For those not familiar with the term, Mokuso it is Japanese for the kneeling meditation at the beginning and end of a martial arts class. It is often seen as just clearing the mind from the day’s ups and downs to prepare you for training. It does of course do that, but it can actually represent a lot more in the long term. Apart from just clearing the mind, when practiced regularly it can over time help to completely silence the mind. Silencing the minds usual internal chatter has a feeling of peace and tranquillity (a bit like the sudden quietness of turning off a factory air conditioning system).
This can sometimes be achieved quite quickly, but sometimes it can take years. How often have you knelt there thinking “my knees hurt”, “how long is this going on for”, “I hope we do sparring tonight” or “I hope we don’t do sparring tonight”, whatever!
Mokuso is as much an exercise for the mind as a reverse punch is for the body, but it is often underrated and its potential overlooked. We are not simply looking for peace and tranquillity (though this is a worthy achievement in itself), we are also looking to directly take back control of our own minds so that it does not undermine us at crucial times. It is about being able to silence at will that voice in our head which undermines us. The voice that says “I can’t do this”, “he’s bigger than me”, “I’m going to get killed here”, “he’s always picking on me”, whatever. Gradually, bit by bit, we take this quietening of the mind more and more into the rest of our training. It is often said that combat is more mental than physical, well Mokuso is actually a practice for the mental side.
When we can free the mind of it’s internal clutter, then we can use our mind more efficiently. We become more conscious and more aware of whatever our present situation is.
It is almost like we have 2 minds; one which is a powerful tool that we deliberately think with and one which almost acts independently of us and usually undermines us. This undermining part of our mind is often referred to in many self development/spiritual texts as the “ego”. It relies on past experience rather than original thought, therefore it keeps us where we are rather than allowing us to move forward. It acts to cover up weaknesses with a false show, rather than face and conquer the weaknesses.
Unfortunately both “minds” do not work well at the same time. When the ego is in full flow giving us negative thoughts, we find it very difficult to access the power of the deliberately thinking part of our brain or our intuition.
When facing an opponent (whether sparring or for real) we need to be able to think tactically, yet at the moment of action we need to let our intuition take over and react according to how our opponents moves (or doesn’t move).
This can of course apply to almost any part of our lives, whether it is our job, driving, relationships, school or whatever. We always function better when we can silence the ego, think more logically and engage our intuition. The ego left unchecked can rob us of access to these facilities, which is why people with low self esteem or those who worry a lot seem to be unable to find a way out of their situations; whether in training, street attacks, or in any other aspect of life. You are more capable of finding solutions to problems within any area of your life when you can think clearly. You always think more clearly when you can silence the ego.
Just to clarify, I refer to people of low self esteem above, which might on the surface at least appear to be the opposite of what we normally consider to be a person with a “big ego”. We tend to see what we consider an egotistical person to be somebody who brags, boasts and puts on a show. However, this kind of egotist putting on a show is in actuality usually a person of low esteem, but is putting more effort into hiding their own perceived weakness rather than facing and conquering them. A person of low self esteem (whether they are depressive or showy) is usually focusing a large part of their conscious thought on their past experiences which they cannot escape. They are in many respects living in the past as they measure all new experiences/challenges in terms of their previous experiences.
Now this is a very human thing to do and is very common. But silencing that inner voice, accessing your intuition and higher intellect are the best ways to escape that cycle of living in the past and to become more conscious of your present situation (living in “the now” as some people say). Solutions to problems (both in self protection and everyday life) appear much more readily when you are focused in the present then when you’re being held captive to your past experiences by the ego. Mokuso (or any form of meditation) is a great tool to help with that and ideally should really be practiced more often than just at the beginning and of the Karate class.
Do you practice your kicks and punches at home? Then why not practice Mokuso at home. It may take time to produce noticeable results, but it will in time allow you to access higher martial skills by engaging intuitive responses as you stop your own ego getting in the way!
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Bonus: Historical look at Bassai Dai, one of Karate’s most pivotal katas