievement of a clear and determined mind, and having a centred spirit. Fudoshin translates as ‘immovable mind’ or ‘unshakable heart’. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The True Meaning of Fudoshin

It is composure under pressure. It refers to a state of having an unwavering will. A spirit, undeterred by obstacles in the chosen path. It calls for a state of commitment coupled with fearless determination. With Fudoshin, one can maintain a state of mind unmoved by distractions. A state of internal tranquillity in the midst of external conflict, if you will. Fudoshin is the manifestation of fortitude, and has its origins in the guardian deity, Fudo Myōō.

Fudo Myōō

Fudo Myōō is a guardian deity in Shingon (True Word) Buddhism (真言宗, Shingon-shū). Shingon Buddhism constitutes one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia. It originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vadjrabohi and Amoghavajra. Fudo Myōō, a patron of martial arts, carries a sword in his right hand (symbolically, to cut through delusions and ignorance) and a rope in his left hand (again symbolically, to bind evil forces and violent or uncontrolled passions and or emotions).

Fudoshin serves as a shield of the heart. In Japan, there is a concept of Shikai: the four sicknesses of the mind that a budoka has to avoid at all costs:

  1. Kyo: surprise
  2. Ku: fear
  3. Gi: doubt
  4. Waku: confusion

Kyo

If you are surprised, time stops for you. You may actually stop moving, hold your breath even, while your mind catches-up with what happens around you. With Kyo, one’s concentration breaks. In that split-second of broken concentration, defeat can be upon you.

Ku

With fear comes a distorted sense of reality. The attacker may seem bigger, stronger and more fearsome than he really is. Hence, fear may have one mentally defeated before the conflict begins. There is no chance of victory when one’s mind is already defeated.

Gi

Doubting your expertise leads to fatal consequences in a martial situation. The way to safeguard against doubt goes through incessant training. As a result, doubt is the back-stabber of belief. One cannot respond to an assault properly with a lack of conviction stemming from a mind that doubts. Above all, indecision will cause your defeat.

Waku

Mental confusion stems from a lack of focus. The mind wonders and tries to consider too many things. Movements become unrefined, timing suffers, and reactions stifle. A lack of focus makes you surprised. Surprise may cause fear, and fear sows the seeds of doubt. As a consequence, confusion follows soon. And to be confused is to be overwhelmed.

The Necessity of Fudoshin

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’. The mind that has met all challenges of life, and has attained a state of complete composure and fearlessness. This state of equanimity is essential to the Budoka or accomplished karateka.

That is to say, fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It consist of a state of a spirit filled with courage and endurance. It means: The determination to win. Fudoshin relates to the feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by surprise, fear, doubt or confusion.

Samurai and Fudoshin

In Feudal Japan, fudoshin was manifest in the Samurai: in his unquestionable courage and determination, without fear in the face of danger, pain and even death. As the great Japanese swordsman, Tsukahara Bokuden said: “Mental calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai.”

From a Western point of view, the idea of violence coupled with a peaceful and calm mind poses a difficulty to comprehend. The concept of a Warrior (Samurai, Bushi) without anger or rage, a peaceful warrior, would seem to be an oxymoron. However, fudoshin constituted the state of mind essential to the Samurai. It is an imperturbable state of equanimity, and an essential philosophical dimension to most martial arts, but especially Shotokan Karate-Do.

Fudoshin: The Unshakeable Heart

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote: “Mankind is divided into three classes: those who move, those who are movable, and those who are immovable.”

On a personal level, if I set my mind on something, I do not allow anything to shake my belief in myself and my ability to reach the goal I have set. ‘Nothing will stand in my way.’ This unshakable resolve is Fudoshin.

Depending on the Budoka or karateka’s end-game (what they hope to achieve, their goals, their purpose in life et cetera): of all the esoteric terms adopted by the martial arts fraternity, the acquisition of Fudoshin is probably the most difficult, and perhaps the most important concept to master. Therefore, it features definitely the most pivotal philosophical or mental dimension, at least to the Japanese martial arts. Hence, it contributes, immeasurably, to the effectiveness of the advanced practitioner.

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What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation. By Michael Ehrenreich

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not?

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich during a fight with Shiina. Both show incredible fighting spirit.

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

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The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

6 Different Elements of Fighting Spirit

Self-confidence

But what are the different elements of the puzzle? The first element is our self-confidence. Self-confidence is a central part of fighting spirit. It is a positive feeling, it increases our self-esteem. Self-confidence is based on our skills and our positive experiences with challenges. That means, we have self-confidence in a certain area, whereas in others we might lack self-confidence.

Think, for example, that you as a Karate expert teaches a Karate class. You have the skills, the experience, and hence the self-confidence to teach a successful and exciting class. But than you need to talk about Karate. In front of strangers, hundreds of them. This is still the same topic, but a different setting. As a result, your confidence might  be low. That is why, it is so important, to always implement specific training impulses for specific goals. You cannot increase your self-confidence for a self-defense situation by signing-up for  a kata seminar.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich in situation full of fighting spirit.

Persistence

The second elements persistence. With persistence I understand the virtue of standing your ground when under pressure from outside. Pressure from outside can come in all different forms: a strong opponent in a fight, a mean boss, an important test, but also pain. While we don’t have much influence on the things that hit us from the outside, we can consider the way we look at them. We can change our perspective and look for weaknesses in an opponent. We can take lessons from peers who went through the same challenge. Over time, we will get used to all kinds of pain. In doing so, we will reduce the pressure and the stress that comes with it. We will be able to deal with a challenge or threat.

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Determination

The third element  is determination. It is the skill to set a goal and then motivating oneself to reachit. No matter what is being thrown at us. Somebody determined will always be first in class or practice and the last one to leave. She focuses on the possibilities and not on the problems. If she is not satisfied with a situation, she will change it.

Control

Control is the next element of the fighting spirit puzzle. With control I allude to the control over our feelings. The understanding that showing ones’ emotions is a sign of weakness and will not help us reaching our goals. Keeping our emotions under control in times of pressure, stress, and anxiety is an important aspect of a grown-up Karateka and of fighting spirit.

Risk-Taking

Taking risk is another element of the puzzle. We live in a society where taking risks is considered something to be avoided. But in order to progress as fighters and as human beings we need to take risks. As Karateka, if we go into a Kumite class and we do not feel butterflies in our stomach, we probably will not progress much as a fighter.

Competitiveness

Competitiveness is the last element of our fighting spirit puzzle. It is closely related to risk taking. But as Karateka it includes an opponent. It makes a challenge more dynamic. For instance, if we want to increase our fighting skills, we need to fight in class. The less rules we implement the more dynamic a situation will get. It becomes more realistic. Every interaction will be different, always changing. Every interaction will be a challenge. If we find the strength to always seek out stronger opponents, we will eventually get stronger, mentally and physically.

The picture shows true fighting spirit during a JKA tournament.

How to Train Fighting Spirit?

How do we train these elements? Let us assume that we are Karate teachers and there are two young fighters particularly promising. But both do not get the results everybody is expecting from them. Both are in their early 20s. One of them has been cruising through the junior divisions, winning tournament after tournament. He was a talent from the start, picked up techniques and concepts easily, never needed much practice. Even older Karateka respected his talent.

When he was entering the senior division (over the age of 21) though, things did not go quite as smoothly anymore. He started losing, often losing against obviously less talented fighters. Eventually, he was often injured or sick, especially before competitions. The other fighter has also been successful, but not quite as impressive. He never actually won a tournament but placed second or third a few times. When he is in regular class things look very different though. There is almost nobody who can keep up with him in the Dojo. Nobody practices harder and more often than he does. Everybody is wondering, why is he not fighting in competitions the way he is in practice?

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Two Practical Examples

So, we have two young Karateka who do not show the results they could. The causes for that differ . That also means that the way to deal with those fighters needs to be different. The traditional way of treating them the same way, often by simply increasing the number of repetitions, will help neither of them.

The First: Talent Yes, Determination No

The first Karateka draws his confidence from the fact that he is talented, genetically superior. But when he enters the grown-up division, talent becomes secondary. Now quantity becomes a force to reckon with. As a result, we need to explain our student that he will have to step up the number of weekly training hours he puts into Karate. He needs to understand the relation between training hours and competition results. We will need to help him motivating himself by pointing out the benefits of a life as a competitor, fame, trophies, maybe even money. Once he is ready, we will have to teach him about the really important things in life and how success in competition can help to achieve them. This Karateka needs to work on his determination.

The Second: Low Stress Management

The second Karateka does not need to practice more often. He already practices enough. With him we need to work on stress management. We need to help him understand why he is not delivering. If he is showing world class skills in the dojo but keeps on losing the important bouts, then there is something putting too much pressure on him. This pressure results into too much stress. Stress he is not able to cope with.

So, we need to find the stressor, the coach, the parents, peers, audience, or a combination of the above. The first step is to accept the fact that it is this stressor and his inability to deal with it that is holding him back. Then we need to set-up a training program to help managing his anxiety. For instance, with meditation, with visualization, with writing about his anxiety, or/and with practices where he will progressively face his daemons. This Karateka needs to work on his persistence.

The picture shows Thomas Prediger, chair of The Shotokan Times advisory board and organizer of the kumite boot camp. He also shows a lot of fighting spirit.

Conclusion: The Complex Concept of Fighting Spirit

Fighting spirit is a very complex concept. By breaking it down into different elements, the whole issue becomes  understandable and manageable. As a result, we are now able to set-up a specific program for a specific problem or goal. Just as we do with fitness. If we don’t set specific training goals and address those with specific training measures, then Karate training is no more than a lottery. A hit and miss situation. As Karateka we are surely aiming for more.