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.
Mokuso 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!