Muga-mushin: Let The Force be with you!

Posted on Wed, 20 November 2013

I was introduced to the idea of muga some years ago by Osada Steve and reminded by that controversial, but I believe wise, character TheAngryNawashi to study muga-mushin. I plan to heed that advice. Whilst I have only a hazy understanding of the actual terms, the concept is not unfamiliar. I have experienced it in other situations, such as off-road motorcycling when one realises that it is more a question of letting ‘The Force be with you’ than fighting the pull of the mud and ruts. I have long said that muscle memory frees the conscious mind but, when this happens, there appears to be an unconscious process that also takes place. One finds ones actions evolving. One example is how I recently looked down to discover that my fingers had found a slightly different, more efficient way.

I asked TheAngryNawashi if my habit of not rehearsing shows was a step in the right direction. I’m somewhat relieved that the answer was in the affirmative as I have always believed that kinbaku comes from the heart and not from a carefully choreographed show honed to perfection over months. For me, kinbaku is what happens in the moment not as a result of the same routine regurgitated. Of course, I am not suggesting radical and dynamic ’circus bondage’ doesn’t benefit from some practice!


It appears that the endless repetition of standard forms like the obiquitous Osada and Kinoko TK’s provide similar “combinations of movements and exchanges of techniques to be practised repetitively many thousands of times, until they can be performed spontaneously, without conscious thought”.  So there is method in our madness. Here’s what Wiki says:

Mushin (無心) Japanese mushin; English translation “without mind” or “without conscious thought”) is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat.[citation needed] They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of “no-mindness”. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. For the origin of the mushin concept, see Muga-mushin. It is somewhat analogous to flow experienced by artists deeply in a creative process.

Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is their trained natural reaction or what is felt intuitively. It is not a state of relaxed, near-sleepfulness, however. The mind could be said to be working at a very high speed, but with no intentions, plans or direction. In analogy a clear mind is compared to a still pond, which is able to clearly reflect the moon and trees. But just as waves in the pond will distort the picture of reality, so will the thoughts we hold onto disrupt the true perception of reality.

A martial artist would likely have to train for many years to be capable of maintained mushin. This allows time for combinations of movements and exchanges of techniques to be practised repetitively many thousands of times, until they can be performed spontaneously, without conscious thought, thus changing your natural reactions to be more effective in combat or whatever else you may be doing. If he is capable of truly listening to his teacher, however, he could attain this level in only a few years.
 Some masters believe that mushin is the state where a person finally understands the uselessness of techniques and becomes truly free to move. In fact, that person will no longer even consider themselves as “fighters” but merely living beings moving through space.

The legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō said:

The mind must always be in the state of ‘flowing,’ for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

However, mushin is not just a state of mind that can be achieved during combat. Many martial artists train to achieve this state of mind during kata so that a flawless execution of moves is accomplished — that they may be achieved during combat or at any other time. Once mushin is attained through the practicing or studying of martial arts (although it can be accomplished through other arts or practices that refine the mind and body), the objective is to then attain this same level of complete awareness in other aspects of the practitioner’s life.

Mushin is very closely related to another state of mind known as heijoshin,[2] wherein a complete balance and harmony is attained in one’s life through mental discipline. Musashi Miyamoto, the great swordsman, alluded to these mental states briefly,[citation needed] and his conversations with Jotaro were often repeated in Japanese folklore as lessons to be learned for the practice of one’s life. Mushin and heijoshin are closely related to the teachings of Buddhism, specifically Zen teachings, and indeed the more mental aspects and attributes draw heavily from these philosophies.

Muga-mushin (無我無心) is a compound term of muga and mushin. Muga literally means no-self[2] (derived from the Sanskrit anātman) and Mushin no-mind[3] (also from the Sanskrit a-citta). What is negated is the empirical body-mind as an ontological independent state of existence. Muga and mushin point to the same thing, the state of egolessness, but from different perspectives. Muga refers to the negation of the physical state, mushin to the mental state of empirical existence.

 To understand better mushin one needs to understand acitta, or simply its Sanskrit-root citta. Citta is not easily rendered into English. As is the case with so many other Sanskrit terms, there does not seem to be a precise equivalent for it in English. Previous translations have proposed a variety of renderings, such as ‘mind-stuff’, ‘thinking-principle’, and similar compound words. In many instances, citta seems to convey consciousness, mind, intellect or psychic mass that orders and illuminates sensations coming from without—can serve as a mirror for objects, without the senses interposing between it and its object. Thus the non-initiate is incapable of gaining freedom, because his mind, instead of being stable (still, non-fluctuating) is constantly violated by the activity of the senses, by the subconscious, and by the ‘thrust for life’.

I don’t claim to be very proficient or understand the more esoteric side but I certainly think it is an essential area for further study and practice. The goal of learning is unconscious competence. When your mind is no longer clouded with the how to, what and when, your tying becomes spontaneous expression of the connection netween two people.