This technique can be something everyone can apply to their day to day lives. How? Well, read on.
In the 1920s, a German man named Eugen Herrigel moved to Japan and began training in Kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery.
Herrigel was taught by a legendary Kyudo master named Awa Kenzo. Kenzo was convinced that beginners should master the fundamentals of archery before attempting to shoot at a real target and he took this method to the extreme. For the first four years, Herrigel was only allowed to shoot at a roll of straw just seven feet away. (1)
When he was finally allowed to shoot at targets on the far end of the practice hall, Herrigel’s performance was dismal. The arrows flew off course and he became more discouraged with each wayward shot. Herrigel was convinced his problem was poor aim, but Kenzo replied that it was not whether you aimed, but how you approached your goal that determined the outcome.
Frustrated with his teacher, Herrigel blurted out, “Then you ought to be able to hit it blindfolded.”
Kenzo paused for a moment and then said, “Come to see me this evening.”
After night had fallen, the two men returned to the courtyard where the practice hall was located. Kenzo walked over to his normal shooting location with the target hidden somewhere out in the night. The archery master settled into his firing stance, drew the bow string tight, and released the first arrow into the darkness of the courtyard.
Herrigel would later write, “I knew from the sound that it had hit the target.”
Immediately, Kenzo drew a second arrow and again fired into the night. Herrigel jumped up and ran across the courtyard to inspect the target.
In his book, Zen in the Art of Archery, Herrigel wrote, “When I switched on the light over the target stand, I discovered to my amazement that the first arrow was lodged full in the middle of the black, while the second arrow had splintered the butt of the first and ploughed through the shaft before embedding itself beside it.”
Everything Is Aiming
Great archery masters often teach that “everything is aiming.” Where you place your feet, how you hold the bow, the way you breathe during the release of the arrow – it all determines the end result.
In the case of Awa Kenzo, the master archer was so mindful of the process that led to an accurate shot that he was able to replicate the exact series of internal movements even without seeing the external target. This complete awareness of the body and mind in relation to the goal is known as zanshin.
Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Literally translated, zanshin means “the mind with no remainder.” In other words, the mind completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand. Zanshin is being constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without stressing yourself. It is an effortless vigilance.
In practice, though, zanshin has an even deeper meaning. Zanshin is choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly falling victim to whatever comes your way.