Shimpo: The Law of the Mind

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

As funny as it sounds, little is known outside of Japan and Okinawa about the true martial arts.  Much has been hidden from us because the Japanese and Okinawan instructors aren’t sure we are mature enough to handle the real martial arts.  Now in truth some of the martial arts instructors in Japan are judicious to whom they will teach their arts even in Japan and Okinawa, because they have violent people in their own countries and don’t want to share the real martial arts with someone who will simply get in the ring and use them to beat up other individuals.

          The real martial arts instructors whether in Japan, Okinawa, Europe, the United States, or other parts of the world, believe in the real meaning of the martial arts.  The real martial arts are about stopping violence, the actual translation of the Bu part of Budo, Bujutsu, and Bugei, which can all be translated martial arts.


Stop Violence

          The martial part is a mistranslation and it is more accurately translated as ‘stop violence’.  Thus Budo, Bujutsu, and Bugei should be translated ‘the arts to stop violence’.  Now there are many martial arts, each having their own spiritual meaning, which is an important part of the real instruction.  If you haven’t been instructed in the spiritual meaning of your arts name, it is very possible that you have not been taught the fullness of your particular discipline.

          In regard to the many different martial arts, there are the commonly known ones focusing on the empty hands; Kempo, Karate, Jujutsu, Judo, and Aikido.  Then there are the weapon arts; Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, Shurikenjutsu, Naginatajutsu, Sojutsu, Bojutsu, Jojutsu, and there are many others.  There are also various forms of auxiliary martial arts such as; Heiho, Karumijutsu, Hichojutsu, Hayagakujutsu, Shinobijutsu, Hensojutsu, Onshinjutsu, and there are many others for the classically trained martial artist.

          But there is a very important martial art, which is little known outside of Japan and Okinawa, which is indicative of what true martial artists really need to know.  This art is called Shimpo.



          Shimpo literally translates, ‘the law of the mind’ and has only been mentioned sparingly in non-Japanese language books.  Many times when books are translated from Japanese into English spiritual qualities are left out.

          In example, one of the parents of a student went to Japan on a business trip and brought me back a book on Bojutsu written by an Okinawan martial artist.  While I am not fluent in Japanese, with a Japanese dictionary and my knowledge of martial arts terms I can translates sections geared specifically to the technical and philosophical aspect of the martial arts fairly well.

          It was in this book that I discovered my first reference to Shimpo.  Throughout that book there were exciting references to the spiritual qualities of the martial arts, as well as, Chinese influences in the Okinawan martial arts, not only including the normal Shaolin source, but also referencing Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Kua, and Hsing I.

          About a year later a book by this same master was released in English and I excitedly bought the book hoping to learn more on the spiritual aspects of the martial arts and the Chinese history, but there was nothing in this book that remotely corresponded to the Japanese volume.  It was a bare facts about technical matters book with no philosophy or history.

          My feeling was that the translator either purposefully or accidentally left out the real heart of the Okinawan master’s writing.  This is sad, because American and other martial artists around the world, really need to find out what the real martial arts are about.

          The most violent side of the martial arts is spreading like wildfire around the world, but the best part is still being kept a secret for fear that it will be misused.  Yet if the training of Shimpo were to be added to the other martial arts, maybe the violent side would be controlled and mollified.



          The purpose of this article is to introduce the reader to the idea of Shimpo, the mental and spiritual training of the true martial arts.  Shin in Japanese Kanji translates; mind, heart, and spirit.  It is the essence of who you are.  Shin is that part of you that controls your body.  It is also that part of you which allows the spiritual energy, which comes from God, to flow through your body, enabling your life and empowering your actions.

          One Okinawan martial artist translated Shimpo as ‘mind control’, but it is much more than just that, yet it is that.  We really need to look at the deeper aspect of Shimpo and see how it can help us be better, greater martial artists.



          Shimpo begins with a form of mental development of which nearly everyone is aware.  This is known as Mushin, which literally means ‘no mind’.  What this refers to is the ability to act and move without conscious thought.  This is a necessary attribute in order to be able to defend oneself in actual combat, since in a real fight there is no time to think about what one is going to do.

          Mushin is achieved by practicing the martial arts moves until they can be performed without thought.  This is why constant practice is so essential to the real martial arts.  Practice is not just a matter of repetition, though it is true that we must practice the techniques over and over to physically master them, but to also develop the ability to Mushin when we do them.

          When we Mushin, we not only don’t think, we also concentrate fully.   Most people think that to concentrate you must fill up your mind, but real concentration is only possible when the mind is empty, for at that point we truly concentrate on the here and now, rather than thinking about here and now.

          Many people practice Mushin by Zazen, sitting meditation, which is excellent.  Martial artists may use Zazen, but more important is moving meditation, which occurs in Kata. Moving meditation can occur when walking, driving, swimming, raking leaves, washing dishes, or in any of the mundane activities of life.  Many people have trouble developing Mushin in everyday activities but through training in Kata the Mushin develops in action and then can be transferred over to everyday activities.

          Through the study of the martial arts I found Mushin and came to understand the richness of Shimpo.  I’ve discovered Shimpo in my Japanese training through Kempo Jujutsu, both Aikiho and Juho, as well as, in my Okinawan training of Kempo Karate, both in Goho and Shuho.  This is the way Shimpo is traditionally taught.  But I discovered it most in the Aiki Odori of Japanese martial arts and the Odorite of Okinawan martial arts.  Sadly these methods are not commonly known and so many martial artists miss out on the real Shimpo training.

          But through excellent instructors and by the grace of God, I have learned these methods and now pass them on to my students.  It is my hope that as they discover the depths of these two methods, through the various forms of Kata that we practice in Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei, they will master the concept of Odori, which can be practiced for a lifetime.


Many More Aspects

          Once we achieve a level of Mushin, we then need to become aware of still more advanced methods of Shin (mind, heart, spirit) development that are the true nature of Shimpo.

          While there are many more aspects of Shimpo that can be talked about, there are only two I will deal with here.  (If you want to learn more about Shimpo, go to and order the book I have written call Shimpo: the Mind of the Martial Artist.)  These two will point the reader to the higher levels we are trying to reach in our Kempo practice.



          First there is Chushin, the ‘middle mind’ that refers to being centered and balanced.  When you develop Chushin you will understand that extremes are always negative.  To work out too hard is as bad as not working out enough.  To be too conservative is always as negative as being excessively liberal.

          There is a Kempo principle that came from China, which in Japanese is called, Mu Kyoku.  It literally means, ‘no extremes’.  This is what Chushin gives us; the ability to know how much is enough, while not doing too much.

          A balanced life is what all of us need.  We need to understand that we are put upon this world in a physical form for spiritual development.  Life is a balance between the physical and the spiritual.  This balance is achieved through the conduit that unites the two.  This is the mind.

          The Shin allows the Ki, the life force to animate and empower the body in a positive way.  This contributes to the discipline of the body and allows it to achieve healthy levels of activity.  But keep in mind that healthy levels are always in balance.  This is the Chushin, which develops out of Mushin.

          Remember, if you have truly achieved Chushin you will have the freedom to live but with the maturity to understand that your rights end where another person’s freedom begins. Like most spiritual disciplines, you will know that freedom does not permit the harming of another.  Thus you will live with true and responsible freedom, the right path and achievement of Chushin.



          Next there is Shoshin, the ‘original mind’ that can lead us to the right and true relationship with God, which we should have and are upon this earth to develop.

          Shoshin allows a person to know how much they have learned and yet how much more there is to learn.  Some people, after achieving a certain level, become arrogant and think that they are greater than their teachers, which hinders them from learning more and advancing to the truly higher levels of the martial arts.

          As long as a teacher keep training and studying, they have much to teach their students.  A student should realize that they can never match the years their instructor has been alive and training.  At the same time a youth needs to realize that the one thing that a person cannot gain through a short cut is experience.

          When a person has done daily training for years, their experience literally grows exponentially.  While the youth can guarantee their own growth by training daily for years, they can’t catch up to an instructor who continues to train.

          Instead they should seek to learn all they can from their instructor who is willing to share with them his knowledge and experience.  This is the greatest gift a teacher can give and students should accept that gift gratefully.

          If you are fortunate enough to meet a master who has truly come to understand the martial art of Shimpo, then be open and willing to learn all they have to teach.  Do not allow useless egotism to keep you from learning the truly greatest levels of the martial arts.

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