Aikido is a physical and spiritual discipline and Shugyo is the state of mind where those two things are in harmony.
It is not an easy thing to achieve. But moving beyond the beginner level in Aikido cannot happen without some understanding of Shugyo.
One way to think about Shugyo is to consider the four basic principles of Aikido: relax completely, keep one point, extend Ki and keep weight underside.
The principles tell us to always have one point of stability, and to maintain balance by keeping a low center of gravity. But they also tell us to stay loose and make big, fluid movements that reflect the unseen energy we call Ki.
As I understand it, Shugyo requires a similar combination of focus and flexibility.
The Shugyo mentality is one in which we clear our minds of distraction and concentrate entirely on the present moment. At the same time, we need to be willing to fully accept whatever occurs and respond without hesitation.
By keeping an open mind, while maintaining a deep level of concentration, we create the conditions where body and spirit can be unified.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said attaining this type of harmony requires constant practice and unwavering commitment. But for those who persevere, he describes a kind of existential enlightenment.
“Unification of body and spirit through the art of peace is an exalted state, so high and pleasant that it brings tears of joy to your eyes,” he writes in The Art of Peace.
While I have developed a better sense of Shugyo over the past five years, maintaining the proper state of mind is one of the biggest challenges for me in Aikido.
As I go forward in my training, I hope to delve deeper into Shuygo by meditating more and doing a better job of incorporating it into my daily life.