Ishin-denshin (以心伝心) In The Swimming World

Ishin-denshin (以心伝心) In The Swimming World

Out in the ocean on a channel crossing or during a marathon swim in an alpine lake swim, the world’s open water swimmers, coaches and their support – either knowingly or unknowingly – employ a Japanese concept of communication called ishin-denshin (or 以心伝心 in Japanese characters).

Traditional dryland means of communication involves talking, listening, looking at another person in the eyes, gesturing and all kinds of conscious and subconscious body language. In an ocean or a lake, these forms of communications are significantly limited. Information gathering and sharing between a coach and crew and the athlete must be conveyed in alternative way, both unspoken or unwritten. This nonverbal, mutual understanding between a good coach and an open water swimmer is something special and must be developed over time.

The same is often true among long-time happily married spouses or childhood friends who grow up together with shared experiences. They know when the other person is sad, happy, frustrated or desperate. They can see and even more profoundly, they anticipate and know what best to say or how to respond to their partner and friend. Much of the communication can be with a loving glaze or a simple touch or even a few softly spoken words or an action ranging from bringing a cup of tea or covering with a blanket.

Similarly, open water swimmers and their coaches and escort crew can communicate best through a nod, a smile, a thumbs up, a wink, a wave or a “look” (seen through a pair of goggles) while in the open water, this is the epitome of ishin denshin. The communication just feels right. Across a channel or in a lake, the communication does not have to be detailed or long in action or verbosity.

Ideally, both coaches and athletes feel the communication and profoundly internalize the messages being relayed between coach and athlete.

These implied communication skills, that may be unfathomable by others onshore or on the escort boat, but they are one reason why many people in the open water world understand the concept of ‘what the mind thinks the heart transmits.’

以心伝心: a form of interpersonal communication through unspoken mutual understanding. These four Japanese characters means to understand what each other thinks in their hear without specifically saying it, a heart-to-heart communication.

Swimmers and their coaches know and appreciate the importance of understanding what the other person is thinking in the open water – and to act accordingly.

Courtesy of Ben Hooper on Swim The Big Blue in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Steven Munatones