Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Why do we.........perform Mokuso?

Do you perform mokuso (moh-kso) during the opening and closing ceremonies of your martial arts class? Do you regard it as just a part of one of those quaint Japanese rituals that you’re expected to participate in when you practice a traditional martial art, or do you think it has real value in preparing you for training and enhancing your performance of martial arts?

If you regard mokuso as merely a traditional ritual then you are probably just going through the motions of performing it and are gaining no benefit from doing so.

So what is this mokuso thing about?
Mokuso is quiet reflection, concentration or meditation. It is generally performed whilst kneeling in seiza at the beginning and/or end of a martial arts class. The purpose of mokuso is to quieten the mind, stabilise the emotions and release tension from the body.

Quieten the mind: You can’t effectively practice a martial art if your mind is filled with the events of the day or things you’ve got to do later. Mokuso allows you to empty your mind of these extraneous thoughts and concentrate on the training you are about to embark on.

Stabilise the emotions: Perhaps you’ve had a bad day and are upset or angry with someone or perhaps you are worried about something. These negative emotions can impinge on your ability to train effectively. Mokuso enables you to let these feelings go so that you become emotionally stable and better able to concentrate on your training without distraction or excess aggression.

Release tension from the body: At the beginning of training, particularly if you have been rushing around to get there your muscles may be tense. Mokuso gives you a few minutes to relax and let the tension go through a process of slow controlled breathing. A tense body will not perform well and may lead to an increased risk of injury.

So, how do we do mokuso?
Effective mokuso requires good posture, correct breathing and focus on the task. Some will say that mokuso is performed to enable you to achieve a state of mushin (empty mind) but that is rather a tall order in the 1-2 minutes you are likely to spend doing it. To be able to put oneself into a state of mushin quickly takes years of training and prolonged periods of meditation, so don’t expect miracles after 2 minutes of mokuso!

Posture:  Mokuso is generally done kneeling in seiza when it is performed in a martial arts class but it can be done sitting on a chair or even lying down. The important thing is that the spine is properly aligned and you are comfortable, so if you are in seiza make sure you are upright and your arms rest comfortably on your lap.

Breathing: Correct breathing is important for several reasons – it fills the lungs fully with air, oxygenating the blood; it helps release tension from the muscles; it gives you a focus on which to concentrate which in turn helps you to rid your mind of extraneous thoughts and negative emotions.

You should breath in through your nose steadily, hold the breath for a couple of seconds and then breathe out slowly through the mouth. The whole cycle should take 10 – 15 seconds. The breaths should be deep, filling the abdomen. Counting the breaths is a good way of maintaining concentration on the task.

Focus on the task: You only have a minute or two in mokuso to prepare the mind and body for training so it is important to maintain focus and not let your mind wander. Remember you are not trying to empty the mind just quieten it and shed those negative emotions. Focus on your breathing and let your muscles relax. Visualise negative thoughts and emotions draining away from your body. Some people find focusing a soft gaze on the floor a couple of metres ahead of them a useful way to maintain concentration and not be distracted by other people in the dojo. Others prefer to shut their eyes completely.

To be effective mokuso takes practice. You can practice mokuso outside the dojo as well where you may have more time to spend on it. Over time you should find your practice of mokuso enables you to prepare your mind and body for training very quickly, allowing you to control the ebb and flow of your emotions and enhance your practice of your chosen martial art.

So, do you still think it’s just a quaint Japanese ritual performed at the beginning and end of class?

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Charles James said...

Awesome post :-)

John Vesia said...

Shoshin Nagamine, the late founder of Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu, took up the practice of meditation fairly late in life and claims to have achieved satori as a result, which is a kind of enlightenment. Actually I think the ultimate goal of Zen is to reach satori, although any Zen practitioner worth her/his salt would deny they have anything as earthly as "goals." The same could be said for the martial arts practitioner, despite the presence of grades/rank.

We don't do mokuso in the dojo and I don't think too many from my neck of the woods do either. But I still try to squeeze in 15 min. here and there when I can, sans the strict yogic postures or sitting in seiza (I merely sit). I find meditation/mokuso is a good method to approach some kind of a question, dilemma or project when the usual method of wracking one's brains out fails to bear fruit.

Brett said...

Hi Sue,

Great post! When I was younger I used to think that mokuso was a waste of good dojo time. Oh, what the years have taught me.

I wasn't gifted with great wisdom; but someone up there must have liked me because I was given the ability to learn from those around me and it has done much to make me a better person and better Karate-ka

I'm bookmarking your blog, Sue, I hope to read more insightful posts like this one in the future.


Sue C said...

Hi Charles. Thank you and a belated Happy Christmas to you :-)

John, thanks for your comments. I agree with you, I think mokuso has all sorts of useful applications not just in the martial arts, people just need to see it as important and make time to do only we had more of that!

Brett, you're sounding like a true karateka. I'm sure you have a few insightful things to say on your blog too - hence you've now been added to my blog list...


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