the warriors quest


Magic Path
Image by cindy47452 via Flickr

Repost of a 2009 piece.

An interesting tradition peculiar to the Samurai of fuedal Japan was the practice of the “Warrior Pilgrimage”. Wikipedia defines this pilgrimage as the:

Musha shugyō (武者修行, Musha shugyō?) is a samurai warrior’s quest or pilgrimage. The concept is similar to Knight Errantry in feudal Europe. A warrior, called a shugyōsha, would wander the land practicing and honing his skills without the protection of his family or school. Possible activities included training with other schools, dueling, performing bodyguard or mercenary work, and searching for a daimyo to serve.

Knight Errantry was more of a literary device found in medieval romance literature than it was historic fact. The knight-errant would wander the land in search of adventures to prove himself as a knight. It is unclear if such quests were actually undertaken by the historic Knight. The Samurai however were documented to have gone off on such wanderings in search for knowledge, enlightenment, adventure, employment or in many cases just plain money.

There were different types of musha shugyo. In many cases a masterless Samurai would go on a musha shugyo to find a lord to serve. He would attempt to gain an audience with various daimyo or dojos with the intention of impressing the people there in order to get hired on as one of their retainers. Some Shugyosha went on musha shugyo under the auspices of their lord and carried with them a letter which granted access to various clan estates and dojos. This eased the hardships on the warrior considerably.

One of the most commonly known musha shugyo was that of the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. While its not known if Musashi’s musha shugyo was undertaken with the intention of improving his skills or simply finding employment; its commonly believed that Musashi wanted to remain independent and his main goal was the search for enlightenment. However, seeing that Musashi was welcomed as a “guest” by various daimyo who (for various reasons), were reluctant to offer him a position as a clan retainer; its also fairly obvious that Musashi was also on a mission to find employment.

Another facet of the musha shugyo was “dojo storming”. In what amounted to extortion, wandering Samurai would go to a martial arts school and challenge the instructor or the students. If the Shugyosha proved to be the stronger, the instructor would offer him money to go away in order to save his reputation and his livelihood.

A modern version of the musha shugyo can be seen in people who, after achieving a working grasp of a martial art, go out and learn from other instructors. Some students travel to the arts “homeland” to train. Some people in the firearms arts go out to various schools like Gunsite, Blackwater and Valhalla. Some take up temporary employment with military contractors. The danger here is in mistaking “the path” for “the way”. A person can become so focused on the training and the schooling that they forget what it all is for. This is where the confusion between training in “Warriorship” and “being a Warrior” starts in my opinion. Paying to send yourself to the Police Academy or to a Navy SEAL boot camp program wont make you a Cop or a SEAL anymore than actors who go through such training for a movie role. That is not to say that all people who do these things participate in “Live Action Role Play” (or LARPING as its otherwise called). Many are just citizens who enjoy the training or desire to be as skilled as possible. Some are professionals looking to sharpen their skills. Another thing to beware is what I call “The Jack of all trades” syndrome. The warrior on musha shugyo was already accomplished in his art, he was out looking to hone his skills. I think that some martial arts students of our times believe they are on a musha shugyo, when in fact they are just lacking in dedication.

On the flip side, many instructors prevent the full development of their students by discouraging them from looking at other arts and instructors. When you are depending on student money for income that is perhaps understandable, however I also think there is a quantity of ego involved in the process as well.

I personally see a “modern musha shugyo” as going out and finding training and experience in various arts, skills and trades and incorporating them into ones “martial toolbox”. If the person is interested in practicing “warriorship” they will come to realize that martial arts and weapon skills alone are not enough. Skills like driving, electronics, medicine, welding, high angle ropework, skydiving, SCUBA, orienteering, horesback riding, camping skills and countless others all have benefits that can be incorporated into the “warriorship” mindset. The issue becomes one of time, money and realistic expectations of what one can accomplish.

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