Mushin is an important concept in martial arts that originated from Zen Buddhism. This in-depth post covers the meaning of mushin, how the mind of a martial artist progresses through their training to achieve mushin, and what one can do to get there.

What Is Mushin?

“Mushin no shin”

Mushin (無心) is the shortened form of “mushin no shin” (無心の心).

Mushin no shin (無心の心) is a Japanese term that has Zen and Buddhism origin.

Mu (無) means “nothing”, “nothingness” or “without”.

Shin (心) means “mind” or “heart”.

No (の) is a particle used to indicate possession.

Mushin no shin (無心の心), therefore, means “the mind of no mind” and its shortened form mushin is often used.

Mushin refers to the mental state of being free from distracting thoughts, emotions and external factors while being fully engaged in the present moment.

This state of mind is said to allow one to be able to perform at one’s best ability because when the mind is clear, calm, open and free of engagement, the mind-body connection is unhindered and one is able to respond naturally and spontaneously.

Mushin is an important concept in martial arts because this state of mind-without-mind allows martial artists to perform at their highest level.

When the mind is not burdened by emotions or conscious decision-making nor occupied by external factors, martial artists can react instantaneously, appropriately and unconsciously to any situation. In this state of mind, they no longer fight with their intellect but with their trained unconsciousness.

Outside of martial arts, mushin has also been applied in various contexts such as art, music, and everyday life and is often referred to as “a state of flow” where one is fully engaged in an activity, uninhibited by mental clutter or self-consciousness. The aim of cultivating mushin or “the flow state” in these fields is to achieve a harmonious integration of mind, body, and spirit that enable people to perform their best with clarity and focus.

We will explore in more depth the meaning of the mushin concept in the context of martial arts in the section below.

The Mushin Mind Is Free of Thought

In the state of mushin, one is free of thought.

When facing an attacker on the street, you shouldn’t remind yourself to stay calm and prepare for the opportune moment to deliver a decisive blow; you shouldn’t consciously think about trying to stay calm, you should simply be.

When facing an opponent on the mat, you shouldn’t tell yourself things like, ‘I know his fighting style, and I’m confident I can beat him,’ ‘I’m three points ahead, and there are only 20 seconds left, I should win,’ or ‘He’s too good, I’m happy with a bronze.’

When about to perform your kata at a competition, you shouldn’t tell yourself things like, ‘I’m performing in front of my whole family and a huge home crowd today; I will do my best to make them proud,’ ‘I don’t think the girl before me did very well, I should be able to do better,’ or ‘I often mess up at the 180-degree turn; I must remember to slow down a little to avoid that mistake.’

As soon as you start thinking about something, whether they are to motivate yourself or remind yourself of something you must pay attention to, your mind stops with these thoughts. You may think that you are capable of multi-tasking and you can still observe and react accordingly, but your mind is already clouded by these thoughts and your performance will be affected.

The Mushin Mind Is Free of Emotion

In the state of mushin, one should be free of emotions whether they are positive or negative.

Fear, anger, hatred, excitement, pride, and joy can all lead to distractions, impulsive actions, or clouded judgment. In the context of martial arts, being overly influenced or controlled by emotions can hinder performance and prevent one from acting spontaneously and effectively.

Negative emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, and tension can trigger the release of adrenaline as part of the body’s response to a perceived threat. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate will increase. These changes help to mobilize energy and you may feel like your physical strength increases. However, in this state, the mind-body connection is affected, your body will become tense and your reaction time will decrease.

Similarly, positive emotions such as joy, happiness, pride, gratitude, and inspiration can also cloud your judgment, reduce your focus and affect your performance.

While the aim is not being completely detached from emotions, in activities that require focused attention and absolute clarity of the mind, being free from the burden of the fluctuating nature of emotions allows one to remain present and attuned to the present moment and achieve optimal performance.

The Mushin Mind Is Non-Attaching

The mind in the state of mushin is devoid of thoughts and emotions, and it is also unattached to any specific objects.

When facing an opponent, in the state of mushin, one does not fixate on the opponent’s eyes, feet, weapon, or surroundings. This is because as soon as attention is focused on a particular object, the mind becomes occupied with that object, diminishing awareness of everything else.

If you are watching the opponent’s hands, then you may be missing out on observing the eyes and feet. You may be able to react timely if they launch a hand technique but not if they decide to kick instead. Similarly, if you are watching the feet then you are not observing the shoulders, the eyes or the hands. You’ll be able to detect it if they advance towards you or kick you, but will be missing out on attacks coming from the upper body.

In the book “The Unfettered Mind,” Zen master Takuan Soho provides insights on why one should not fix their mind on any particular point in the state of mushin.

If one puts his mind in the action of his opponent’s body, his mind will be taken by the action of his opponent’s body.

If he puts his mind in his opponent’s sword, his mind will be taken by that sword.

If he puts his mind in the thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him, his mind will be taken by thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him.

If he puts his mind in his own sword, his mind will be taken by his own sword.

If he puts his mind in his own intention of not being struck, his mind will be taken by his intention of not being struck.

If he puts his mind in the other man’s stance, his mind will be taken by the other man’s stance…

No matter where you put it, if you put the mind in one place, the rest of your body will lack its functioning…

If you don’t put it anywhere, it will go to all parts of your body and extend throughout its entirety. In this way, when it enters your hand, it will realize the hand’s function. When it enters your foot, it will realize the foot’s function. When it enters your eye, it will realize the eye’s function.

Takuan Sōhō

In the state of mushin, the mind is not fixated on anything specific, yet it has the ability to absorb everything. One remains in a constant state of awareness and readiness, prepared to act and react to every situation in a timely and efficient manner.

The Mushin Mind Is Like a Mirror

If the mushin mind is free from thoughts, emotions, and attachment to specific objects, what does it actually resemble?

Some have likened the mushin mind to a mirror or flowing water, it continually receives but does not retain anything and does not rest anywhere. This constant state of flowing allows one to gather information and react instantaneously and instinctively.

The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives but does not keep. And when anything comes in front of the mirror, it reflects it instantly, the mirror doesn’t wait to reflect it.


When this No-Mind has been well developed, the mind does not stop with one thing nor does it lack any one thing. It is like water overflowing and exists within itself. It appears appropriately when facing a time of need…

If the mind moves about the entire body, when the hand is called into action, one should use the mind that is in the hand. When the foot is called for, one should use the mind that is in the foot. But if you determine one place in which to put it, when you try to draw it out of that place, there it will stay. It will be without function…

Takuan Sōhō

The Progression of the Mind of a Martial Artist

The mind of a martial artist progresses from ignorance and nothingness to being filled with techniques, concepts and principles as they train. However, some martial artists may later attain the state of mushin when they reach mastery after years of dedicated training.

When you just embark on your martial art journey, you know nothing about martial arts and have no idea how to defend yourself. If you are attacked on the street, you will react based on your instincts. You don’t know what to look out for and you mind does not stop anywhere. If you are struck in the groin, your hands naturally cover your groin. If you are hit in the eyes, your hands instinctively go up to your eyes where it hurts. If you are being choked, you will frantically struggle to break free from the attacker’s hands grasping your neck.

Once you start learning, your mind becomes filled with techniques, strategies, and principles. If you face an attacker on the street, you will be more aware and know what to watch out for. You will be assessing the attacker’s size, strength, their likely fighting experience and what they might do first. Additionally, you will be more conscious of your own stance, think about the strategies you may use against the attacker, or look for the escape routes, etc.

In other words, you now have the opposite problem of absolute beginners: Too many minds. Mind on the attacker, mind on the surrounding, and mind on yourself.

However, after years and decades of training, all the techniques, fighting strategies, opponent assessments, and situational awareness will become part of your bodyness. When facing an opponent on the street, you no longer need to consciously assess the opponent, anticipate their initial move, take mental note of your surroundings or contemplate the best stance you should assume. All those observations, assessments and premeditation are done by your subconscious and you’ll be in the mushin state of mind. You will face the opponent with clarity and calmness and be able to let your subconscious do all the fighting for you. Everything is natural, timely and effortless.

This is similar to the way a person’s mind transitions from infancy to adulthood.

When a baby is first born, we can describe their mind as being in a state of mushin. They are open and receptive to everything in their living environment, including sounds, colors, smells, textures, gestures, and emotions.

As they grow and learn, their minds become filled with knowledge, memories, joys, and love, but also burdened with worries, regrets, hatred, plans, and ambitions.

However, at some point, for some fortunate or wise few, they come to realize how fleeting life is and learn to let go of the unnecessary burdens they’ve place upon themselves and begin to truly live in the present moment. For those lucky few, they’ve come full circle and now returned to the state of mushin which is what they start with in the beginning.

“Every man has two lives, and the second starts when he realizes he has just one”


Indeed, everyone has two lives, but it is only the wise ones who get to live the second.

How to Achieve Mushin?

Although daily mediation and mindfulness practice can help to achieve mushin, for a martial artist, achieving the state of mushin requires many years of dedicated training as well as sorting out fundamental issues in their life.

Regular Meditation and Mindfulness Practice

Regular meditation and mindfulness practice can definitely help achieve mushin.

Even dedicating just 15-30 minutes to daily meditation can assist you in developing mindfulness and improving your ability to enter a state of mushin, especially if practiced consistently over time

To meditate, find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position, whether it’s on a chair or a cushion on the floor. Keep your back straight but relax your body. Focus your attention on your breath. Simply breathe in through your nose, following the breath down your throat, into your chest, and down to your abdomen. Exhale slowly through your mouth, tracing the breath from your abdomen, up through your chest, out of your throat, and beyond. Release any thoughts or distractions as they arise and bring your attention back to your breath.

If you find yourself lacking time for dedicated meditation, there are plenty of opportunities in your daily life to practice mindfulness and aid in attaining the state of mushin more easily.

You can practice mindfulness throughout your day by paying attention to your surroundings, sensations, and actions. Train yourself to let go of worries about the past or future, and bring your attention back to the present. For example, when you practice karate, be it basics, sparring or kata, try to clear your mind of internal chatter and external distractions and be completely present and engaged in every move.

As Buddha says “when we sit we know we are sitting; when we sleep, we know we are sleeping; and when we eat, we know we are eating”. If we do even the simplest thing in life with our mind fully present, it will become a habit and we will do the same when we need to face our enemy and fight a life-or-death battle.

Dedicated Training in Your Chosen Art

In martial arts as well as in any other fields of study, one must attain a certain level of proficiency through years of dedicated practice in order to enter the mushin state of mind when needed and perform at the subconscious level.

For a martial artist, the ideal is to face an opponent with mushin, a state of clarity and calmness and free from the distractions of thoughts, emotions, and attachments, and let their body does the fighting the way it has been trained to do.

This can only happen if the martial artist has gone through years of consistent and dedicated training and all techniques, strategies, the ability to read opponents and situational awareness have become second nature to them.

Without many years or even decades of training and fighting experience, it is hard to achieve mushin and it is difficult to fight naturally and effectively.

Take fear, for example. In mushin, you are supposed to be free of fear, anxiety and tension. However, if you have to face an opponent who is younger, taller and twice bigger, without previous training and experience, feeling fearful is perfectly natural. You can only eliminate fear and achieve mushin if you have trained hard and fought many battles before including those against much bigger opponents and have built up confidence in your ability accordingly.

In short, mushin can’t be hurried. You must go through many years of hard work and frustratingly living with many minds before achieving the state of no-mind.

Mushin can’t be achieved solely through intellectual exercises, i.e. you can’t just read about it, understand it and then be able to enter this state of mind and fight well.

Mushin can only be attained through diligent practice, real-life experience, deep contemplation and personal realization.

Sorting Out Fundamental Things in Your Life

In addition to the factors set out above, I think to achieve the state of mushin, one has to sort out one’s fundamental things in life first and find inner peace within oneself.

If you are under enormous stress and being depressed and you don’t know what you are living for, it is challenging to stay calm and fully engaged in the present moment.

If you harbor feelings of revenge, hold grudges against someone, carry a chip on your shoulder, or constantly have a bone to pick with someone, it becomes difficult to fully concentrate on the task at hand and let go all the distractions and external concerns.

How you do anything is how you do everything else in life. You cannot separate your martial artist self from your daily persona.

By sorting out and finding resolutions in these fundamental areas, you can create a solid foundation for achieving mushin and cultivating a state of complete focus and presence.

Other posts you might be interested in:

How to Find More Time for Your Karate Training

Best Fighting Stance: Going Beyond Physical Form

Practical Tips for Effective Self Defense on the Streets

What Is the Philosophy of Karate?

Itosu Anko’s Ten Precepts of Karate

The Intended Meaning of Karate Ni Sente Nashi


Mushin State of No Mind In Martial Arts

The Unfettered Mind

The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman

Mushin (mental state)