Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water

Mind Like The Moon (Tsuki No Kokoro) and Mind Like Water (Mizu No Kokuro) are old Japanese/Chinese phrases which are integrated into Zen and martial arts and are inter-related to each other. This posting looks at them primarily from a martial arts context.

Starting with Mind Like The Moon, whereas the light of the moon shines on everything below it evenly, so you should see everything when facing an opponent. Clouds blocking the moonlight are likened to nervousness, fears, doubts and distractions blocking your mental clarity. By seeing “everything”, I don’t only mean your opponents physical presence; I also include

  • The whole psychological game (how they use words/threats/body language to intimidate)
  • Anything that they may be trying to conceal (weapons, a friend who might jump you from behind)
  • Their intention and the timing of their attack (by their breathing/subtle shift of body weight/slight tensing of some muscles).

The unconscious mind picks up these (and other) tiny signals that the conscious mind often misses; but feeds the information back to us in what we call intuition or instinct, when you just know what is about to happen a fraction before it actually does; even though you don’t really know how you know!

With this intuitive knowledge, you react appropriately and with correct counter for the given situation in a natural instinctive manner, without any thought or intellectual processes being required. By removing the thought processes, the instinctive reaction is much quicker and more effective, not giving the opponent any chance to respond.

This is Mind Like Water. When you stick your hand into a stream, the water reacts instantly and appropriately, to continue its path and just goes around your arm. There is no pause, no hesitation, no having to think to work out the best root. It just does it naturally and instantly; which is how you should strive to counter any attacks that come at you (as above).

This intuitive state takes you beyond mere physical response. Martial art forums are full of arguments about which techniques or styles are best, but as long as you have good techniques, the choice of technique/style almost becomes irrelevant compared to the ability to respond intuitively; as if you know what your attacker is about to do before they even actually attack.

But how do you actually achieve this higher state of intuitive mental clarity (mind like the moon/mind like water)?

I have written before about silencing that little voice in your head, you know, the one that always tells you can’t do something. Going into a fight with that little voice telling you that you’re about to be killed, beaten up, humiliated, is not good (they are mental clouds blocking your “moonlight”). In fact it can lose you the fight before the first punch is even thrown.

I have expanded on this by writing about “living in the present“, rather than keep resenting past events or worrying about the future. Worrying about “this always happens to me” when somebody picks on you is living in the past, whilst worrying about how this is going to hurt and humiliate is thinking in the future. You need to be very much in the present (the “now”) if you are going to deal with an imminent assault. This is very much tied in with little voice in your head undermining you (which usually takes you to the past or future).

I would like to expand on this theme even more. However, I suggest that you read the other two postings first, as this one will make more sense following on.

Our training is geared to getting us into the moment (into the “now”). Whether sparring or doing a pre-arranged drill, we need to focus and be intensely in that moment. In most other sports/activities, lack of focus means that we lose a point/goal, etc; but in martial arts it means that we get a smack round the head which hurts. This makes it more intense and immediate, so it is better to pay very close attention. Over a period of time we learn to maintain this focus of attention in the present moment. When we do this, it helps to silence the voice inside out head, hence our own mind stops distracting us.

Even with kata’s/patterns/forms, we should visualise an opponent, which again brings our mind into the present.

Although this process will happen naturally over years of training, I think it helps to know what we are looking for. It is easier then to find it and to teach it to others.

If you have trouble silencing the voice in your mind, they there are other techniques that you can practice to help you. As discussed in the first posting (about silencing the voice inside your head), most people can’t hold a positive/happy thought for just 15 seconds without another random thought interrupting. Practicing holding a positive/happy thought until you can do it for a complete 15 seconds uninterrupted is the first stage to gaining conscious control of your own mind, without the little voice (your own personal nutter) controlling you in a negative way!

Another way is simply to observe your own thoughts without judgement. No thought stands still, it either takes you forward or holds you back. So whenever a random thought comes into your head, just ask yourself “is that thought helping me or hurting me”? For example, when somebody does something stupid like they cut you up in their car or knock your drink over in a bar and you get angry calling them all kinds of expletives, is that helping you? Not really, you’re just upsetting yourself further. You wasn’t hurt, your car wasn’t damaged, your drink can be replaced; so what is the profit for you get all emotional and angry about it as well?

Before somebody says, “yeah but it helps you let of steam and get the anger out”; have you considered, why have the steam and the anger in the first place? Wouldn’t life be better without them? Wouldn’t you feel happier, more at peace and healthier if you could react without that anger?

Some will dismiss this idea as “that’s just the way I am”.

But it’s not the way you have to be! By learning to control your mind through silencing that reactive voice, you can change your emotional response to situations that should really be mildly irritating rather than a cause of great anger! Ever heard the phrase, “learning to fight so that I don’t have to fight”?

Don’t try to stop the these thoughts or try to control them or judge them. Just observe as they happen. The mere process of observation brings them to your conscious attention rather then them just happening automatically and almost unconsciously. When you consciously observe them, they have less control over you as you can begin to consciously disregard them. The thoughts and the negative emotions that accompany them then start to dissipate. This is a process which takes time and will not have instant results.

Now it starts to get a bit weird. If you are observing these thoughts, who is the real you. Are you the observer or the thinker?

Does this mean that you have 2 identities, the one thinking these negative thoughts and the one that is observing them? This were we could go into the realm of serious mental illness . . . . “the voices told me to do it”!!!!

However, it is perfectly normal to have this inner voice, it is only the degree to which we listen to it or let it control us that can become a problem.

OK, the inner voice, for want of a better name is your ego, and is driven by your past experiences. It only knows what has actually happened in the past, so it assumes that these things will continue to happen as that is all it knows. This is why people who are unaware of their inner voice are more likely to get stuck in life’s ruts and not be able to move on in life. Those who learn to silence the voice are more creative, imaginative, intuitive and do better in all aspects of life.

So who/what is the observer?

This is where different people will have different views. The more spiritually inclined might say that it is your higher self or inner being! If you are not spiritually inclined, then consider this; we all know that we only consciously use about 10% of our brain capacity. That leaves a massive 90% that we don’t consciously use. Imagine the power of the mind if you could tap into that 90%. How much more could you achieve and be capable of? That is the part of the mind that you are beginning to bring into play when you start observing your own thoughts and hence over time, silencing them.

Intuition is when our unconscious mind knows something, but our conscious mind has not recognised it. People who have learnt to silence their mind can tap into this intuition much more readily than those who live in the constant noise their own personal nutter! Our subconscious mind (higher self/inner being depending on your belief system) cannot communicate with us by thought, it communicates via emotions. Whether its a nasty gut feeling when somebody offers to help you and you don’t trust them, or a happy feeling when you are offered an opportunity which you have to make a choice about.

Moving meditation (such as kata/forms/patterns) or still meditation (moksu) will take us closer to this intuitive state over a period of time. Observing our thoughts will help take us to get there more quickly.

The top martial artists seem to have an ability to almost “read somebody” before they even move. How can they know what attack is coming and prepare for it or counter it, almost before the attack is even launched? It comes back to that intuition. It comes back to the unconscious mind detecting those almost unperceivable subtle shifts in the opponents weight, breathing, body tension, etc; which are too small for the conscious mind to register. But if the mind is quiet, then those unperceivable signals will be detected (mind like the moon) and fed back into an instinctive reflex counter (mind like water), which even the defender is not really aware of how he/she knew what was coming! It just happened automatically and without thought.

Have you ever had a fight, (whether real or in competition) where afterwards somebody has said, “that was a good ******** that you did there” (where ******** can be any technique at all); and you can’t properly remember doing it? That is where you’ve switched of the conscious mind, the urgency of the situation has brought you very much into the present moment and the unconscious mind has recognised the tiny signals that give away the attackers intent, and you’ve trusted this intuition enough to let it chose the right counter for you without you having to consciously decide. Hence you don’t remember what you did not consciously chose to do, even though it was probably one of your best techniques ever!

Note: If you have found this post useful, please leave your feedback below.

13 thoughts on “Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water

  1. Hi Sophie
    Well I hope the post you just commented on might help!
    The attitude of mind like water is that you can respond to a situation instinctively and automatically without having to over think it. Obviously some things do require thought, but from a martial arts perspective; if you’re being attacked you have to respond immediately as things happen. If you think, it’s too late.
    Being like water is about being flexible and adjusting to a situation and adjusting as that situation might change.
    For example you might plan to evade and counter, but as you go to counter the opponent moves to a different position. You have to react automatically. Like putting your hand in water, the water does not think about it, it just moves around the hand automatically.
    This is where martial arts become a metaphor for life itself (career, family, relationships), as we have to react to unexpected situations that may arise.
    You might like to go on Youtube and look up Bruce Lee talking about be like water!

  2. This was a good article. For my karate class we have wu day (karate h.w) Currently im a brown belt and our h.w is to write a paper about how mind like water applies to us in and out of karate. Any ideas? Thanks!

  3. Thanks for this practical discussion of these concepts that are a bit foreign to our western way of thinking.
    The finger pointing at the moon isn’t the moon, but it still points the way.

  4. Thanks for your reply. I don’t have a website for my book, but if you google my full name, David Alan Kraul, the book appears on global web sales sites, e. g., amazon and barnes/noble. It is available in hard cover as well as in all hand held devices like Kindle, as well as Google Books, Google Play.
    Thanks very much for your generosity in letting me advertise here.
    I asked about Bunkai Jutsu because my approach to life begins with awareness.
    I haven’t had real time to explore your website, but I thought there might be literature at the library or a book store.
    Thanks again!

  5. Hi David
    Thanks for the insights. Feel free to leave a link to your book sales page if you have one (or Amazon link?).
    Not sure what you mean by more info about Bunkai Jutsu. It’s just the name of this website, not a style of system. Does this help?

  6. The words “moon,” “mind,” and “man” are cognates. They descend from the Sanskrit “men” which means “to think.” The ancient Greek is also “men.” The full moon is an ancient symbol of the enlightened mind. I became so entranced with this subject that I wrote a book about it, ‘Live Now Die Later - A Book for the Sensitive Mind and the Rugged Individualist.’ You can see the full moon and the sun at noon in the emblem for Yang and Yin. We think by night and face the world by day, so to speak.
    I would be very grateful for more information about Bunkai Jutsu.
    Thank you very much.
    David Alan Kraul

  7. I personally find your article really wise.It already helped my way of thinking…I will definitely save it in my favourites and read it till i consolidate it!Thank you

  8. the surface of the calm pond (your mind)reflects the image of the moon (the enemy) perfectly.if the surface of the pond is disturbed the image of the moon is distorted.

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