Misogi (ablution, purification)

by Pascal Krieger, from "JODO, the way of the stick"

The training session had started in the normal way. Nothing warned of what would happen next. After the first 300 suburi (rapidly repeated cuts), most of the trainees were sure that the order "Yame !" (stop) would be given soon. A few were already slowing down. Apart from a few older, more astute trainees, nobody expected it to continue, since these 300 suburi formed a typical start to a lesson.

After 20 minutes, with their shoulders burning on account of muscular fatigue that sets in only after 300 suburi and lack of experience, some of the less experienced trainees began to feel very uncomfortable. They could not go on, but they could not give up in front of everyone. "If only the movement would change!" they thought to themselves, but no, the Kiai set the rythm for the same movement and echoed in the Dojo like an incantation. Little by little, the group of trainees was engulfed by a state of concious effort, the pain faded, the mind became oblivious to the last questions which were left unanwered. The need to think progressively melted away. The lone rythmic action rose to the open beam structure of the Dojo like a prayer.

But everyone has a different mental and physical resistance. The first hand dropped after 45 minutes, soon followed by a few others. The first to abandon felt a tinge of dissapointment, mixed with a sense of shame. And so it continued. A few moer gave up, but the majority held on, dripping wet, with an emptied look.

Some of those who had stopped stepped back in and continued. All were held together by the rythm and the Kiai of the most persistent trainees. Their minds were emptied and they were no longer concerned about when it would stop. Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, "Yame !". In silence, they were all looking at their hands covered in blisters, amazed to realize that they could have gone on like that for so long. They were all looking at each other, as though after a surprising dream. For some it had been a real nightmare, and those who had woken up in the middle of it were wondering whether they could have continued, had they really wanted to. Some found excuses for themselves (they weren't ready, the last few days had been tiring), and were quick to convey them to others, who hadn't asked for anything. But each trainee felt his ego remarkably diminished.

The guide, impassive with Fudoshin, gives his group a few moments to get over the shock and then concludes the session with an impeccable bow, but without explanation.

Is an explanation needed? The group has just undergone a "surprise Misogi". Everyone has shared in a mental and physical super-effort. It was made possible partly because of the state of concious effort aided by a simple movement, always identical, carried out at a steady but constant rythm. Everyone found himself face-to-face with himself as he really is - weak, susceptible to pain and to fatigue - in brief, each as he really is. Some are pleasantly surprised, others had overestimated themselves, but everyone gained humility. The bonds of the grouphave again grown stronger. Everyone feels temporarily purified.

Misogi is an indispenable element in forming a shugyosha. It is called Sheishin tanren (forging of a pure spirit). Without this form of training becoming a regular affair, it should be used periodically, particularly during seminars or intensive training sessions.