Throughout history a few exceptional martial artists have stood out from the rest of the budo landscape. Millions of people from every country and culture on the planet have trained in innumerable styles and arts across the centuries, yet we only know a small number of them by name. These men distinguished themselves and rose to the very uppermost levels of physical, mental, and spiritual skill in their respective arts and in some cases even took their talent to such heights as to create an entirely new martial art. Looking back at them today, we are awed and inspired by the levels they achieved through their single minded determination in reaching a goal, dogged pursuit of excellence in their craft, and amazing amount of self-sacrifice.
Why are They Different?
What made these men different? What pushed them to greatness? What did they do differently or more productively that propelled them to prominence? Why were their names and storied passed down through the years, sometimes centuries? In essence, what one factor do all great martial artists have in common regardless of style, country, or culture? And, more importantly, how can we learn from them and apply it to our own training? Remember, we stand on the shoulders of giants, not to imitate them, but to be able to look farther.
Quotes from the Greats
Instead of listening to my opinion today, why don’t we go directly to the sources themselves? Here are some cool quotes I’ve complied by some of the greats talking about their own training.
“The instructor can only impart a small portion of the teaching; only through ceaseless training can you obtain the necessary experience allowing you to bring these mysteries alive. Hence, do not chase after many techniques; one by one, make each technique your own.”
“Always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack; never forget this crucial element of training.”
“This old man must still train and train” – said shortly before his death.
“Kokyu power is produced when we push ourselves to the limit, making the most efficient use of the capabilities that lie within our own bodies.”
“Even though the body has its limits, until your death, the strength of your spirit is limitless. This is precisely why, in the martial arts, there is no such thing as deteriorating as you age.”
“Intermittent training, no matter how intensive, is utterly useless. You must practice every day for your entire life. That, and only that, is true training, or shugyo.”
“People who think they can ignore training their bodies and only work on techniques are amateurs. They don’t know anything. Actually, if you can’t prepare your body properly, you have no hope of ever perfecting your technique.”
“No matter what level of mastery you attain, you will never achieve perfection. You should therefore never, ever assume that what you have achieved is good enough.”
“If people knew what my training regimen was like, they would be astonished.”
“Modern budo students often forget to practice by themselves. I used to practice by myself. When there was no teacher, I found the secret teachings by my own desire.”
“Studying for oneself and making one’s own discoveries is much more important than group learning, and this applies equally well to martial arts. As I often say, ‘Life is all about solitary training.’ This is because I want serious practitioners to discover the tricks of the trade for themselves.”
“From the time I was young I have set my mind on the Way of Martial Arts, practiced the one subject of swordsmanship with my entire being, and experienced various and different understandings.”
“See to it that you temper yourself with one thousand days of practice, and refine yourself with ten thousand days of training.”
“Never depart from the way of martial arts.”
“Study hard and all things can be accomplished; give up and you will amount to nothing.”
“If you want to obtain the secrets of such wonderful techniques, drill yourself, harden yourself, undergo severe training, abandon body and mind; follow this course for years and you will naturally reach the profoundest levels.”