Mokuso is a type of martial arts meditation practiced in Japanese martial arts like Karate and Kendo. Mokuso meditation is generally performed before and after a Karate training session in order to prepare and clear the mind.
In this article, I will cover the following:
The practice of Mokuso prepares the student to let go of the troubles of the day, and to be mindful of the present moment. With this guide, I will explain the right posture of Mokuso, it's usage and principles.
As you probably know, the art of Karate finds its root in China, specifically in Shaolin temple, where it was cultivated and practiced as a martial know as Kung-Fu.
Shaolin temple was a Buddhist monastery where monks divided their time between martial art practice and meditation. They practiced a form of meditation called Dhyana in Sanskrit (a classical Indian language) that was originally developed in India by a man named Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha. This form of meditation was called Zuo Chan in Chinese and later Zazen in Japan.
Centuries later, when Kung-Fu traveled from Fujian Province to the Ryukyu Kingdom (present-day Okinawa, Japan), the tradition of meditation traveled with it as well and is considered today fully a part of Karate, and is now called Mokuso.
There are specific reasons why Mokuso is practiced the way it is, in terms of body positioning. Let's discover why.
The primary purpose of the Mokuso position is to use it to gauge our state of mind during meditation. The position itself, especially the erectness of the spine and the position of the hands are excellent indicators of the meditators inner state. By staying fully present in the moment and attentive to your body, you will notice any change of posture and be able to correct it on the spot. Also, your sensei can understand your inner state by looking at your Mokuso posture and correct you if necessary.
During the practice of Mokuso, it's essential to keep the balance between vigilance and relaxation - we should avoid going one way or the other. During Mokuso, it's important to keep your mind in the now, fully aware of yourself and your surrounding, not lost in your thoughts.
Sanran is a state of mind characterized by excitation, restlessness, and overactivity of the mind (a.k.a. the monkey mind).
Common physical manifestations in your Mokuso posture:
Konchin is a state of mind characterized by sleepiness, fatigue and lack of energy. It can be caused by a too important relaxed state.
Common physical manifestations in your Mokuso posture:
As you could read before, Mokuso's position is a direct reflexion of your state of mind; therefore it is very important to perform Mokuso with the right position. Here's how to do it properly.
At the beginning of the Karate class, when your Sensei says "Mokuso!", kneel down in seiza. That pretty much means "Let's start Mokuso".
In seiza, have about two fist width of distance between your knees and keep your back and neck straight. Imagine pushing the sky with the top of your head. Pull in the chin to erect the back of the neck. That will allow your brain to be fully irrigated with blood and oxygen. In seiza, you want to keep your spine and neck straight, so avoid crossing your feet.
The original Buddhist posture used in China (Zuo Chan) and Japan (Zazen) was the full or the half lotus. Throughout Karate history, these traditional postures were replaced by seiza for convenience.
As mentioned before, if you get tired or sleepy, or lack energy, your back and neck will crouch.
The position of the hands during Mokuso comes directly from Zen Buddhism and is called Hokkaijoin in Japanese. Put your left hand inside of your right hand, palms up. Put the tips of your thumbs together forming an oval shape. The tips of your thumbs should gently touch each other: avoid putting pressure. Rest both of your wrists on your thighs with the edge of your hands should resting against your belly, below your belt. Keep your shoulders relaxed, yet straight.
If you get excited or sleepy, your hands will react accordingly.
Contrary to what most people think, you should keep your eyes are open during Mokuso. Keeping your eyes open will help you avoid falling asleep or daydreaming. Put your gaze about one meter in front of you on the floor, don't try to look at anything. Keep your eyes half opened and half closed.
During Mokuso, breathe softly through your nose and keep your mouth closed. Establish a natural, calm, and deep rhythm. You should focus on exhaling while inhaling is done naturally. You will notice that Mokuso and Karate breathing methods are similar.
After a few minutes of meditation, your sensei will call "Mokuso Yame!" or "stop meditation". Wait 2-3 seconds then put your hands on your thighs and wait for further instructions.
Having a proper state of mind during Mokuso is very important as it will positively influence the rest of your training and even the rest of your day.
The goal of Mokuso is to be fully present and aware in the moment. You don't want your mind to wander and get caught in the cycle of thoughts. You want to be mindful from moment to moment. Here are two way that will help you stay mindful during the practice of Mokuso.
Now that you have the right Mokuso position, it's time to focus your attention to your body, specifically your hands and your back. That's a really important point because keeping your attention centered on your body prevents your mind from daydreaming and wandering off. Again, you want to mind in the here and the now.
Keep your attention on the position of your hands. If your hands are no longer in the proper hokkaijoin position, immediately go back to the right position and focus your attention again on your hands.
If your thumbs are pointing upwards: you are either excited, nervous or overthinking.
If your thumbs are "falling" or your hand's position get sloppy: you are either sleepy or lacking energy.
Keep your attention on keeping a straight neck and back. If your neck or back is hunching, it's a sign that you are getting sleepy of are losing focus. Immediately assure proper straight back and neck posture.
During Mokuso, thoughts will arise and will pay you a visit. That's perfectly normal, especially as a beginner. It takes years of meditation practice to silence the thoughts. Try to stay aware of your state of mind and as soon as thoughts are appearing, let them go, to not cling to them. The will pass like clouds in the sky. They will definitely linger if you actively try to chase them away. Just let go, and they will naturally go away.
Mokuso is hugely beneficial in many ways. Besides enhancing spiritual growth, it promotes the physical and mental well-being of an individual.
The human mind tends to live most of the time either in the past or in the future, rarely in the present. In our daily lives, this unconscious avoidance of the present moment can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration or even depression. Mokuso meditation helps you bring your consciousness here and now when it belongs.
When we get into the dojo, our mind is still excited and overactive, thanks to the hectic outside world - traffic, noise, crowd, etc. Therefore, before starting training, it is essential to take a moment to cut off from the outside world and recenter your mind onto yourself. Your Karate will significantly benefit from it.
In terms of Karate, it's quite easy to understand the importance of being in the present moment. Karate is a practice that demands great focus and concentration is we want to avoid causing injuries to others, to ourselves and if we're going to reach a higher level of efficiency. Mokuso is the best way to prepare your mind for Karate.
The ego is a function of our minds that tends to put our selfish needs and desires ahead of others. It's also responsible for creating separations between ourselves, others and the universe. With time, Mokuso meditation helps slowly melting away and brings the mind into its natural, balanced state.
The answer will be different, whether you are practicing in a class or by yourself.
There are no rules in terms of how long you should practice Mokuso, but with experience, I found that in order for people to benefit from it at the beginning of a class, 5 minutes is best - adults and children alike. At the end of a class, I usually do 5 minutes as well, but if it was a very tough class (mentally or physically), I could go up to 10 minutes.
If you are practicing by yourself while training alone at the dojo or at home, I'd suggest a minimum of 15 minutes. Personally, I'd recommend you to practice 30 minutes, but few people can stay in seiza that long, that why you should buy a meditation cushion and turn your Mokuso into Zazen. The only difference between Mokuso and Zazen is the leg position. Zazen is practiced in lotus or half lotus position and requires you to have a Zazen cushion to have your spine correctly erected and your hips well placed.
Once again, it varies, whether you are practicing in a class or alone at home.
If you truly want to reap its benefits, Mokuso should be practiced systematically at the beginning and end of every single class.
If your practicing by yourself, you should practice at least once a day, ideally in the morning. If you are more serious about your spiritual development, two times a day is recommended - once in the morning and once at night.
As you could read, it's essential to perform Mokuso the right way so that you can reap all the benefits from it. Practice with the right position, focus your attention on your hands, and when you realize that your mind is drifting way, correct your state of mind. Let the body be your guide.
Do you practice Mokuso?
P.S. If you really want to improve your Karate, you should definitely check out this article I wrote about my favorite equipment for training Karate at home.
Hi, my name is Martin Jutras. I've been studying and practicing Karate, practical self-defense and Zen Buddhism for more than 35 years.
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