Mind like the Moon, Mind like Water, Mind of No Mind

The "basic principles" are the techniques for generating power in hard-style karate.
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Mind like the Moon, Mind like Water, Mind of No Mind

Postby HanshiClayton » Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:13 am

Each year when we get together, Master Nishiyama tries to teach us something special about mental state. This year I got the message, or at least a part of it. I am struggling to integrate it with other soundbites of karate wisdom, none of which tell us quite the right thing, but all of which are true in some sense. It is a very difficult subject to put into words, especially when the words are English-translated-from-Japanese.

Here’s a description of what “mental state” means to me, based on Nishiyama’s seminars.


Exercise 1: Sensei and student walk past each other, as if passing on the sidewalk. Sensei, without any warning, feigns an open-hand slap to the student’s face. The student recoils but fails to block (well, usually... pick the right student!)

Second pass: Same thing, but this time the student is expecting a blow. Change the timing so the student betrays his/her anticipation. Let them block a blow that doesn’t come. Everyone laughs. This is fun.

Third pass: Now the student is ready and concentrating. Sensei and student walk past each other, and the sensei strikes. Most of the time the student cannot react fast enough to convincingly block the strike. The strike gets through. There just isn’t time...

Sensei holds out his arm toward the student, and has the student use his/her blocking hand to physically “pat” the sensei’s arm. Pat-pat-pat-pat all up and down the arm. It looks silly, but actual contact is required.

Sensei backs up a few steps and tells the student to mentally envision patting the arm with the hand... pat-pat-pat-pat... intense mental concentration on imaginary patting... as they walk past each other again.

Fourth pass: Student concentrates on “patting” mentally as the sensei approaches. This time (well, usually) when the sensei attacks the student responds with surprising speed, power, and accuracy. You can hear the difference as the student’s hand stops the attack in midair.

Holding that vision in your mind makes your response significantly faster and more accurate.

LESSON 1: Students face each other in shizen-tai (yoi position, upright, feet shoulder-width apart), at arm’s length. Students stand with their hands at their sides. Tori (attacker) extends his right forefinger as a “knife.” Without warning, Tori does a “quick draw” and pokes Uke in the belly with his finger. Uke uses his left hand in an attempt to deflect or catch Tori’s wrist before the finger touches. (Students have a great time with this.) At first, Uke doesn’t have a prayer.

Sensei instructs Uke to use his/her left hand to pat-pat-pat Tori’s attacking arm/wrist/hand. Now... keeping the mental image of patting alive in your mind... try it again. Not everyone can succeed, but people of some talent or greater experience can suddenly react fast enough to catch Tori’s hand in midair. The difference is quite impressive.

LESSON 2: Tori and Uke change to fighting stance, left hand/foot forward, still close enough that your extended arm can just touch your opponent’s face. Uke raises his open hand to chin level, on guard, halfway between the opponents. Uke’s task is to block incoming left and right face-level punches, using only the left hand. This is difficult at first, as Tori gets to vary the timing and delivery of the punches. Uke never knows which side the punch will be on, nor exactly when it will come. (These are practice punches... fairly fast but we’re not really trying to hit Uke’s face.)

Students get tunnel vision doing this, fixing on one side of the other, and find themselves blocking left when the punch is on the right. They find this frustrating. Nervous, chagrined laughter ripples around the room. Some blocks hit, others miss, and some are embarassing.

Sensei takes charge. We will do left punches only for a minute. Uke will pat-pat-pat Tori’s left arm, physically, and then maintain the patting mentally. Uke is ready... (pat-pat-patting in his mind)... and when Tori throws the punch, Uke’s block is instantaneous. Pow! Repeated punches prove that Tori doesn’t have a chance!

Sensei takes over again. Now we will do right punches only. First pat Tori’s arm... now maintain the mental patting of Tori’s right arm... now start punching (right side only)... and it is just amazing how fast and how accurately Uke can block Tori’s blows!

Well, duh, right?

Now comes the lesson. Sensei takes over again. This time, he says, we will punch right-and-left with random order and timing, just like before. The difference is... we will load our mind with the image of patting Tori’s left arm... AND... with the image of patting Tori’s right arm, at the same time.

Filling their imagination with two patting images at once is more than the younger/less-experienced people can manage, but intermediate students find that they can concentrate... mentally quivering between left-pat and right-pat images... and when Tori punches they have no problem applying the correct technique to the punch. They don’t get tunnel vision. They respond... fast... to whatever punch is launched.

The students are nervously amazed that this is possible, but they can’t keep it up for long. It takes too much unaccustomed mental effort.

Sensei stops them and makes the following point: If you can fill your mind with two different reaction images, and “quiver” your attention between them... why not three images? Why not four?


This lesson eventually puts you in touch with a kind of mental state that isn’t subject to tunnel vision, but it isn’t what a Westerner would think of as “empty” either. The mind is concentrating... hard... on holding multiple reaction plans in the forefront of consciousness, but it is not focused or committed to any one of them. Instead the back of the mind, if you will, adopts a serene sense of detachment, waiting for the trigger that will unleash one of the anticipated responses.

Mind like the moon... moonlight illuminates everything equally. We can see everything our opponent might do, and in fact we are anticipating multiple things he might do, but we don’t let one anticipation cast shadows on the others.

Mind like water... still water reflects clearly where troubled water cannot. This is another see-it-all-at-once metaphor. Emotion or tunnel vision will mess it up.

Mind of no mind... well, certainly no thoughts. The mind is tense but still, like a mousetrap ready to spring into action. “Empty” mind, but not relaxed.

Stable emotions... you simply cannot achieve this mental state if you are fearful or enraged. Emotion stirs the water, drives clouds across the moon.

Altogether, I think I’ve got a piece of it. Holding two pictures in my mind at the same time was a new experience.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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Re: Mind like the Moon, Mind like Water, Mind of No Mind

Postby colinwee » Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:35 am

Hanshi Clayton - would we be able to visit the topics of basic skills and fundamental knowledge? I think addressing tactical deployment of skills is quite important to understand how to train a student. This seems most appropriate to the idea of 'no mind' when it comes to a non compliant opponent - it's got to be in built into training. Let me know if you're interested to chat more on this. Colin
Colin Wee is the Principal of Joong Do Kwan in Western Australia, and a Board Member of AMAHOF Inc. Colin has recently published Breaking Through: The Secrets of Bassai Dai Kata. He has practiced three systems in three countries for four decades.
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