Every technique in To-Shin Do ends with hands in our defense ready position, or some other kamae. Often the suggestion is to keep hands up ‘for at least three seconds’ as a symbol for this concept of zan-shin, a reminder that the problem we’re dealing with may not be over just because we’ve finished ‘the technique’ or ‘the kata’ we’re working on. The fighting spirit of the technique remains, even when the physical movement seems to be over. A potential pitfall, though, is thinking this concept is about the physical position at the end of a technique. This concept refers to a mental state far more than what is going on with the body.
The last of our twelve keys is:
ZAN-SHIN 残心 FINISH
“Fighting Spirit” winning mental focus through the technique and the concentration that follows the end – no fooling, fumbling, or fading away – this is real!
-An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, To-Shin Do Official Curriculum
At the end of the technique we are returning to that final Discern of the five D’s of Self-Defense (or deciding if it is actually the first D once again and we have to start the process over). The moment we put our hands up without that mental focus, we’ve actually jumped out of zan-shin. One instructor friend of mine often chastises students during knife training … if you strip their knife away, throw it down, don’t hand it back to your training partner. His point is absolutely valid. But some students always end up mindlessly throwing the knife down to the floor, an automatic reaction because sensei said so, without examining if they were really done with the knife or not. That is a loss of zan-shin just as much as mindlessly handing the knife back. Zan-shin isn’t about handing the knife back, or throwing it on the floor. It isn’t about putting hands up or not at the end of the technique, it is about where the mind and spirit are during all these things. (Though, of course you should have your hands up at the end of a technique!)
Depending upon where you are in your training, consider these three levels of zan-shin:
The first level is to mechanically keep the hands up at the end of a technique as a symbol. This is a placeholder, a physical reminder that you need to remain focused on the fight, even if you’re allowing your mind to focus on some other detail for training purposes.
The second level is being aware of your mental attitude at the end, no matter what you are doing. Be ready. Are they attacking again? Is there someone else near you? Should you call the police now? Discern. This is more advanced and it can be difficult to maintain that awareness as a new student.
The third, and even more challenging level of zan-shin is awareness during the whole technique. Before, during, and after an encounter all need zan-shin. Where does your focus and concentration wane? Do you find yourself, after a piece of the technique, say after you’ve defending against a punch, start to relax? As in ‘whew, glad I got that part right’. That ‘whew’ moment anywhere during a technique means your zan-shin concentration has wavered and you’re more likely to get caught by surprise if the attacker doesn’t know they’re supposed to follow along with ‘the kata’.
Now that we’ve visited all of the twelve keys in a little more detail, remember that every technique in To-Shin Do has something to teach about each one of these concepts. While the twelve keys aren’t as separate as a list may make them sound, isolating each one as a way to drill different skills is important for growth in an art as vast and deep as ours. Look at each technique from the point of view of each one of these keys, and you’ll find your training reaching higher levels then you’ve ever imagined.