“Group Flow” in Kata

Researchers have identified a phenomenon they call “group flow” which emerges in the performance of well-trained groups. In traditional martial arts we know it well.

When members of a team, band, military unit, business or dojo “cooperate, agree on goals, skills and patterns of action”, then “group flow,” or group cohesion, emerges.

Pioneeered by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi over the last few decades, there is now abundant research into high-performance states of mind, known as “Flow” – how to reach them, how to use them, and the unexpected benefit that comes from them – in performance and in life.

The “flow states” of high performing athletes, musicians and fighters map extremely well onto the observations about the state of mind of the most accomplished sword masters described by Musashi Miyamoto, Takuan Soho and many other budo masters in medieval Japan – of states of mind they called “mushin” or “no-mind,” “munen” or “no thought,” “zanshin” or “continuous mind,” and others. These are all descriptions of flow states.

Looking at their classic budo advice in light of modern scientific research is providing fresh insights we can use, now.

It is clear that team challenges stimulate group performance and individual performance. A sports team, a band, a fighting unit, a company, a dojo will cohere more completely, and may enter a flow state as a group. Each individual has access to a higher level of performance efficiently, as the team comes together.

Through group training the team progresses toward maximum performance, as people are energized, and inspire one another.

A key point relevant to dojo practice: group flow positively correlates with higher commitment to the shared experience and higher motivation to personal mastery – good for the group and for every member in it.

Using the convergence of traditional wisdom and modern insight strengthens our dojo practice, in some very unexpected ways…


The above is an excerpt adapted from the article  “Mushin and the Science of Flow: Phase Transformation in Kata, Part II”

The first article in the series is “Damatte Keiko: Phase Transformation in Kata, Part I”



Post Copyright © 2019 Jeffrey M. Brooks and Mountain Karate Dojo, L.L.C.

Read The Good Fight – The Virtues and Values of the Martial Arts, now available in paperback and Amazon Kindle edition.

1 Comment

  1. Jeff Moriber says:

    In my Dojo training and personal circumstances, on very rare occasions I experienced “flow”, Mushin. Only in retrospect did I understand what happened. I was surprised. It was as though, in those brief moments, nothing existed; I was weightless, embraced by light. Moving forward those moments validated all the hard work and dedicated practice I was immersed in. Arigato Sensei Brooks for reminding me of those moments.

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