Philosophers and sages throughout the ages have consistently extolled the virtues of facing adversity for the purposes of becoming a better, stronger person. No matter what form this adversity takes, wisdom dictates that it must be faced head-on, weathered through, and successfully beaten by coming out the other side, maybe scarred, but assuredly battle-hardened and spiritually tougher. Oftentimes, adversity comes to us unbidden simply due to the path we choose to follow, or even for no fathomable reason at all. It tends to be one of those things life throws at us unexpectedly to “help” us prove our mettle and forge our character.
It has been said that “God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable”. If this is so, perhaps creating your own adversity isn’t a bad thing at all.
The goal in creating your own adversity is to design a challenge that will push the limits of your physical strength, mental toughness, and spiritual fortitude in order to propel you forward to the next level in your training. For the warrior, this process is known as Shugyo. Shugyo (修行) may be defined as “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery”. These periods of severe training were usually undertaken by warriors to achieve a type of enlightening experience which opened their minds by destroying their concept of previously perceived limits. It is the same for us today.
Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, was well known for taking his students up into the mountains for periods of Shugyo.
“Once a year, Morihei took several of his best disciples to train with him on Mount Kurama, located near Kyoto. The small group lived on rice, pickles, miso soup, and wild herbs. Morihei would rise at five AM to pray. After morning prayers and misogi, they would swing heavy swords five hundred times and then practice footwork. From ten AM to noon they trained in body techniques. Afternoon training ran from three to five PM; the disciples took turns acting as Morihei’s partner as he ran through series after series of techniques. In the evenings the disciples would review the day’s training. Every three days, Morihei would announce at midnight ‘time for night training’…”
Excerpt from “Invincible Warrior”, by John Stevens pg. 125
Now, do you have to seclude yourself in the mountains for several days in order to practice Shugyo? No. For most of us, that’s not realistic or practical, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create the same type of experience for ourselves. So, how do we do it?
Create Your Own Adversity!
Caution:This type of training is not for everyone. Before you begin, there are a few common sense type precautions you should take. First, prepare adequately. For example, you would not go out to run the NY Marathon tomorrow if you’ve never run more than 5 miles. Second, if you decide to conduct your Shugyo outdoors, let someone know where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how long you’ll be gone, or better yet, take them with you! Third and most importantly, think before you do and plan accordingly.
1. Pick a time or day that has personal significance to you – it can be your birthday, New Years Day, or the anniversary of something important in your life. Is this absolutely necessary? No. You can pick next Tuesday if you’d like, but I think tying your Shugyo to a significant day makes it more special.
2. Decide what form your Shugyo will take. This must be unique to your goals and capabilities. Choose something that is currently beyond your reach, but not so far as to make it completely unattainable. You want to focus and hone your physical, mental, and spiritual abilities, not your imagination. Some examples are:
- Run a marathon
- Run a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder
- Climb a mountain
- 1000 cuts with a heavy bokken (wooden sword)
- 1000 Kettlebell snatches
- 1000 Kettlebell Swings
- 1000 reps of any basic techniques or combination of techniques
- Sparring 20 opponents in a row, nonstop
- 1000 Push-ups/Squats/Sit-ups
While any of the above would more than qualify as Shugyo, my personal preference is to plan an entire day where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts. Some recommendations for the parts are:
Junan Taiso warm-up, run (distance TBD by you), practice the basic strikes, kicks, and footwork of your particular martial art, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu for me (high reps to push your limits, of course!), weapons practice (sword cuts, spear thrusts, bo swinging, etc.), high repetition bodyweight exercise(s) or workout with weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, clubbells, sandbags), end with an extra long yoga session to wring out all the tension accumulated throughout the day followed by meditation and rest.
3. Create a training program to get you there. Let’s face it, most of the above examples are not something most people can decide to do in a day, they take time, preparation, and work to bring the goal within reach. Remember the “6 P’s”: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!
4. Get to work!!
Creating your own adversity through Shugyo has the effect of focusing not just your mind, but your entire being for the purposes of expanding your potential. Push yourself harder than you ever thought possible and blow through your preconceived limitations – remember, the only limits that truly exist are those set up in your own mind – there are no limits!
“God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them.” ~John Aughey