Musha Shūgyō: warrior training

Written by Stephen Snelders May 3rd, 2013


It was common in Japan for those who wanted to become masters of sword fighting to travel throughout the country from dojo to dojo. This was called musha-shūgyō: warrior training.

The act of traveling and the hardships encountered along the way were an
essential part of this training, which is why musha-shūgyō is sometimes
translated as ‘austere training in swordsmanship’. Austerity or asceticism was
a way to attain the mental attitude of a warrior and be able to face, and
solve, anything that came one’s way. This is asceticism in the original Greek
meaning of the word (άσκησις): the training of the athlete and the discipline
it entails.

Instructions for the warrior-in-training

In the Edo period the Japanese obsession with laying everything down in rules
led to a number of instructions to regulate the life of the musha-shūgyōsa –
those who trained to become warriors. The Bukyo Shigen lists them as follows,
as translated by William Scott Wilson in his ‘The Lone Samurai: The Life of
Miyamoto Musashi’ (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2004), pp. 245-247:

Required austerities

  • Bear up under days of cold and heat, withstand exposure to wind and rain,
    and walk mountain roads and difficult paths.
  • Do not sleep under a roof; consider it fundamental to sleep out in the open.
  • Be patient with hunger and cold. Carry no money or food provisions.
  • If there is a battle at one’s destination, participate and achieve
    meritorious deeds. Be direct in combat; avoid acting like a thief.
  • Go alone to places frightening to the common run of men: places where evil
    spirits congregrate or where there are bewitching foxes and poisonous
  • Become a criminal on purpose, be put in jail and extricate yourself by your
    own wisdom.
  • Consider your position to be lower than that of farmers and make your living
    by helping in the paddies and fields.

Permitted possessions

  • Clothing: a padded cotton garment, underwear, an undersash, a bleached
    cotton shirt, a three-foot-long hand towel, a dyed headband, a cord (for
    drying things as necessary)
  • Fire-making material: flint and steel, tinder, small kindling.
  • Eating utensils: a straw wrapper (for rice or other leftovers), a bamboo
  • Miscellaneous: a travel pass, paper, a portable brush-and-ink set, medicine,
    scissors, straw sandals, hempen cord, wattled hat.

Stephen Snelders

Posted in Achtergrond


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