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Communicating via Ishin Denshin In The Open Water

Among certain groups of individuals and occupations for myriad reasons at various times, communications – especially when expressed loudly or at length – needs to be minimized.

An experienced undercover police officer who works the streets once advised, “Why explain in detail, when you can communicate something quickly and succinctly? And why talk, if you can express yourself with a wink, smile, or nod?

That kind of non-verbal communication is often utilized between open water swimmers and their experienced escort kayakers, escort paddlers, escort crew members, and pilots.

A wink, a smile, a thumbs-up, a wave, and a friendly nod between a swimmer and their kayaker can express so much:

  • I am feeling good
  • I can continue pushing it
  • I am ready for a drink

In the same way, a frown, a grimace, or an empty stare between a swimmer and their kayaker can also express much more:

  • I am getting tired
  • I am getting cold
  • I am hurting

The Japanese have a description for this mano-a-mano form of communication: ishin denshin (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.

Out in the ocean, during a lake swim or sitting on an escort boat, a smile, a wink, a nod, or a hand signal can communicate so much between experienced open water swimmers and their coaches, kayakers, and escort crew. The unspoken mutual understanding between everything is something special to observe, but either be practiced or cultivated over time.

Even a hand wave from the coach or a “look” through a pair of goggles from the swimmer is representative of this ishin denshin. Ishin denshin in the open water can communicate what is necessary where information is immediately internalized among the athlete and crew.

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

Upper photo shows escort kayaker Dan Simonelli and Oceans Seven swimmer Antonio Argüelles. Lower photo shows © 2023 Daily News of Open Water Swimming

to educate, enthuse, and entertain all those who venture beyond the shoreline

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