Tag Archives: muscle memory

Muscle Memory versus Martial Arts Training

Martial Arts Reaction Time…

I find that there is vast misunderstanding in the martial arts as to what mushin no shin is…people usually and incorrectly compare it to reaction time.

Now, to be precise, when people talk about mushin no shin they mix it in with not just reaction time, but especially muscle memory. The idea they are coming from is that if you do something long enough then it becomes intuitive, and even ‘on automatic.’

martial arts muscle memory

Mushin no shin…free from the restraints of the physics of the universe

Mushin no shin means mind of no mind. Another way of saying this would be time of no time.

Which is to say that there is no mind, or memory in this case, involved.

When you train in reaction time, when you build ‘muscle memory,’ then you are building memory, and memory is based on time.

But mushin no shin refers to no time…to perceiving things as they are, and not through the artifices, or demanding the reaction time, of muscle memory.

Now, the real world difference is this.

You feel a tap on the shoulder, you spin, you chop, your grandmother, who was offering you a plate of cookies, goes down for the count.

That is reaction time. It is not intuitive, it is knee jerk reaction.

Or, you feel a presence behind you, or, better yet, without feeling the presence behind you, you turn in concert with the tap of the finger to your shoulder.

There is no contact because you have merged with the action. There is no reaction; there is no moving after the fact, or moving violently because of something.

That is mushin no shin.

The first time I ever experienced mushin no shin I was 16. I was at a bowling alley, and one of the bowlers put a pencil on the slanted desk, and it started rolling.

I watched it, and watched it, and time started to stretch out and become inconsequential…I was ‘in the moment,’ free from reaction time.

The world glowed, and I felt this delicious sense of freedom. I realized that I had total control over the flight of the pencil. I could move any way I wanted to, and there were no boundaries or limits.

The pencil fell, and I reached out and plucked it out of the air.

A fellow there said he had never seen such fast reaction time in his life.

But it wasn’t reaction time…I was moving in between moments of time. I wasn’t using muscles to make motion, I was making motion directly, as an Awareness, as an ‘I am.’ And this was without any martial arts training; years before I ever started training in the martial arts.

Now, a quirk of the moment, was that experience, and the real problem came when I tried to make it happen at will. Couldn’t do it. I needed the training.

And, even with the martial arts training, it took me nearly 20 years before I started experiencing these things as a matter of course.

The point here, however, is that it is not muscle memory, or reaction time. Muscle memory trains the body, but not the awareness, and that is knee jerk out of control. Reaction time means something has to happen before you act. Neither of these are mushin no shin.

Mushin no shin is when you are aware of life as it happens, without the interference of muscle memory, or reaction time, or training, or anything.

People who are asleep use the term muscle memory, or reaction time, to describe phenomena they don’t understand.

What makes it really confusing is when you get some fellow who trains for years, then tries to explain what he is experiencing. in the western world we fall back on the inadequate descriptions provided by science, a science which, I might add, has never adequately explained such concepts as are manifested when a person is showing mushin no shin.

Terms such as ‘reaction time,’ and ‘muscle memory,’ are offered by western science for concepts they do not understand.

The term mushin no shin is used to describe a person who is free from muscle memory, has no reaction time, and is in a realm beyond the simple physics of the universe. He is in a second set of physics, the physics of sixth senses and intuition and dreams and all sorts of things.

Mushin no shin is used when a person is not confined by his memories, and other such limitations to the human spirit.

Here are some articles which touch upon the procedure for waking the person mired in Martial Arts reaction time, and endowing him with muslin no shin.

The Truth About Muscle Memory in the Martial Arts

Muscle Memory Martial Arts

The definition for Muscle Memory in Wiki states: ‘a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.’ This is a good definition, but totally inadequate when one considers what the martial arts are designed to do. This article is designed to complete that definition.

There are basically three parts to a human being on planet earth.

There is the body, which is pretty much a meat contrivance of bones and blood and hair and skin and all sorts of things. This is where we find muscle.

There is the mind, which is memory. Memory is not contained in the brain.

And there is the spirit. The great intangible, that awareness which can’t be measured by the physics of this universe.

So somebody figures out a great martial arts move, and he starts practicing it. He is basically telling his muscles to remember, and this is all fine and good.

Now, let’s step outside of muscle and memory-and modern definitions-and consider the ancient concept of mushin no shin, or ‘mind of no mind.’

Take mushin no shin literally, and it is saying that one does not use the mind, including the muscle pattern in the mind, when doing martial arts or other activities which have resulted in this state.

The point is that when one builds Muscle Memory, using muscle and mind, they are building a circuit. This is just like an electrical circuit, energy charges through synapses and the body lumbers about. Saying it is in the neurons of the mind, or the neural connections in the nerve system doesn’t matter. It is just a circuit, and Muscle Memory is the building of a circuit to enhance the operation of body.

But, if one relies only on the circuit one is now limited by the body, so we have to go beyond circuit, we have to figure out what to do with the circuit so that it disappears, and in its place is…intuition, imagination, and all the higher abilities of the human being.

Here we all agree. Practice, practice, practice. Eventually the circuit just goes…poof. It disappears, and the method of motion becomes not muscle and memory, but merely a light thought of the body being moved from one place to another.

We have used Muscle Memory to instill a pattern until we knew the pattern well enough that we didn’t need the the mind and the muscle. We could move the body directly, just by applying a thought, and this is the state of mushin no shin.

This is when the martial arts become a religion. This is when the human being itself, the ‘I am,’ the point of awareness behind eyes and ears and physical perception tools becomes isolate and in charge.

The problem here is not with Muscle Memory, for Muscle Memory is valid…it exists. The problem is how far does the instructor go with the concept. If the instructor uses the Muscle Memory concept to teach fighting to the exclusion of any spiritual reality, then Muscle Memory is not of use. It relegates the human being to the status of animal.

On the other hand, if Muscle Memory leads to mushin no shin, if it leads to a human being who can direct his body without the mind/memory, but just with a thought, then it is a valid martial arts tool.

If Muscle Memory leads to mushin no shin, the student will experience a realization of the self (I am!), and he will understand the true meaning of budo…’to lay down the spear.’

He will give up fighting for the sake of fighting, give up his animalistic nature, and ascend to the reality of art and intuition and imagination and all the things that are the true province of the human being, and which elevates him above all other life forms on this planet.

He will, in short, be using his true abilities, things like thoughts and whims and imagination, and this is the goal of concepts like Muscle Memory in the Martial Arts.

zen martial arts

This has been an article about how to use muscle memory in the martial arts.