I have previously posted on Shugyo, or austere training. Another article caught my attention on the topic, a part of which is posted below. You can read the complete article here.
With the range of possible definitions applicable to each character, one soon recognises the degree of inadequacy of the unsophisticated term study when applied to shugyo.
To the martial artist native speaker of Japanese, shugyo has far deeper resonance than study suggests. For example, the renowned "father of modern karate-do", Gichin Funakoshi was known to venture outside to take advantage of typhoons for training purposes, typhoons that are noted for being particularly ferocious around his island home of Okinawa. Tales have it that whilst holding a tatami mat to create resistance to the howling winds, Funakoshi would test the strength of his stances upon the rooftops. (3) The significance of this tale to our discussion of shugyo is not the perceived eccentricity of Funakoshi and his peculiar penchant for training in extremes of weather. Rather, the tale illustrates well, the ability for a determined mind to employ any circumstance to further an understanding of the true nature of that which is being studied, the way of karate in our case.
Chito Ryu Karate founder Tsuyoshi Chitose, known reverently as O'sensei, was himself was required by his first teacher, Arakaki, to study the same kata (a standard routine of karate techniques), Seisan , for seven years before being introduced to another. Those unfamiliar with shugyo will doubtless be impressed by the depth of commitment and concentration displayed by O'sensei, a level of dedication rarely seen even in adults whilst at the mere age of seven. This last comment at first glance may be misleading in that it appears to make light of the efforts and achievements of the young O'sensei. Please consider momentarily the alternate proposition that O'sensei, Funakoshi and the multitudes of martial arts immortals not referred to here were in fact NOT inherently special.
Consider, instead, that all of the individuals above were ordinary people, the same as everybody else in every aspect besides obvious personal circumstances (language, nationality and the like). It would then follow logically that ANY other person could repeat their feats. Indeed with the right mindset it should be understood not only could any person repeat their feats, but in fact build upon them. Actually, the only thing separating such perceived greatness from the masses is hard work and an unfailing belief in the fact that the goal will be achieved. The important point to consider here is that one need not focus upon the glorified achievement of such individuals, for to do so risks deification of the personality, in turn dooming all others following their example to fall short of the ideal (the rest of us after all are mere mortals) . Far more valuable to those who wish to follow the Masters is to gain an understanding of the means by which they gained their greatness, and this in every case without exception was, is and always will be shugyo.