Thoughts on Japan and Shugyo, by M. Croes

You would think that a 13-hour flight might have you sleeping through most of it—but not when you’re heading to Japan!

One of the greatest experiences in my life was the opportunity to travel and train in Japan. There, at Ichikukai Dojo, we trained intensely in Misogi, a purification practice through chanting and breathing. The training was hard, rigorous, and painful, though I can’t say much about the specifics of it (you have to experience it for yourself to really understand it).

Yet what I can say is that the training left me feeling a connection to a place and group of people that I’ve rarely felt. The thing I noticed most at Ichikukai was a lack of pretension—there was never anyone waiting to do something, whether it be clean, work, or train.  No one was waiting to be told what to do; everyone would jump up after training or eating and get right to what had to be done. Students and teachers would do the cleaning alongside each other, which is different from a Western approach to training.

In the West, we feel we’ve worked hard, so now we shouldn’t have to do what’s thought of as menial tasks. But I got the feeling (especially after talking with Sensei and Ashwini after our trip) that at Ichikukai, no tasks are small ones, and no task is menial; all tasks are treated equal and with care. This is something that struck me. So much of when we start something for the first time is waiting to be told what to do—like cleaning in the dojo. We often wait to be told to clean something rather than just thinking about what could be cleaned and doing it. I’ve seen this in myself. Whether it’s due to the fear of making a mistake, feeling intimidated, laziness, or even exhaustion from training, we all go through this at some point, in some place. How to get through fear, stubbornness, laziness is something I think about since coming back.

While I was training at Ichukukai Dojo, I never felt anything but love and compassion. This is not to say that the training wasn’t difficult and rough, but I think about my feeling during that intense training: There was a sense of joy, love, and compassion in everything from cleaning to training to cooking—it didn’t matter. There was no sense of “I don’t have to do this” or “this is beneath me”. This is something that I feel is necessary for real training for me: humility, letting go of all the bullshit and just getting to it. How to keep that in one’s self on and off the mat. It’s easy to motivate with negative emotions but more difficult (for me anyway) to think of compassion as a motivating force. How to get up and clean or to take one more class when you have nothing left. It’s easy to use anger or strength (especially when you’re bigger than your opponent) but to really engage your center and give yourself with no strength, I guess that’s the question I took from Japan and Ichukukai: How can I be open and give everything without using strength or negative emotions. And how can I enjoy all things even when I don’t necessarily want to do them.