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What is Zanshin? – The State of A Fighting Mind

The picture shows karateka in full zanshin expecting the next attack or counter.

Zanshin belongs to the central concepts of budo and Shotokan karate. In this article give you a detailed account about the fighting state of mind. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What does Zanshin mean?

Literally translated, zanshin means ‘left over or remaining heart /spirit/mind’. However, for the dedicated karateka, it means the state of total awareness. Being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings, and being totally prepared for anything.

It also conveys the fighting spirit of the individual after the fight. If victorious, the fighter needs a forward-looking awareness and should not lose focus by the victory. If by chance the fighter loses, he will carry an indomitable spirit with honor and grace. Then no real defeat of the character takes place. To encapsulate in a single sentence:

‘Zanshin can be said to be a state of total, calm, alertness. Before, during and after combat a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness.

Our friends from WaKu Karate in Tokyo give in this video a hint about the concept.

Some Western Interpretations

I’ve heard many attempts by instructors to translate the concept into English for the western student to understand:

  • being in the zone, a mental state of focused concentration on the performance of an activity; while dissociating oneself from distracting, irrelevant aspects of one’s environment.
  • a state of readiness to do again what you have already successfully done.
  • to focus intently on the moment (without emotion)… a state of sustained, committed concentration.

Other Arts also Require Zanshin

Zanshin is not the exclusive property of karate, or even the martial arts in general. It is a necessary characteristic of any credible soldier, police officer, security operative or martial artist. Also, outside of any fighting formats, the Japanese art of ikebana (flower arranging), chado (the tea ceremony) and Sumi-e (ink painting) requires zanshin: a state of being ever ‘present’.

In kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery, it refers to the body posture after the loosing of an arrow. The posture reflects the mental aspect (zanshin) maintained before, during, and after an action.

In kendo, the concept describes the continued state of alertness, spirit, mind and body, and readiness to meet the situation maintained throughout the whole situation. Zanshin – maintained before, during, and after an action – is one of the essential elements that define a good attack.

In iaido, the practice is calm and quiet, and the most important feature of iaido is the development of zanshin (a calm, reflective mind) throughout.

Zanshin in Shotokan Karate

In Budo karate competition, shobu sanbon or shobu ippon, to score with a technique requires zanshin. Fighters must maintain the mental aspect before, during, and after the scoring technique and not just a show at the end for performance.

Our author Thomas D. McKinnon exactly knows what zanshin means. He was soldier in the British Army and operated a high-level security company.
Our author Thomas D. McKinnon

Without zanshin, kata would appear only as a number of techniques performed in a dramatic arrangement (as seems to be the case for most sport karate performers). Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei (whom I had the good fortune to have as my chief instructor in my formative karate years), for instance, performed kata like the midst of battle.

Certainly, as well as kime, one of the aspects that a Shotokan karateka should be displaying, at the very latest, in preparation for shodan (that first blackbelt grading) is a solid understanding of zanshin.

Being Aware: The Foundation of Fighting Spirit

The famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, reputedly said:

“Both in fighting and in everyday life, you should be determined though calm. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken… Zanshin.

Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi depicts zanshin at its best.

From a personal perspective: Formerly, as the CEO of a high-end, close personal protection company, I was responsible for selecting the personal protection operatives. All trained martial arts, some were former soldiers, and some were former police officers. Most would say that we obviously engaged them for their martial skills. However, their combat ability, certainly a desirable factor, wasn’t the primary dynamic in their engagement. Each successful CPPO applicant possessed that subjective but essential, qualitative characteristic: zanshin.

Zanshin in Everyday-Life

Zanshin means always being ready to do what is needed when it is needed. Having it in your life has many merits but one of the chief benefits would be the tendency to avoid pitfalls. Think about it: is it not better to avoid disasters than, after the fact, figuring out how to survive them?

Having a sense of when something is not quite right may not be a measurable element.

However, with zanshin in your daily experience, you will fortuitously take the only route through a disaster zone that delivers you, hale and hearty, to the other side. That is part of what it can deliver for you: a more fruitful life experience.

Zanshin is a characteristic that will help and assist anyone who takes on the way of life that we call ‘Karate-do’. Regardless of what other choices you make in your life i.e. career, family, living environment et cetera, zanshin enriches all.

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Taiji Kase: 9 Fascinating Facts About His Life

The picture shows Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase is one of the most fascinating Shotokan karate masters ever. In this article we are going to present you the 9 most fascinating facts about him. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Taiji Kase lived a life of a libertine. Like no other, he chose his way of Karate dependent on his own interests and convictions. Younger generations might know him from videos as a stout elder Karate grand master with incredible fast hands. However, a look back into his biography reveals his fascinating life. We are going to present you the 10 most exciting facts about Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase Searched for Gichin Funakoshi

Taiji Kase was born in 1929 in Chiba Prefecture. In February of 1944, the young Kase began his journey into the world of Karate. He had come across Gichin Funakoshi’s book, Karate-Do Kyohan, originally published in 1935. The book featured photographs of Funakoshi performing various techniques and kata. This was radically different from anything the young Kase had previously seen. His interest grew so strong in the new art that he contacted the book publishers to find the location of Funakoshi’s dojo.

Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi Refused to Teach Him, But Also Influenced Him

When he arrived at the “Shoto-kan” he found out that Gichin Funakoshi had retired from day to day teaching. Sensei Funakoshi was already in his 70´s. Therefore, his son Yoshitaka oversaw much of the daily classes, assisted by Shigeru Egami and Genshin Hironishi. But when Kase initially arrived at the dojo, Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, refused to teach him. In the perception of Yoshitaka, he was too young for Karate. Fortunately for Taiji Kase, Yoshitaka realized his abilities after they had talked with each other. So, Kase began his his training at the original Shoto-kan dojo in the Meijiro district of Tokyo.

Kase recalled in later interviews that the younger Funakoshi’s dynamic style of Karate influenced him a lot. Yoshitaka Funakoshi had a very progressive approach to Karate.

Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.

Taiji Kase Wanted to Be A Kamikaze Pilot

During the war years, Kase was a cadet in the Japanese Navy. Because of the nationalistic and patriotic nature of the times he had enlisted in the infamous Kamikaze Corp of the navy. However, just before he was due to be deployed the war came to an end.

He Received His 3rd Dan With 20

Kase would train up to eight hours a day. By 1949, Kase had graded to 3rd Dan. At 20 he was the youngest to be awarded the grade. His grading had taken place in front of a panel of senior grades from Keio, Chuo, Takushoku, Waseda, Hosei and Senshu universities. The senior grades were from the Karate clubs and old boy clubs located at the universities.

Taiji Kase Worked as A Bodyguard

After graduating from Senchu University, Kase briefly worked as a bodyguard for a friend of his father whose business had run into some union troubles.

The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.
The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.

He Taught in the Infamous JKA Instructors Course

Hidetaka Nishiyama, who was the JKA’s Chief of the Instruction Committee, invited Kase to join the JKA. Kase had the the interest to teach. Therefore, joining the JKA provided a suitable opportunity. He was one of the few non-Takushoku graduates teaching at the JKA. He taught alongside Nakayama, Nishiyama and Teruyuki Okazaki, one of the originators of the JKA’s Infamous Instructors Course.

Apart from teaching at the JKA’s dojo, located in  the Yotsuya district of Tokyo, Kase also taught kumite three days a week on the Instructors Course. His students included future All Japan Kumite Champions Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Hiroshi Shirai and Hideo Ochi.  Students knew him as a hard but fair instructor.

Kase Fought Many Challengers

Not much information exists, but people thought that he also handled any challenges made to the JKA.

When he arrived in Europe, Kase faced a number of challenges. He faced the challenge of being in a new country with its different language, cuisine and culture. In addition, he also faced the challenge from other martial artists who wanted to test the validity of his Karate. Suffice to say he successfully handled all of these challenges.

Taiji Kase was a Kumite specialist.

Taiji Kase Held a 3rd Dan in Judo

Henri Plee invited Kase to France in 1967. Plee, who had introduced Yoseikan Karate to France and the rest of Europe, would later recall the immense respect he held for Kase. Plee, who was also a Judo black belt, would like to test the skills of an invited instructor by sparring against them. He would occasionally perform a throw to test his opponent. However, against Kase nothing worked. He admitted that Kase was one of the toughest fighters he ever faced. Plee offered him a one year contract to teach at his Paris dojo.

Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.
Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.

He Founded his Own Association

Following Nakayama’s death in 1987, the JKA faced political in-fighting among some of the factions within the association. Never one for the politics, Kase founded the World Karate-Do Shotokan Academy (WKSA) in 1989, alongside Shirai. The aim of the association was to be free of the politics that plagued Shotokan Karate. It also taught Kase’s style of Karate called Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha. Kase always strived to continue the teachings of Yoshitaka Funakoshi. In his understanding the JKA seemed to had largely forgotten these teachings. In addition, he sought to explore other avenues, such as the principles of Miyamoto Musahi’s School of Two Swords. He spend much time to apply it to Karate. The WKSA broke away from the JKA.


The Shotokan Times has to express its gratitude to Patrick Donkor of Finding Karate – Journey of a Karate-ka, who provided the biggest part of this article.