” The softest substance in the world goes through the hardest. That which is formless penetrates that which allows no entry. Because of this truth I know the benefit of taking no action. Teaching without words. And the benefit of taking no action are without compare in the universe. ” - Lao Tse.
Experiencing difficult times during your shugyo is unavoidable. Enduring physical conditions is part and parcel with the study of budo. We just hope that they are not too debilitating and completely stop us from continuing the training. Hardship and the feelings we come to experience from personal introspection are the most important for our true growth as a person. How we deal with these ” inner demons ” ( that we all possess ) is crucial for our development as a bugeisha and our roles as a father, husband, son, daughter, and so on.
To try to help others is important. In fact, helping others helps us to forget ourselves. However, we can not hide from ourselve for long. If we focus on others too much, we can develop in an unbalanced way. I was once told by my Shiatsu teacher that many therapists of Shiatsu ended up with heart problems because they ” gave too much ” and recieved ” nothing in return “. Life is about ” give and return “. Soke too has said this I believe. This is not that someone should expect something in return for a supposed good deed, but the natural knowing that we need to survive and grow through a mutual ” heart to heart ” connection.
Training in the martial arts is ” Shugyo”.
Shugyo (修行) may be defined literally as “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery”. While the meaning of the kanji used in “shu” was originally translated as ‘using a brush to strike away the dust that obscures the viewing of a persons original elegance’, the combined kanji of “shu” and “gyo” (carrying out, walking along) is now generally translated as simply “severe or austere training”. The kanji rendered for this version of “shugyo” is most commonly associated with Buddhist asceticism, and most notably, the “shugenja” (修験者, ascetic mountain-dwelling monks).
In addition to ascetic Buddhism, the act of shugyo can be applied to any serious endeavor or “michi” (path). For example, the term “musha shugyo” (武者 修行, an exponent of martial [arts] conducting themselves in a way that inspires mastery) refers to a “knight-errantry” tour, a practice of travelling around the country in order to train and test their martial skills that was followed by many serious budo-ka of pre-Meiji Japan (and to a lesser degree post-Meiji). The kanji used in the term “shushi” (修士, master) also combines the same shu character with the character for “man” (alternately read as “samurai”). The implication of this kanji combination is that the person, and perhaps only the person, that follows the way of austere training can obtain the skill level of a “master”.
A related term worth mentioning is “kugyo” (苦行), which translates literally as “carrying on while suffering”, and is understood functionally as referring to asceticism, penance, or mortification.
In centuries past, shugyo were periods of time where the adherent (usually certain types of monks or warriors) would submit themselves to extreme conditions – mentally, spiritually and physically, in order to achieve certain enhanced or enlightening experiences. This was viewed as an important forging process that, among other things, taught one what their actual limitations were; or more appropriately, what their lack of limitations were.
We all fall prey to our ego and weakness. What we in my eyes should do is come to accept them. In accepting these traits, we can learn to pay them no attention. By this I mean not giving them the power to affect or overcome us. But first, we need to come to have the confidence to pursue the development of the true self with sincerity. I personally am very bad at this, but I constantly try to keep on a path that is positive and fruitful for both myself and my family regardless.
Deciding to study the martial arts to me is a hard path. A road less travelled. Only those with the true warrior heart will pursue the training to the very end. Or as Soke says, ” only those foolish enough.”