Yoi & Zanshin

What is Yoi

Often when you watch Karate tournament you will notice in sparring segments that the competitors with the superior techniques are not always the ones who win the matches. A competitor who receive a minor injury a match, for example, will suddenly become hesitate to attack, and, in spite of possessing superior skills, may lose even if the physical effects of the injury were negligible. Similarly, an exceptionally aggressive competitor can win more than his or her fair share of matches just relying on this trait alone.

This illustrates how matches can often be won or lost even before the competitors enter the rings. We are all aware of the importance of training hard and practicing our techniques before competition, but we sometimes forget a crucial aspect of our preparation; motivation, or the will to win.

The importance of motivation in preparing for any activity is illustrated by the Japanese word YOI, which means “ready.” The first ideogram, YO, means “use” or ” utilize,” while the second, I, means “will” or “motivation.” To be prepared is to be motivated.

There is a very well-known aspect of Karate training in which the proper preparation of your motivation are crucial for success: breathing such items as boards and bricks with your hands. This is not very difficult, really; even a child can punch and split a board in two with just a bit guidance. Success does, however, require firm belief that your chosen object is breakable. A shred of doubt will keep you from success, and can even cause serious injury, but if you firm grasp an unshakeable belief that you can do it, you’ll find the board or even brick is surprisingly fragile. A crucial part of preparation, then, is in your mind.

The ideogram I for motivation is made up the radical kokoro for “heart” or “mind,” and on, which in this case means “to force.” This means that motivation is something we force into our mind. This is an images which can serve you well in Karate. When you are facing competition in karate, for example, you should visualize this motivation swelling in your heart, and release it, along with all your body energy, at the outset of the match.

In Karate, you will hear the word YOI before sparring, the performance of a Kata, and even simple calisthenics during warm up. This is the way in which the instructor or referee tells you to prepare yourself for next task at hand. Each time you hear it, remember the true meaning of readiness in Japanese: to be motivated or YOI.


When you complete a KATA, it is customary to spend a few seconds looking at the direction of your last attack. Even as you return to a natural, standing position, you should maintain your focus in that same direction a few second longer. This makes sense when you consider Kata to be a sequence of techniques against imaginary opponents. You have to make sure upon the completion of the Kata that your last opponent has been completely dealt with, and will not be attacking you again. This is called Zanshin.

The word is made up of two ideograms: Zan, which means “to leave,” and shin, which means “mind” or “consciousness.” Therefore, Zanshin is the act of setting aside a part of your conscious mind when you finish a Kata in order to ensure that it is completed properly.

Of course not properly maintaining your guard in a physical confirmation from start to finish can have dire consequence. Even an opponent who appears defeated may still be looking for opportunities for further attack.

He may attack even exploit a moment of distraction to pull out a weapon. Zanshin will get you in the habit of maintaining your guard until you are absolutely certain everything is safe.

As most Karate costumes, however, the lesson to be gained from Zanshin can be applied to other aspect of life. Many of us, in our eagerness to accomplish our tasks, rush through them and are inattentive to details and finishing touches. We may leave some dirt in the corners of the room while cleaning house, or rush through the annotations and make unnecessary errors when writing a term paper. Neglect of details can undermine all the efforts we have devoted to our work.

In both Asia and the West, something worth doing is worth doing well. Unfortunately, human nature is such that when we are eager to complete a task, we tend to become inattentive to detail. Karate provide the very useful practice of Zanshin to help you get in the habit of not being distracted by the very goal you wish to attain.