Is 'Mushin' and high performance 'Flow' the same thing?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by Botta Dritta, Dec 8, 2020.

  1. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Like many people recently I havn't been able to get much martial stuff in, except for footwork exercise's and leg stretches so a lot of my stuff has been directed to a lot of reading.

    Last night I was glancing through 'Yagyu Munenori's' - Heihō kadensho, promoted by a recent comment by Jaydub on Mushashi's Book of the 5 Rings, so I decided to compare them seeing as they are seen still in Japan as fundamental to Samurai martial arts. This prompted me to reread The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts and other tales by Issai Chozanshi, which is probably my favourite. The Heihō kadensho is certainly very interesting for me seeing as it's the principles of swordsmanship as applied to Statecraft (He was very close to the Shogunate) as I studied political science at Uni.

    But what was interesting is the admonition like the other two which is an admonition that true martial arts is the ability to reach 'no mind' and let the techniques manifest themselves spontaneously rather than them be attached to the mind. In short Mushin: Mushin (mental state) - Wikipedia

    When I left Uni I was deeply influenced by
    Mihály Csíkszentmihályi book Flow, which detailed the mental state of 'Being in the zone' : Flow (psychology) - Wikipedia , which as a fencer on the circuit was seminal reading - how to try and reach the sweet spot where you are totally engaged on the strip and techniques and tactics through a total autotelic experience where you reach a state of Effortless hyperfocus . I think I even reached that bliss once or twice, but was always elusive, much the same experience I had with Taijiquan. (I guess I ruminate too much). Recently I finally got round to belatedly reading Timothy Galway's Inner game of Tennis, which is treads kind of the same path, but from the point of view of a Coach that is trying to get out of the athlete's way.

    They are often conflated as peak experiences.... But are they the same thing? Are there mappers who have achieved Mushin and do they believe it to be the same as Flow?
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  2. axelb

    axelb Master of Office Chair Fu

    Some good book references for anyone who hasn't read, definitely worth a read.

    A good point of discussion.

    I think there is some grey area, mushin is often implied as a physically motionless and mentally motionless state. I did a lot of meditation training taichi, qi gong, yoga and such lead me down that path whilst I was injured or ill.
    I would say I got as far into that state of being as I could without quitting work and living in the mountains, and it leads to a better enablement of "flow" but it isn't the same.

    With flow you are more aware of movement and being and I think it I would expect this is easier to attain for most people as it can be achieved through physical training, whereas no mind is more of a time consuming mental training tool.
    Intense training like martial arts can lead to it because there are so many components to training and mental game involved which can trigger it naturally.

    Even outside of martial arts as someone who spent a lot of time on programming I would say the flow state can be achieved through these activities also.

    Based on my experiences I would say the main difference is physical activity involved, but it is like putting your mind into top gear for each of these.

    No mind is like putting your car in top gear whilst it is not on the ground. You don't need to steer or focus on the road.

    Flow is putting this into action, you are in top gear/speed whilst also driving the car.

    Maybe other people have different experiences. For me doing the meditation training (used to mediate up to 3 hours at a time) I would find it easier to click into the mindset, like any other training it was grafting and I can't do it as easily now as I used to because I don't have hours a day to spare for that training :D
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  3. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    My reading on mushin is limited, but I was under the impression it could come about during physical activity, not just static meditation.

    Like all similar subjects of mental states they are nebulous and defy description. However, my understanding and experience leads me to say that flow is the step before mushin. Mushin is something more... or rather, something less.
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  4. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    I think I get the metaphor, but ...wat? Is this some Axelb Koan? Is a car not a car when its a hovercraft? ;) Or do you mean there isn't a conscious pilot that directs the motion despite it being at top gear?

    EDIT: Or there is no road (outside information) for the mind to drive in relation to? Is that what you are getting at?

    That's what a lot of opinion seems to indicate. Is it perhaps an ego less endeavour? But if so how can you differentiate it in practical terms? Why aim for Mushin if flow generates the same practical results?
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  5. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    I don't think it's about practicality.

    Perhaps there could be some overlap in which states were written about under the term mushin, in which case practical benefits would be from the flow state.

    Flow is part of being a skilled fighter, but I don't believe mushin adds much to efficacy beyond that. My guess is that it was thought of as desirable in and of itself, and as an indication of mastery.
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  6. axelb

    axelb Master of Office Chair Fu

    lol I like the hovercraft idea :D

    The latter part is what I was trying to get at with the analogy. That there is no road to require any attention towards.

    @David Harrison makes some good point, as a martial artist or fighter, getting to something beyond flow state probably isn't necessary to spend time on.
    I wonder if you have so much time to focus on items, is it worth focusing so much on the ability to empty your mind in such a way for so long?
    If you can do enough to get to the flow state, and get there then is further effort in this necessary?
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  7. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    I think maybe it's just something that can happen after consistently hitting flow state over a long period. In a culture where no-mind is a valued state it would make sense that this is a venerated occurrence. That would be my guess anyway, I'm far from being an expert on Japanese antiquity.
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  8. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    That makes two of us, but I can definitely say that mushin is not specific to martial arts. And it's basically identical to the "flow state" in that, to use the words of past scholars, it frees the mind from idle thoughts and distractions during any activity.

    So it's fine to say I am in the state of mushin when mowing the lawn but not thinking things like "why am I doing this" or "man my back hurts" or "ugh this takes forever". Applying this to martial arts you can see how important mushin is to everything from sparring to competition.

    Michael Jordan doesn't worry about crashing to the ground when performing miracle slam dunks because he has achieved the state of "mind detachment" when doing so, which you can call flow if you want, I suppose. Yet another one of those universal concepts.

    My Shotokan instructor taught me this term years ago with a really long switch to the back of my legs during stance training. Ah the good old days.
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  9. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Which then brings us to Musashi and the other writers..It seems odd that in Japan (and the east in general?) there should be such emphasis on Mushin as the ultimate manifestation of martial excellence, when for practical purposes a flow state would allow the same results? I know Buddhism is an important component of Eastern cultures but could it be perhaps unlike ourselves they made no hard and fast distinctions between the two states, or that to understand Flow in physical motion one had to aim towards meditative Mushin to grasp what was required for technique to manifest effortlessly? Or perhaps those old dragons were writing their Magnus Opus towards the end of their careers and they were more naturally drawn to meditation?
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  10. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    Yeah I think they are generally equivalent especially given the fact that they are both made up and highly subjective terms.

    A little reading into the history of the term in Japan shows it has been used in everything from karate to sword making to automobile design. But the English speaking world definitely has things like "flow", ""zone".

    You can't shut off your mind, that's impossible short of death. But you can eliminate fears, worries, apprehension, and so forth by training mindfully on any task. How often is your own work distracted by thoughts like "I forgot to feed my fish!" or "ugh I hate my boss". Mind detachment (DT Sukuki etc.) in all of these states implies shielding your conscious mind from all such diversions.
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  11. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    On Musashi, a great deal of his writings and those about him focus on the fact that katana dueling was a pretty lethal pastime, and no matter how many men you might have cut through in the past, it has no real bearing on whether you will survive the next. No matter how much you train there is always the bigger fish ready to swallow you whole.

    So in that particular realm (sword duel), the ideal state is the one where you accept you might die almost immediately and proceed. But when you think about this it's not much different than what soldiers, firefighters, police, and even COVID unit nurses struggle with every day.
  12. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    My understanding, relating the little I've read on mushin with personal experience, is that the kind of meditative experience you are talking about is not the same as no-mind. That is a step beyond. I'll have to re-acquaint myself with some yoga terminology, because I remember that as being a more sophisticated classification system than others I've looked into...
  13. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    I would say that once you experience no-mind, the distinction between it and flow or other meditative states becomes quite clear.
  14. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    And as soon as you make ANY distinction or discrimination, your "no mind" is no more (my source on most of these things is Suzuki). Cognitively your mind can go anywhere at any given time often involuntarily, so the ability to keep it here and now doing whatever, especially well and safely (chopping celery) is a skill. One errant move and you might lose some flesh (Musashi).

    Again keep in mind these are all very vague, conceptual ideas. None of them are very objective which is why if you get 10 people in a room talking about "mindfulness" you will probably get 10 different, subjective answers. And that's OK because the nature of the inquiry is not exact or quantifiable. This is what makes it a universal concept, anybody can apply it to their given unique situation. As Curly said the secret to life is "this one thing".
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  15. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    I remembered one instructive yoga term I was thinking of: samehdi, or single-pointed consciousness. This is what you seem to be describing, but that is not the same as no-mind.
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  16. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    In my personal experience -

    There are times when practicing forms that you find yourself high as a kite. My teacher even referred to a section of the Sothern wu tie chi form as "the flying section" because it tended to create this effect. however achieving this state was not an aim instead it was an unwanted side effect a called "gross manifestation of chi" by my grandfather tie chi teacher. One should not chase this sensation. instead one acknowledges it, accepts it, and moves on.

    There are times in sparing when techniques flow together. This is still a mindful process based on recognising and understanding the immediate situation. "I can feel my own body mechanics. I can read my opponents mechanics. I know that they are open to this application right now".

    Then there is a very rare experience where intention and action arise from the unconscious and the conscious mind feels almost as thought it is just along for the ride. I have only experienced this once. it occurred in a real world self defence situation and looking back on it afterwards it scared the hell out of me, luckily at the time it scared the hell out of my would be attacker who broke off and ran.

    I had a massive adrenaline dump afterwards - shakes and all. So it is possible that the effect was physiological governed by hormones but it did not feel like that at the time. I did not feel angry or scared of physical harm. My mind was empty but lucid.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
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  17. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    Are you positive? According to the Zen patriarchs, it's the same thing. The last peg, in fact, in a chain, but naturally, there are thousands of years between the concept of somehdi and the concept of mu shin (no shin). Bodhidharma only stared at cave wall for seven years in comparison. :D

    Takhuan Soto said of mu shin no shin (according to one text I have and I'm sure this English translation is subpar but here it is): "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."

    So, the Buddhists would seem to be saying it's all the same stuff at the end of the day. Disclaimer: I'm not a Buddhist, I just read a lot.

    And that last part is straight from Musashi, in fact I always wonder if DT was invoking him without naming? Who really knows.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
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  18. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    I'm not very good at inspirational advice but this came into my news feed this morning and it was an excellent example that ties together mushin, flow, etc. It's all about the breathing, when you really think about it. Without breathing there can be no meditation, but people often miss the fact that breathing is in and of itself, the very control of our own lifeforce. So it shouldn't come as a shock that US Navy SEALSs use breathing techniques to conquer fear, stress, distractions. They are really just mimicking the yogis and Zen monks of the ancient world.

    "Box breathing". Remember to breathe! So simple yet so elusive to so many. :D

    Beat Stress Like a Navy SEAL With This Ridiculously Easy Exercise
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  19. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Thanks for jogging my Musashi memory, it's been years since I read it.

    He doesn't seem to be describing the same phenomenon as experienced whilst chopping celery or mowing a lawn there.

    If Musashi is writing about something that happens to everyone all the time, why did he make such a big deal of it?
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  20. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Ruminating on this a bit more; I wonder if it might bring benefits beyond skill, pertaining to war: morale, fatigue, PTSD etc.?
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