Posts Tagged ‘Mokuso’

Kendo Ritual

1312_sumo_mainThere seems to be a division of opinion between kendoka who are attracted by the ritual involved in kendo and those who feel that some of the ceremony is out of place in a modern martial art. Sonkyo is used only in sumo and kendo and whilst we don’t engage in salt throwing or have our referees dress in Heian period hakama and signal with gunbai, we are asked to pay a lot more attention to etiquette than our friends in judo or karate. I am aware that Kumdo in Korea does not use sonkyo, but as my only experience with Korean kenshi has been within the context of FIK kendo where they are gracious enough to use the Japanese system, I am not in a position to comment.

Personally, I like the ritual aspect of kendo. I believe that the reiho of bowing correctly to the dojo, to kamiza, to sensei and to your opponent help prepare your mind for the intensely serious business of keiko. Mokuso before and after each practice is the time to change your mind-set from that of the working day. Sonkyo particularly aids the transition from not fighting to fighting. We start with an empty mind as we make the initial bow and make three steps forward.  As we draw our shinai and drop into a squat we engage with our opponent. This is where we make mind contact.

As a referee I can see when two shiasha have locked on to each other and are ready to start. This is the time to call hajime. From my very limited knowledge of sumo, this also is what the referee is looking for, but it is even more evident amongst the salt throwing and false starts.

The down side of a complex etiquette framework is that we have to devote much of our training to learning not just when and where to bow but how to bow correctly. I mentioned in an earlier post that last year I had the privilege of a private kata lesson in Yoshino with Uegaki sensei, who has just gained Hanshi. Three quarters of the lesson were devoted to the correct way to enter the enbu-jo , take seiza and bow.

Watching newer kenshi, it is easy to judge the length of their experience by their command of reiho. We all start with dropped chins and sticky-out bottoms when we bow and I defy anyone who has not done a considerable amount of keiko to produce anything other than wobbly sonkyo. The bad news is that when we get to the tail end of our kendo careers and knees wear out, sonkyo starts to get wobbly once more.

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Ten rai wo kike

TenraiI snatched a tenogui from the pile in the cupboard before practice and as you do, I held it up to look at before it and my men went on. It read Ten rai wo kike, “listen to heaven’s (nature’s) sounds”
Thinking of the practical relevance of this advice to kendo in the UK was not easy, I had just completed mokuso against the sound of the air-conditioning fan and a squash ball bouncing off the next door wall. Kendo experiences in Japan were easier to connect. The rain on the roof of Uegaki sensei’s dojo in the Yoshino Mountains or the spring breeze blowing through the cherry trees on the walk through Osaka Castle Park on the way to the Shudokan are far more conducive to reaching mushin.
Regardless of environment, this chain of thought led me to contemplate why we have mokuso before and after kendo. To me it is a great way to transition from the crowded, working day “to do list” mindset that normally comes home with you after a day at work, to the calm natural mind you need to practice kendo. At the end of the kendo session, mokuso has the reverse effect, taking you from heightened awareness to a more relaxed state.
Mokuso is not full blown zazen, but just 30 seconds or so to clear the mind before and after kendo. More precisely it is an opportunity for you to let your thoughts flow without becoming attached or concerned.
This is not a technical guide, because I am not qualified to teach what is in effect a meditation technique, but you should be in an upright relaxed seiza with left or right hand supporting the other, thumbs touching, knuckles down towards your lap. (Which hand supports which is irrelevant, but one way indicates god supporting humanity and the other humanity supporting god. Unfortunately I can’t remember which is which).
Different people take a different approach, some count breaths, some concentrate on the depth of breathing, other like to project mental images, such as contemplating the hidden side of the moon.Personally I like to think of the imperative “Shisei o tadasu, kokyu o tadasu, kokoro o tadasu” (correct posture, correct breathing, correct heart)
Not quite the sound of water trickling from a mountain dojo roof, but it drowns out the air conditioner.

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