Monthly Archives: May 2015

Mokuso! Switch off, Switch on!

Commonly translated as “meditation”, mokuso literally means silent or still (moku)  + thoughts or thinking (so). Perhaps it can also be read as a still mind, a mind like a mill pond or a clear mind.

In any event, class should start with switching off everything but karate, and perhaps end by switching it back on…

Here’s what I mean.

MokusoMokuso for me is a pause. It’s a moment or two to turn off the mental noise. This comes with practice, but I find that when my mind is especially busy, I go through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling for three long, exaggerated breaths. Initially, I used to imagine my inhale as introducing new, fresh energy to my body, and the exhale as transferring old, tainted energy out.  Now, after a lot of practice, I don’t imagine anything. When I start my first inhale, my mind knows to settle down – Switch off!

It’s preparation for what is to come, providing clarity of mind for what you learn in class. Before you take anything in, you have to make room, so to speak.

Mokuso at the end of class is a different thing. Funakoshi Sensei used to say that dawning a Gi, or entering a Dojo was a time different from all other times – it was sacred to him, and his demeanor visibly changed when he did either of these.  Hence, Mokuso at the end of class is a moment of switching gears again, not meaning to clear your mind of all you just absorbed, but rather to prepare again for life in the outside world where your Shotokan philosophies are still at the forefront, but settle down again from your hardcore training and prepare for life– Switch On!

As Jesse Encamp would say, it’s ok to love karate, but don’t wear your Gi to work!

Switch off! Switch on, Grasshopper!

Pullback and the Drawstring

Imagine that there is a string between the hand that you are going to strike with and your opponent’s hand. If you pull back even a little you’re drawing your opponents attack to you: cueing the opponent, telegraphing your move.”

Jeff Hutchings NL Shotokan Karate Black BeltSensei Lee and our 5th Dan Sempai learned a lot from Nishiyama Sensei over the fifteen years they trained with him, not the least of which was how to make things visual.

So, last night as we were doing our jabs with a subsequent backfist, we were visualizing that if we pulled back at all, we were triggering the opponent’s attack…and it worked! Even in the span of the class time, backfists became shorter, faster and more intense.

This analogy of the string tied to your hand and the opponent served as a reminder that pull back is wasted time and energy. Bruce Lee (the actor) was famed for his one inch punch where there was zero pull back. Upon taking a close look at this, it seems that it is a very complex technique. The organization of muscle fiber, the mental intention, and the coordination of the knees, hips arms and wrist are only part of it. Science shows that Lee’s devastating short punch had a lot to do with how Martial Artists have built up a certain microstructure of white matter in the brain that actually does the complex coordination to allow the delivery of immense power at tiny distances.

Explosive power with zero telegraphing and zero time loss; now, there’s something to work on!

Be all there

“You’ll feel like a Shodan after you’ve achieved your Nidan. “

A statement that seems a bit paradoxical at first, but I found it intriguing when a 5th Dan in my Shotokan class first said it. Somehow, it makes sense.

After I got my Shodan Black Belt there was no, ‘Ok, well, I got that! That’s done!’ Instead, the first time I walked into the Dojo wearing a black belt I felt like I had to up my game. I had a black belt around my waist, and now I had to become one. I had to fix the things I knew were lacking before I started to ‘move on’ to the new things that were ahead of me. I was a Black belt now and I had to live it. I had to tighten up my Kata, I had to refine my body connection and to get my head around the fact that wearing a black belt doesn’t always make you one, and more than swinging a hammer makes you a carpenter.

In his reference to our daily lives Jim Elliott said “Wherever you are, be all there.”

So now, rather than spending my time thinking about becoming a Nidan, I’ve realized something:  concentrating on being an adept Shodan will prep me to become what’s next.

Hangetsu Hand

Funakoshi Sensei Lee loves to take a technique, sometimes a seemingly simple one and apply it in a real combat situation. Take the chudan haito uke, or middle, sword ridge (thumb side of hand) block: a magnificent little technique that serves a double purpose. First, as Sensei Lee stresses its application, is to defend quickly and almost without effort from a punch (especially a Jodan attack), where you almost draw the attacking arms in and only moving slightly to redirect its energy. And secondly, it is a precautionary hand position when delivering something like a reverse punch. After all, as black belts, it makes no sense to deliver an attack with your draw arm pulled back to your side, opening up your entire center line. But bringing your Haito Uke up to your head as you strike allows for a fluid and fast second technique.

After a little research I found that Funakoshi Sensei did this with only his forefinger extended (as in an Ippon-ken position), but either way it is fast, effective and it works!

I am enthralled by the idea of more power and effectiveness with less movement.

So much to learn…