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HeijyoshinChris Meyer from Thailand sent me a question on Facebook about the four sicknesses of kendo as the answer is required for the written test of his coming yondan examination. He asks:

“It would be really appreciated if you could elaborate on each of the sickness, their consequences, and in overcoming them, the difference between Mushin and Heijoshin? They seem rather contradictory, the presence of mind and absence of thought, yet both I think could be the fix for shikai.”

I am sure Chris has asked because his intellectual curiosity has been roused and not because he wants an answer to cut and paste, so I will try my best.

“Shikai”, “the four sicknesses”,” kyo-ku-gi-waku”, “surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation” are terms that we often hear in kendo, yet as far as I know, there are very no in-depth explanations available in English. This is therefore my own guess at how these emotions might affect our kendo and there are numerous other scenarios that are equally valid

Taking them one by one: –

  • Surprise will happen when someone breaks your mental composure or kamae or both. If an opponent makes strong seme, either physically, or by showing a strong attacking spirit (kizeme), then you will be off-guard and they will have an opportunity to strike. An unexpected technique such as a katsugi waza may have the same effect.
  • Fear – The obvious example is when you are drawn against someone in shiai who is either significantly higher grade or who has a serious record of success in major competition. If you are conscious of their superiority then you are as much defeated by your own fear as by the stronger opponent. Another example is if you frightened of losing, all your time will be spent on avoiding being hit and you will miss the chance to strike.
  • Doubt – is perhaps the other side of the coin, if you are unsure of your ability or the effectiveness of your technique, then there is a tendency to not commit to an attack. Unless an attack is made with “full spirit” it is doomed to failure, therefore doubt has to be suspended.
  • Hesitation too is about lack of commitment. If when you see a chance, you stop to think about the merits of attacking or not, the moment will have passed.

The antidote is usually given as heijoshin which is often translated as “normal mind”, but it can be read as calm, constant mind, or unfettered mind. This does not mean clear of conscious thought as in mushin, which typifies the moment when you make a perfect strike without knowing that you have done so. Heijoshin means that your mind should run smoothly without fixating on your thoughts, therefore allowing you to react naturally to circumstances in the keiko or shiai as they occur.

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