Discussion on the SHIKAI (4 poisons of the mind)



On Saturday, 3 July 2021, member of the RKC got together to discuss the SHIKAI, or the 4 poisons of the mind. This concept, although Kendo-related, can be applied to one's life too.


Here is the formal definition from the "Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo", issued by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF):


"Shikai (n) = The four unfavourable mental conditions: astonishment (surprise), fear, doubt and hesitation. It is important to control the mind in order to suppress these conditions."






kyo-ku-gi-waku (n) = A term which refers to a state of mind characterized by surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation. The mental disturbance which occurs when facing an opponent, or the state where one cannot control the disturbances of one's own mind."


Through our discussions we tried to unbox these 4 "mental conditions". I gave my interpretation of each of these conditions, some of my experiences with them, and my thoughts on how to apply them both in and out of the dojo.


FEAR, was the one that is most cited as it is the most obvious one initially. In my explanation, fear can be both from an external factor (such as fearing my opponent that is in front of me), or an internal one (the fear of getting hurt). Rightly so, your opponents’ skill level might be greater than yours, but the idea is to give it your best shot, irrespective as to how fearful you may be.


More importantly, it is the MANAGEMENT of this fear so that you can still do what you have been training to do. Getting rid of, or totally eliminating the fear is not ideal. I used the example of once going on a tactical gun-fighting course, and the course instructor told us a story of the policemen involved in a gunfight - It's the ones who are no longer fearful of the overhead gun fire that are the ones ready for retirement. It is this fearless, no-care attitude anymore, which will cause them to take risks and even be reckless, which is a danger not only to themselves, but to the others around them.


During Kendo keiko, we have the opportunity to be able to face the fear of standing in front of someone who is equally hell-bent on striking you! The objective, as mentioned, is to be able to work through and "manage" this fear and strike their relevant targets.


As we become more proficient in Kendo, we start to practise inducing fear into our opponents. This can be something like having a very strong kiai (scream or vocalisation of spirit) that exudes a fear-inducing fighting spirit! This skill on its own take years of practise to be able to do effectively!



DOUBT, very often is a subconscious trait that many of us will not notice unless it is pointed out to us. In kendo, this doubt is one’s own ability to perform a technique effectively, or more simply,