One of the ongoing themes of the conference was mushin, translated as no-mind, or non-thinking, or immovable mind. I've written about this before, if you'd like a very short discussion.
After this conference, I want to stress how common mushin is.
Yes, the Japanese martial arts and Buddhist texts often discuss no-mind, and do it with subtlety and boldness. And it is something I've certainly experienced in Karate sparring and forms.
Nonetheless, I think the Japanese martial arts, or Asian martial arts in general, have no monopoly on this state-of-mind (or no mind). Instead, it's common to many areas of proficiency - from Western boxing to surfing and dance. They all have this movement away from deliberative, calculative reasoning, to a kind of embodied, intuitive, unreflective action.
According to Dreyfus and Dreyfus, many fields of expertise go through similar stages, from novice to expertise. It starts with step-by-step, calculative decisions, often awkwardly put together from rules. (Think not only of learning a form in martial arts, but also of learning to play an instrument, like the piano.) It ends with an intuitive, adaptive, spontaneous knowledge of what to do, when to do it, and how.
In between is practice, practice, practice, in many different situations. It might be sparring, but it could also be playing piano: scales over and over, then playing with different orchestras, for different audiences, over the years. What happens in the end is intentional, responsive and often very personal - but it's not achieved by following rules, step-by-step thinking or conscious decision making.
Occasionally, this leads to what the Dreyfuses call 'mastery', which forgoes self-consciousness in favour of seamless, 'thoughtless' adaptation and spontaneity. This sounds very much like mushin to me.
As does the experience of 'flow', introduced recently by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (A straightforward account is here.) Csikszentmihalyi's ideas fit perfectly with my experiences of sparring and forms in Karate, but he also finds flow in many other pursuits and professions. Flow experiences are common to chess, skiing, painting and mathematics, and have a universal structure: clear, challenging goals, the merging of activity and attention, and feelings of timelessness, ease and freedom.
Again: all very secular, occidental and non-mystical. This doesn't mean it's easy to experience mushin. (It's different to focus, intensity and commitment, for example.) When sparring, I'm a long way from competence, let alone mastery - I'm chiefly trying to keep my hands up, and stay standing.
But the point stands: the Asian crafts of fighting have no monopoly on 'flow'.
As I've argued elsewhere, I believe the martial arts do have some very specific virtues. But if I'm right, no-mindedness isn't one of them.