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Mokuso – Your Karate Starts Here

By: Jason Kraus

Formal karate class begins and ends with a brief period of meditation. The sensei or sempai will direct the class to seiza, then call for “mokuso”. Mokuso has two kanji.

The first kanji is 黙 and pronounced /mo-ku/, which means “to be quiet and close one's mouth”. The second kanji is 想 and pronounced /sou/, which means “to think deeply”.

Mind correct pronunciation.

The word 黙想is pronounced /mo-ku so/ and never /muksew/.

Meditation, however brief, is an activity that many people are not taught and must figure out for themselves.

This makes meditation intimidating and appear more difficult than it really is. Often students merely sit in seiza, mind wandering, eyes closed, waiting until the end.

Let me offer an understanding and method that helped me.

Consider the call of 黙想as a pair of gates between which there is only karate practice. Set aside your other worldly concerns and let them rest.

Give yourself a time dedicated to your karate practice. The rest of the world, with its demands and concerns, will be there when you are done.

This guy sort of gets it...

Begin with proper posture. In seiza, seat your rump comfortably between your heels. Settle your head between your shoulders, your shoulders directly atop your hips. Imagine your spine as a cord and lightly draw the cord upward.

As you do, your lower spine will likely engage, curving inward, and pushing your breastbone up and forward. Relax your lower spine and feel yourself settle again on your rump between your heels.

Return to the cord and make sure it’s still slightly pulling upward. As you do, your spine will almost certainly re-engage. That’s fine.

Simply repeat this process a few more times until your body finds its equilibrium and you feel settled on the earth while simultaneously feeling physically attentive and poised.

With practice, before long this process will become automatic.

These karateka get it.

Once your posture is ready, next follows the breath. The easiest-to-learn method of meditative breathing is called “box breathing”. Slowly inhale for 4 seconds.

Lightly hold that breath for 4 seconds. Slowly exhale for 4 seconds. Pause and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat the process and continue. If your mind wanders, just return to the count.

If 4 seconds is too much or too little, simply adjust the timeframe making sure that it remains equal during all four phases of the box breathing cycle.

In addition to being useful during 黙想,this breathing technique is also beneficial for calming and slowing both the body and the mind during stressful or anxious situations.

This method – proper posture and rhythmic breathing – is sufficient for most people to prepare for and conclude practice. It’s calming and focuses the mind nicely.

However, if you are a karateka who seeks a deeper meaning to 黙想, we’ll examine that in Part 2.

Special thanks to Naoko Kosemura for her assistance with Japanese language nuance.


Jason Kraus is a lifelong martial artist. Jason spent decades in various martial arts including traveling to and living in both Japan and Korea. He has most recently returned to his first love, Shotokan Karate.

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1 Comment

Otis Beck
Otis Beck
Feb 20

Great and deep post!

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