Chushin--The Extreme Need for the Middle Mind

Bob Pruitt

I’ve been quite struck as of late by the absence of the middle mind in the world today. The middle mind, or chushin, is of great importance in martial arts practice; chushin teaches the martial artist the importance of avoiding extreme reactions and imbalanced thoughts. It also teaches the impartial consideration of all information when assessing a situation or making a choice. While any number of examples could be used to lament the ubiquitous extremism of our day, let us narrow our consideration to the martial arts world. For example, there are martial artists who practice only for health. In fact, the art of taichichuan, an ancient and effective martial art, is now touted almost solely as a method of exercise. On the other end of the spectrum, there are martial sports—those arts practiced only for competition and contest with little or no regard to health or personal development. The middle ground, which would be populated by those practitioners who train for health and self defense, is rather difficult to find in the current martial arts climate. As this type of narrow training is becoming the standard of the modern age, let us consider the specific ramifications of this splintered view of the martial arts.

First, let us think of martial art when practiced only as a method for cultivating health. Health, needless to say, is a wonderful benefit of martial arts practice. The lore of the arts is full of stories of old masters who lived to advanced age and continued training and teaching up until the final days of their life. Many such masters cultivated a power and vitality in their final years that was positively superhuman. Surely, then, training is good for your health. Nevertheless, if a practitioner is training only for his or her health, he or she loses one of the great boons of training: the ability to protect oneself from the world. Whether it is a fall from a ladder, the attack of a violent person, or a dispassionate falling object, the world is full of potential dangers. The martial artist who has trained in self defense skills (such as break-falling, dodging, and blocking) is much better equipped to deal with such factors. In this way, self defense training actually reinforces training for health; the two goals are entirely mutualistic. It is also worth noting that it is difficult to possess genuine self defense skill without possessing a good level of personal health; an overly slight or especially sickly person will likely not possess the level of power and verve to meaningfully execute effective self defense skills. Thus we see that the two goals of self defense and maintenance of health are in fact a single, mutually supportive goal. To discard one or the other actually reduces the efficacy of one’s pursuit of either.

The point? Extremes in training are no good.

Let us now turn to those who practice sport arts—those who cruise the various tournament circuits and those involved in the unfortunately popular, so-called, mixed martial arts events. What a person gains from such endeavors is an arrestingly evanescent bit of glory and laud. For a time, such persons may be on the cover of this or that magazine or be a spokesperson for some line of martial arts equipment. However, even the most casual peruser of the local magazine stand will note the amazing turnover that occurs among these ‘unbeatable champions.’ Such fame comes and goes with remarkable speed; very rare is the champion who is regarded as such longitudinally. What other benefits do such practitioners gain? Some may be relatively healthful for a time, but very often such people abandon their healthy practices when their fighting career ends. Frequently, they become non-practicing school owners who live their lives sitting behind a desk and looking for teenagers and twenty-somethings to teach their students. Even worse, they may transform into the prototypical, washed-up sportsmen—the type that spends a lifetime lamenting the loss of their youth and fame. Once more, this extreme approach to the arts limits what martial arts training truly has to offer; such extremism offers little worthwhile, and basically no lasting, benefit.

The point? Extremes in training are no good.

That’s a glaring simplification, but I believe it stands. Too much meditation on a single side of an issue or philosophy inevitably leads to a weakening of one’s mind; at such a point, genuine analysis of anything becomes remarkably difficult. Once more, this is oft demonstrated in the martial arts world. For example, when mma was new, everyone who won was a grappler. Thus, everywhere the American market was flooded with grappling schools. A few years passed and the ‘ground and pound’ doctrine got popular; with perfect parallelism, the American market moved that way. Eventually, skillful strikers scored a few victories. Sure enough, striking schools boomed once more. During each of these stages, almost no middle ground was allowed. In an amazing display of exclusivistic thinking, each approach was claimed to be the ultimate to the detriment of all others. Of course, all such arguments showcase their own inherent foolishness.

Chushin means that the martial artist is always willing to look at both sides of the coin. It also means that the wisest pathway to take is often the middle one. Is it better to be a striker or a grappler? It is important to possess skill in both. Is it better to train really hard three times a week or train very little very often? Train moderately every day. Is it better to earn a masters license in a single art or possess intermediate grading in many? Take your time as you master many things.

As our culture has become less and less moderate, we are greeted with a growing number of unpalatable martial arts phenomena. All of these misguided martial developments share a type of extremism—that is, they overemphasize a single facet of martial arts training or theory to the exclusion of all others. All this attitude does is make the martial arts less than they are meant to be. Partial understandings can lead to very dangerous things. Partial understanding between people and nations can lead to conflict. Partial understanding of a dangerous job can lead to injury. In much the same way, partial understanding of the martial arts can lead to suffering. This is especially evident in the inane contests that poison the martial arts’ development. At the same time, this misunderstanding of the arts robs many modern practitioners of experiencing all that the martial arts have to offer. If you are training in a martial art or are involved in a martial arts school that does not offer training to improve your body, mind, and spirit, concurrently with the development of true and effective self defense skills, you too may be missing out on all the arts have to offer. Embrace the middle mind and find a dojo that contains the full transmission of the martial arts tradition.

Bob Pruitt is a martial artist of 16 years. He is the Dojocho of the Arawa Kage Kan, the only Kiyojute Ryu Dojo in Tennessee.