Tag Archives: heijoshin



During a more introspective interlude in his life, the great Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, was communing in the mountains with his friend, the legendary Zen priest Takuan Soho.

As they were meditating by a mountain stream, a poisonous viper happened upon them.  The viper, calmly accepting Takuan as part of the natural surroundings, slithered across his lap and moved on.  When it encountered Musashi, the snake felt the power of Musashi’s fearsome character, and fled into the bushes.

Musashi was greatly troubled by this encounter.  Takuan, sensing something amiss, questioned Musashi about his feelings.  Musashi confessed that the fear he evoked in others disturbed him.  He was feared, yes, but the menace he exuded also made him stick out like a sore thumb.

He aspired to be like Takuan, whose ordinary calmness allowed him to blend into his surroundings. Takuan did not fear, nor was he feared.  He existed in a state of extraordinary ordinariness known as heijoshin. It was heijoshin that Musashi aspired to, and focused his future training on achieving this state of constant calm.

Hei jo shin consists of three kanji characters.  Hei means calm or peace.  Jo means constant or steady, and shin means mind.  Put together, heijoshin refers to a mind in its normal, peaceful state.  The peaceful, undisturbed mind provides the proper medium for clarity in thought:

The undisturbed mind is like a calm body of water reflecting the brilliance of the moon.

~ Yagyu Jubei.

Whereas zanshin refers to awareness, and mushin is a mind free of thoughts and preconceptions, heijoshin provides the stable vessel in which all these other states can co-exist.  These states are complementary, and refer to different facets of the same stone.  Heijoshin, through calmness, enables the other states of mind.

Anger and excitement are states that are not normal to everyday life.  Heijoshin maintains that the mind be free of these feelings in order to be truly effective.  All those whose livelihoods put them in situations of duress train to be in a state of heijoshin.  Whether it is a paramedic treating an accident victim or Captain Chesley Sullenberger calmly nursing his stricken plane down to a safe landing on the Hudson River, heijoshin was achieved through countless hours of training.

It is with this intent that martial atists need to approach their training.  Like many things in life, training for heijoshin is a circular process that needs to be joined in mid-cycle.  Heijoshin leads to better training, and better training leads to heijoshin.

And when the moment of truth arrives, the martial artist can meet it with a mind at peace.

… perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away …

~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

During a recent session, I was given the opportunity to work with Sensei for the whole of my session. At first it was intimidating, because Sensei is so well versed in the Art. But then it became evident that this was a chance to explore an idea I’ve been wondering about for some time – that coordination of mind, body and spirit is always with us – and that it is our habits and conditioning that overwhelm and obscure our awareness. In essence, the art of aikido is in us all – and what we learn is to remove the pieces that obstruct or block us in achieving the state of coordination and harmony.

It was during a particularly difficult segment attempting to simply stand in coordination of mind, body and spirit that the awareness of coordination was fleeting and coming and going – like a golf ball floating on water – mostly underwater with some occasional surfacing if the waves and conditions enable it. At that moment, the frustration was palatable because I could not get the state of coordination of mind, body and spirit to “stick”. The harder I tried to make it happen, the more the state of coordination just faded away. I kept trying to learn and “do” coordination – to no avail.

It was at that point that Sensei said “let’s try something else” – sitting. The simple act of sitting rather than standing opened up a space where for a brief moment, the thought of “taking away the pieces” came to mind. And so the next few minutes were followed by a state of coordination of mind, body and spirit that I’ve not experience before – calm, steady and relaxed – I wondered if this is what is referred to by some as heijoshin?

The biggest discovery at this moment was that harmony and coordination felt like it was always there –  all I needed to do was to remove what was in the way. In essence, to unlearn rather than learn was the mindset I found myself in – the need to undo, remove and simplify.

As such, my practice experienced what George Leonard would say was a “breakthrough”, as outlined in his wonderful book Mastery. It is after relentless effort and dedication that unexpected moments emerge when the simplest yet most wonderful lessons manifest. Lessons that are more about awakening and discovering what is already there, rather than thinking more needs to be added.

Thank you Sensei for the great session.