Sunday, March 21, 2010

What is "misogi"?

I mentioned the idea of "misogi" in a previous post, and it got me thinking.

First of all, I probably know what you're thinking. Most people, upon hearing the term, think of this:

While this form of "misogi" definitely has it's benefits, it's not exactly what I had in mind. (Although, being Scandinavian, I feel compelled to mention the fact that the Nordic people have a similar tradition of going back and forth from jumping into ice cold rivers and lakes during the winter and then running to a nearby sauna, where they heat themselves up into a sweat. I personally don't have access to that sort of thing, although it's kind of a dream of mine, but on occasion I have used my shower to similar effect, alternating between really cold water and steaming hot. Very therapeutic.)

But I digress...

There are, from I understand, other forms of misogi, which don't involve water at all.

Ueshiba defined it as "a washing away of all defilements, a removal of obstacles, a separation from disorder, an abstention from negative thoughts, a radiant state of unadorned purity, the accomplishment of all things, a condition of lofty virtue and spotless environment. In misogi, one returns to the very beginning, where one is at harmony with the universe."

From what I can gather (and if you're more familiar with the subject than I, please feel free to comment), regardless of the form, it seems to involve a handful of common characteristics:

1) An activity that is, in some way, is physically taxing. Obviously, stepping into a freezing cold waterfall would certainly qualify. But I've also heard of it being done with an otherwise simple, innocuous activity, such as making a shomen uchi cut with a sword. The stress, then, seems to come not from the task itself, but from how long you do it. Performing that same shomen uchi cut, for example, for ten, twenty minutes or more. Here's an interesting little blog entry about one aikidoka's experience.

An important distinction to make here, I believe, is the one between physical exertion or fatigue and genuine pain. If you have any kind of physical pain, due to either current or past injury or physical handicap, don't think you have to be a hero and "work through it". Know your own body's limitations.

2) The participation of a group. Okay, so this isn't really all that necessary, but a lot of the examples I found do indeed involve a whole class, exerting this super-human effort of endurance together. While there's plenty to be gained for participating in your own, personal, private misogi, I suspect there is just as much to be gained by joining with a group who is acting in one accord. Only more experience with it on my part would allow me to elaborate further.

3) A rhythm, both in motion and in voice. This can take the form of a simultaneous kiai or with counting in unison. Again, this isn't entirely necessary either, but the concept of chanting as a group goes back centuries and crosses a number of geographic and theological boundaries. Again, I don't have any experience with it myself (that sort of thing really isn't done in my church), but perhaps my friends who do would care to elaborate?

As for myself, I've only participated in such an activity to a limited degree, thus far in my life. As I've mentioned before, as a brown belt, I used to make myself do forward rolls on a blue crash pad over and over for five, ten minutes until I could barely stand anymore. Looking back, I suppose this was a small form of personal misogi, and I look back on it fondly.

I also mentioned how Chuck Caldwell Sensei would on a rare occasion make us do a high number of uchi komi's in judo (several sets of 20 each), which also had a similar effect.

Lately, I've not only been thinking about it, but actually craving it. Unfortunately, that may very well mean I drag my poor, unsuspecting morning class peers into it. (Insert evil grin here). The question is, what form should our little misogi exercise take? I've had a few thoughts, and I'll go into those in a future post. In the meantime, have any ideas or experience?

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