At the start of our practice after we’ve bowed to shommen and are sitting in seiza, the first thing we do is mokuso. This is a practice that I did in kendo, and thought it was appropriate to carry it through into iaido. We also finish our practice with it in much the same manner.
According to Wikipedia, Mokuso (黙想 mokusō) is a Japanese term for meditation, especially when practiced in the traditional Japanese martial arts. Mokuso (pronounced “moh-kso”) is performed before beginning a training session in order to “clear one’s mind”, very similar to the zen concept of mushin. This term is more formally known to mean, “Warming up the mind for training hard.”
How I describe it to my students is basically, “Leaving what’s outside the dojo, outside the dojo, and preparing ourselves and our minds for what we’re about to do inside the dojo.” In addition, I personally use it to replay in my head what areas of my own upcoming practice I’d like to specifically keep in the back of my mind. Things like, don’t drop the kissaki, take the power out of my arms and put it into my hara, move like a mountain moves, and so on.
I really do think that it helps me focus and begin the practice with the right frame of mind. So much so that if I get off track for some reason or distracted while I’m practicing, I may just sit down and perform mokuso again – especially when I’m practicing solo and get distracted by the phone or visitors.
Mushin, or “no mindedness / without mind” is a concept that applies to all martial arts, but is particularly noted in the sword arts. Essentially, it is a mental state in which the practitioner’s mind is not fixed on or cluttered with thought; but rather open, and without emotion – free to act or react to their opponent.
Perhaps through countless hours (years?) of practice, our bodies and muscles will eventually “memorize” the movements, freeing our mind from the conscious thoughts of correct movement, posture, etc., and we will finally be able to attain this state of Mushin.
At the end of practice we again perform mokuso, and during this time, I reflect on the things I did well, new “learnings,” and things to work on during the next practice. It’s a mental review of sorts.
Kendo practitioners perform mokuso while breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Perhaps this is to prepare for the breathing used during keiko, or perhaps it’s just a way to relax the body and help attain this state of meditation.
Apart from just being a part of the reishiki of kendo and iaido, I really do believe that performing this ritual helps put us in the right frame of mind to learn, and is a small, yet essential part of the art.
Some may have already heard, but our planned MWKF/Agassiz Dojo 2nd iaido seminar scheduled for end of July has been postponed until sometime later this fall.
During the spring / summer, there are a bunch of different iaido events that people can attend, and I think that because of the timing, we just weren’t going to have a very good turnout.
Instead, I’m hoping we can plan something for the weekend of November16-18 pending availability of the AUSKF sensei. If people are interested in attending at that time, I’d love to hear a quick reply back so I can have some idea of possible attendees.