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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 Kime? Some Remarks About an Often Misunderstood Concept

Kime is the central concept of Shotokan Karate

Kime is the central concept of Shotokan karate do. However, many practitioners misinterpret it with a esoteric force. But what is it really? By Thomas D. McKinnon

Kime (jap. 決め): where mind, body and spirit meet with intent, from the core of your being to the point of delivery.

Definition by Thomas McKinnon

Depending on the dictionary, it may be defined as decide, focus of power, or finish. Literal translation is a ‘decision’ or ‘commitment’; also, concentration of spirit, mind and physical body at an intended, particular point.

It’s not unusual to find that a word can mean many things, and it is even less unusual to find that a term in Japanese doesn’t translate smoothly into English. Outside of the martial arts, the word kime is ambiguous at best. However, within that esteemed enclave, the meaning of it becomes even more abstruse.

How Westerners Try to Explain Kime

I have heard various instructors (usually westerners) trying to explain the concept:

Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki.
Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki

1. “Accelerating into your target, where your kime focuses the energy.”

2. “is the ability to rapidly deliver power into the target.

3. “a destructive force that, once mastered, transforms the student into a master.

4. Even the almighty Wikipedia says kime means “power, and/or focus.

These are but a few of the many I’ve heard. I’ve also heard those who would debunk kime:

5. It “is merely a physical contraction that happens when, in traditional karate in particular (because most of its practice is done against an imaginary target), the antagonist muscles (that is the opposing muscles to those used to initiate whichever technique) are used to stop a technique; denoted by the snapping of the gi.

Those who subscribe to 1, 2, 3 or 4 are merely trying to verbalize a feeling that is so elusive it escapes purely physical, logical explanation. And those who subscribe to number 5 simply don’t grasp the concept and never actually feel kime. I find that some of the sport karate or freestyle orientated styles, with no traditional roots, those who, instead of the Japanese term, use words like fixate, or phrases like, ‘Deliver vigorously, and pull the punch,’ fall into this category.

Frank Nowak´s view on the Concept

One of my favourite metaphors, concerning the term, I heard from Frank Nowak Sensei, sadly now deceased. Originally from Germany, after completing the legendary Nakayama Sensei’s JKA Instructors Course, Nowak Sensei immigrated to Australia in 1971. Nowak Sensei was the very first recipient of the “Best Referee Award” by WUKO, at the World Championships in Taiwan in 1982:

“Imagine an antitank weapon firing, first of all, a missile without a warhead at a tank; the missile would surely rock that tank but would probably not stop or incapacitate it. Now picture that missile, fitted with an explosive warhead, hitting that same tank… That is the difference between hitting with and without kime!”

Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa

Shotokan legend, the late Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei, founder of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, and Chief Instructor of the JKA until his passing in 1987, said:

“The essence of karate technique is kime. Kime may result from striking, punching or kicking, but also from blocking. A technique lacking kime is never true karate. “

Shotokan legend, Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei, founder of the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) in 1977, is still Chief Instructor of SKIF. As a younger man, while traveling the world, an emissary for the JKA, he would demonstrate how it can work by taking a stack of four or five boards and – after asking which of the boards the observers wanted him to break – striking the stack, breaking only the required board.

The picture shows the master of kime Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Master of kime doing an Oi-Zuki: Hirokazu Kanazawa

My Experience with Kime

While in the army I was a useful boxer; I was fast but not heavily muscled, with no concept of kime. No matter how hard I tried, and I stopped several opponents with my ferocious onslaughts, I could never manage that one punch knock-out. That changed after beginning my Shotokan training and, thanks to kime, half a century later I’m still renowned for my knock-out blow capacity.

Everyone has their own special relationship with, and understanding of, kime; regardless of opinions to the contrary, kime is a very real phenomenon. Kime is fundamentally an essential, qualitative part of any martial art. Without kime, any technique in any art – a boxing punch, Jujitsu throw, Muay Thai elbow, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan ‒ lacks the necessary quality to give said technique its full potential.

For the martial arts fraternity, Shotokan Karateka in particular, kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it.

About the Author

Writer and author Thomas D. McKinnon is a lifelong karateka, a multi-accredited international Martial Arts Specialist in Boxing, Karate, Kung Fu, Bushido, Muay Thai and military Close Quarter Combat with combined experience of more than 55 years’.  He is also a former British Parachute Regiment soldier and international Close Personal Protection Specialist (Bodyguard), and was a tactical and self-defence instructor for the Australian security industry for a period of twenty-five years. He is Chief Instructor of Torakan, Shotokan Karate-Do, and Technical Advisor to the Karate Union of Australia.