In Seido Karate, each class begins and ends with a short period of zazen (seated meditation). In the beginning of class, it is used to clear the mind and to focus it on the training ahead. After class, the student uses it to reflect on what was covered in class, to consider what he or she still needs to study, and to prepare to return to the outside world.
Meditation has something to offer every Seido student, regardless of personal religious beliefs or cultural background. Meditation has no religious significance but is inseparable from our physical training, as true karate strives to develop both the physical body and a calm, focused mind. Meditation is the basis for our individual spiritual development.
In addition to the brief period of zazen before each class, Seido Karate training includes weekly meditation classes to improve the ability to concentrate more fully and think more clearly. Zazen has demonstrable physiological benefits, including lowering the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, improving oxygen exchange in the lungs, and improving glandular function. However, our reason for doing zazen goes beyond these physical benefits.
Zazen is a means to study the self and to improve our lives. The “self,” or our own self-image, is essentially a creation of our ego. Ideally, through meditation the ego drops away and, ultimately, the self is forgotten. We find our vision unclouded and we experience true freedom. We can then use this freedom to be more productive, compassionate individuals at work and at home. This is the purpose of doing zazen.
Beginning students are instructed about the correct way to practice zazen and the goals of meditation. Students sit on a seiza bench, which facilitates alignment of the body and lengthening of the spine, which in turn aid in proper breathing and release of tension. The hands are placed in a position called the “cosmic mudra.” This somewhat circular hand position is called ho-in in Japanese (meaning “neither mountain nor valley”) and has been found to help direct the focus inward. The eyes are not closed during zazen but are kept half-open (hangan) and focused to the front and slightly downward. Meditation classes typically include soothing shakuhachi (wooden flute) music.
Following the meditation, Kaicho gives a 15-minute lecture on a selected topic from Japanese philosophy to serve as inspiration for all students. These topics vary, although two student favorites are loosely translated as “Fall down seven times, get up eight times” and “It is always darkest at the foot of the lighthouse.” Common themes include appreciating each day, honoring one’s parents, and bending but not breaking.
Students are encouraged to establish a place outside the dojo, no matter how small, to sit every day. This should be a quiet time, which for city dwellers might be dawn or dusk when outside noise is minimized, and must have no distractions from doorbells or electronic devices. Try to ensure that your 10 minutes of zazen will be fully 10 minutes of sitting only. The main thing is to sit every day.