Modern Musha Shugyo Part 1
Musha Shugyo 武者修行is an old Japanese term for the practice of leaving one’s home and traveling around the country to learn from people, engage in challenge matches, grow, and perhaps even establish oneself. Rennis Buchner has a great article on musha shugyo over on Acme Budo. The past few weeks I’ve been on a modern version of the musha shugyo, visiting Japan, training with some great teachers in different dojo, and getting my butt thoroughly kicked along the way.
Even in the old days, musha shugyo were not endless rounds of intense duals. They were as much or more about learning and trying to find a job as anything else. Buchner’s references from various Hoki Ryu records provide a much more balanced and realistic view of what was happening than the popular myths. Sadly, my journey was not about finding a job teaching budo somewhere in Japan. There just aren’t many jobs for staff budoka anymore. Today a musha shugyo is a journey of hard training, deep learning and mental and spiritual development. For these purposes, our journey was a wonderful success.
I set out with a friend and one of her students to attend a private gasshuku sponsored by the teacher of one of my teachers, as well as to visit several dojo of my sword and jo teachers. Along the way we also squeezed in a few sites and experiences from around Japan. Budo is not just what happens in the dojo, and we didn’t want to miss the rest of the experience that is Japan.
A word about shugyo 修行 might be in order. Shugyo can be anything from simple training done sincerely to ascetic exercises performed for spiritual or religious purposes. Within budo, practice is viewed as both training in the techniques of the system and developing students spirit, heart and mind. For my friends and I, and for everyone at the gasshuku, both aspects were fully present in our training. The technique training is clear, but the spiritual side was there too. We learned to not be put off by failure, as the teachers had us repeat techniques until we could get them right. We learned to endure fatigue and sleep deprivation because the socializing with the teachers could go late and cut into the amount of sleep we got. Sleep was already a precious commodity for my friends and I because we were suffering from jet lag. In previous years I’ve gone to the February gasshuku and learned to endure the suffering of training in the huge, drafty, unheated dojo, so the November chill felt like a warm spring by comparison. By the end of the third day we were also battling sore, achy muscles and a few bruises from strikes that missed their targets and thrusts that were a little too successful. At the gasshuku though, none of this was anything to complain about. That too was part of the shugyo.