Form or Function

by Sensei Mike Pepe

Shugyo is a term that means austere training. At some point in your training you might feel as though you are missing something whether physically or spiritually and you undertake a sever training pilgrimage to “find” your true self. The question in your head may be “Do I deserve to be alive?” or “What am I doing here.” You might be in a training rut and want to shake off the cobwebs. I had these same feelings and devised a shugyo of my own. I would attempt to grapple, using jiu-jitsu techniques, one hundred opponents. My rules were simple. I would grapple for two minutes or until submission with each opponent. I would get a five-minute break after each hour completed. If each match went the full two minutes there would be a total of three and a half hours of continuous fighting.

 In the months prior to the event, my training did not change. I wanted that day to be the “regular” me not the “me” who’s training peaked for one day. On the appointed day, ten of my karate friends participated. I would fight each of them in round robin style. And so it began.

The first ten matches went fast and when I fought my first opponent for the second time, I thought, “Here we go again.” Not thinking that each person would be back ten times.

The end of the first hour came unexpected as I waited for the next opponent and was told I was starting a five-minute break. The past hour felt very good. Like a hard workout. I remember thinking I didn’t feel bad at all! However, that all changed in hour number two. After about thirty opponents, I started to tire and didn’t have the quickness to stay away from bad positions. If I went quick to end the match early I would use up precious stamina. If I “rested” and went the whole two minutes I was dragging out my time and sapping my strength. There would be no stalling. My friends were all too eager to try to choke me into submission! At the end of the second hour, I was exhausted. During my rest, I ate a banana and a Gatorade. A cold cloth was placed on my neck and back. The heavy Judo gi had rubbed my skin leaving it looking like a sunburn. I was worried about cramping. I didn’t want my fingers to cramp from grabbing.

  The third hour was when my test began my strategy to move behind opponents was gone with my speed. My back was so tired I couldn’t reverse. My arm strength was gone. I fought as if in a daze. Each opponent seemed to float by.

  Then I hear my opponent say I’m number ninety and my friends start to whisper, I think he’s going to make it..Shhh don’t say anything yet. Then it’s “You can do it.” and opponents shaking my hand before each bout.

 My body was abrasions, rug burns, and bruises from face to feet. I was totally drained but it wasn’t till the next day that the effects of the day sunk in.

I remember I was sore in the shoulders and it was hard to dress. My neck and throat was swollen and it hurt to swallow. My jaw and chin hurt and was very tight. My eyes were bloodshot. It’s weird though. The visible marks relate a violent encounter but the effect on my spirit was the complete opposite.

 I had been so mentally tired and since that day, any frustration was gone. I felt empty and relaxed. What a release there was in my soul. There was no anger in me. My “tank” was empty and it would be months before any stress started to creep back in.

  Yes, that day is a good memory. I was able to win or draw in seventy-eight matches and yet it was the effect it had on my “being” that was most important.


Austere training is meant to test your limits and you will never know your limits unless you test them.


A warrior rambling

Sensei Mike





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