Whilst what is written here is on the subject of Martial Arts, the advice on offer can be applied to all walks of life by people wanting to better themselves and achieve the achievable…because it’s all achievable. There is nothing we can’t do if we are willing to face our ‘Shugyo’. I was talking to a student of mine recently who had an important belt test coming up. She confessed to me that as she was getting higher up the grades, she was really feeling the pressure. She also confessed to having taken a dislike to sparring. After listening to her carefully I gave her my opinion. “It’s difficult isn’t it?” I both asked and stated. The student looked at me like I had two heads but it was difficult to say anything different because quite simply it is difficult. “The better we get at something the harder it becomes to progress”. I told the student and let it sink in. Then I gave her the good news. “The thing is, the harder the tests, the bigger the rewards. Some people will get to your stage and that’s that for them and they are fine with that, but by the very fact that your are asking me questions about your next step means you must really want to find out what it is like to move up the ladder. It means that you aren’t done yet. I’ll tell you shall I, the tea up here is a lot sweeter.”.
My good friend again started counting how many heads I had as I was clearly making no sense so I told her about my cup of tea. “Some years ago, surprisingly enough after I obtained my first Black Belt, I was accepted as an instructor into a leading Martial Arts Association (The BCA). Once I was accepted I was encouraged to travel away from home to train on Instructor’s courses. When the date was sent for the next one I would be excited at the prospect until the Friday before the Sunday’s course came around. I would suddenly develop a cold or an old injury would flare up. Come Sunday morning I would be unable to travel. Instead I would console myself with a cup of tea and a movie for the Sunday afternoon. Whilst the tea was sweet, it could have been sweeter. I would spend the afternoon fretting and trying to convince myself that I hadn’t bottled it.
As five o’clock came around I would feel regret as this would be the time I would be arriving home should I have made the journey. I would chastise myself by saying ‘it would have been all over by now and I would have another string to my bow by beating my fear’. Instead, I was faced with a cold cup of tea and a sense of disappointment in myself. I was after all, a Black Belt and had let myself down.” My student listened on as I continued. “I then read about a thing the Japanese call ‘Shugyo’. It means ‘austere’ or ‘hardship’. Certain Japanese Warriors have a belief we should all do something ‘Shugyo’ even just once a year. We should do something that unnerves us or even frightens us. I read, then re-read the piece many times and eventually came to terms with the fact that my Black Belt grading had been last year’s Shugyo. I now needed this years’. I talked myself into the long drive to Coventry and trained on one of the first Krav Maga seminars held in this country (some 16 years ago if I am correct).
I was in for a rude awakening as the training took my breath away…but it didn’t kill me. The two years it took to drive down there were replaced with what seemed like a ten minute drive home, where I knew I had a hot sweet tea waiting for me. It was a cup of tea I had earned and not taken to accompany my excuse”. My student looked like she was starting to get it. “It’s okay to be afraid but it isn’t okay to let that fear stop us getting what we want to get.” I told her. “But how do we stop feeling like this?” she asked. “We don’t.” I told her. “We don’t stop feeling it but we get used to it, desensitised to it. The more we are exposed to events that trouble us somewhat the more we are better equipped to cope with them. At the end of the day what you are doing is a tough test but I don’t dictate the nature of the event, nor did my instructors nor I suspect did theirs. I don’t even think Bruce Lee had much of a say in the matter.
The fact is you are going to be fighting for something you want and you will be fighting someone who also wants it. I will control the fight and keep it within the rules of engagement but at the end of the day, it is what it is.” After giving it some thought she accepted this and not only went on to overcome her fear and take the grading but she excelled on the mats. She ‘Shugyoed’ and afterward she looked like a person who had grown yet another branch of well earned self esteem. Shugyo; It is something we should all do at least once a year. It can come in different forms. I think my Shugyo for 2012 will be to take a friend and colleague up on his offer to teach on his Close Protection Courses. Whilst seminars are something I teach on a regular basis this is slightly ‘up’ on my normal game and so the feelings will return…they are suppose to.
I am also adding to my 2012 Shugyo by bringing in a new sector to my Academy which again, is slightly ‘up’ on what I have done in the past. It will introduce me to new people wanting to learn on a new level. Whilst bringing a natural apprehension it also keeps me fresh, on my toes and with a thirst for a nice, hot, sweet cup of tea at the end of it all. I finished the conversation with my student by sharing my feelings on this matter and she got it. She realised that no matter what has gone before, some of us will always try and better ourselves with the next act of Shugyo; the word has a nice ring to it…