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  • Writer's pictureJoe DeCapua

The Abiding Place. Stay Away

The abiding place. Sounds lovely, even peaceful, but it is a place of fear, hesitation and danger. It is where our chances of getting hurt or even dying increase dramatically. Why? Because that is where our mind stops; and in martial arts, and life, in general, that leaves you vulnerable.

Zen master Takuan Soho (1573 – 1645) knew and wrote about this in letters to a sword master, which can be found in the book, “The Unfettered Mind.” Here are a few examples of the mind stopping: If someone grabs your arm and you dwell on the tightness or pain; when you are about to be struck and your eyes are captured by the stick, sword or hammer; or your mind is caught by an opponent’s menacing gaze. That infinitesimal pause between the start of the attack and our reaction could mean safety or injury, life or death, depending on the situation. Those untrained in the martial arts may freeze when grabbed, trapped in the abiding place, forgetting they can move so many other parts of the body. They’re frozen, because their minds have never been given options or counter moves to draw upon.

It is why we repeatedly practice techniques, so they become part of our natural movements, not just words on a page. Japanese swordsmen were advised to “practice the thousand arts until they are no longer arts.” In The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, Zen master Taisen Deshimaru (1914 - 1982) wrote, “Action and intuition are one.”

Sports psychologist Eddie O’Connor has studied Olympians and amateurs, alike. He said that practice determines everything. “There is one thing that distinguishes experts, truly the very best in any field, from everyone else. And it isn’t talent, size, strength, agility, or some innate gift. It is the amount of time they spent on deliberate practice.”

On the mat, training the body also teaches the mind to avoid the abiding place.


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