By Seiki "Stan" Hirota
Originally published January 29, 2019 on LinkedIn
It was exciting to see Naomi Osaka win the Australian Open this year and become the first Asian tennis player to secure the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. In her interview, she referred to an “inner peace” or “heijoshin” in Japanese, which means a calm, peaceful state of mind. Naomi commented that she can play well when her mind is calm. “There is an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches. So that’s just something that I’m trying to learn how to do more consistently,” Naomi said.
At the Grand Slam Tournament of the Australian Open, in some instances Naomi threw her racket in frustration, but in some other tough situations, she just turned her back on the court and managed to pull herself together. She is definitely trying to develop her “heijoshin” to improve on her mental toughness, while improving on her tennis skills. Before the Australian Open, Naomi talked about her “3-year-old mentality” in discussing her goal of becoming more “mature.” During this tournament, she jokingly said she had grown a bit and become a 4-year-old.
I personally learned of “heijoshin” when I took up Kendo, a traditional Japanese martial art which descended from samurai swordsmanship, during elementary school. In Kendo and similarly in Buddhism, “heijoshin” is the fully developed mind that is not disturbed or unbalanced by actions or events. This mind remains calm and unruffled regardless of what happens around us. As human beings, we all get upset and disturbed when something unexpected happens. In Kendo, we train our minds to maintain the same calm, balanced and unruffled manner regardless of what happens. It takes a well trained and highly experienced mind to maintain a calm and unruffled condition even in the heat of a battle.
When the training intensifies in Kendo, we learn to become more and more calm in the face of pressure. Developing a “heijoshin” mind is one of the goals of classical Kendo or other martial arts’ practice and training. There are lots of stress and shocks built into a Kendo practice and over time with practice, we gain greater composure and equanimity. Even when startled, shocked or hurt, we learn to maintain composure so that we can continue on with the appropriate action. As we advance in our training, the amount stress needed to disturb our heijoshin increases and we are able to remain calm and unflustered.
The term “heijoshin”, when written in Japanese, is made up of 3 Chinese characters, but is a combination of two words. The first two characters combined make the term “heijo”, which means “normal state”. “Hei” means “flat” or “even keel” and “jo” means “state” meaning “flat state” or “even keel state”. The last character is read as “shin’ in this instance, but can also be read as “kokoro”, which is the word for the mind, which probably is close to the term “heart” in English.
“Kokoro” can be disturbed all the time. Sometimes you get surprised. Sometimes you get mad. Sometimes you get defensive. Sometimes you get sad. Sometimes you become afraid. Or sometimes you may panic and lose your mind. Whenever your mind is disturbed like this, your mind is not stable, meaning not “flat” or not “even keel”. Thus, “heijoshin” means "in any situations, you must keep the state of your mind as flat and even keel as possible to be able to think clearly and make the right decision".
We all know that it is very hard to keep the mind stable all the time, and this is why in Buddhism or Kendo, we have the word “heijoshin” to remind us and set goals to train to be calm, imperturbable, relaxed, without expectation, and tranquil.