There is a lot of talk in our society about the martial arts teaching focus. I would argue that most sports or disciplines, if properly framed, promote focus. One does not need to look any further than a local sporting arena to witness participants at many levels and in a wide range of ages deeply engaged in their activity – often at the expense of their awareness their surroundings. What the martial arts do exceptionally well is to help the practitioner develop the ability to concentrate on a particular task for a period of time; staying engaged in the task at hand and keeping the mind from wandering.
At first, the time period will be short. Students should aspire to deliver one technique with all of their physical, psychological, and spiritual energy. Next, they try to maintain the same state of readiness for a full series of techniques – or all the way through a kata. An intermediate student should be able to focus for an entire drill – resting only in the short period between exercises.
… accomplished karateka can remain focused for extended periods of time even outside of normal training times.
As one becomes accustomed to this sustained engagement, one can stay in a focused state for an entire class remaining centered on training even between drills. This can be extended to several days in the case of a training camp or seminar. Eventually, accomplished karateka can remain focused for extended periods of time, even outside of normal training times.
The WKF1 (2020) describes Zanshin “as a state of continued commitment in which the Competitor maintains total concentration, observation, and awareness of the opponent’s potentiality to counter-attack” (p. 59). It is so important the term appears repeatedly in the WKF Karate Competition Rules (5 times in fact). It can mean to stay engaged emotionally or spiritually with a partner/opponent. Physically speaking, it also means finishing a technique (following through). A fighter who has engaged an opponent, delivered a technique, and continues to be ready to deal with the next step in the exchange is demonstrating zanchin. However, one who has delivered a technique and immediately turns his back on his opponent has not demonstrated zanchin and puts him or herself at risk. The rules provide greater detail on this but my point is that I have not (yet) encountered any other rule book that lists “paying attention to what you are doing” as a criteria.
This long-term, sustained attention to a task is critical in the martial arts and differs from sport in one important way. Sport encourages focus just as much as karate does but a lack of focus in an athlete results in the loss of a point; loss of focus in a karateka can mean serious injury or the loss of a life. Thankfully, we do not live in feudal Japan so the consequences are moot but the benefits of training can be very beneficial.
1 World Karate Federation