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The Kurama Yama Connection
Part 2 - Shugyo Discipline
Copyright © 2003 James Deacon

Yamabushi and Shugendokurama yama yamabushi shugendo shugenja
Over the centuries, the Tengu became closely associated with the Yamabushi or Shugenja (followers of the path of Shugendo) of Kurama Yama. These ascetic mountain priests are part of an ancient tradition involving the practice of strict and rigourous mystical disciplines often referred to collectively as shugyo.
[The original meaning of the kanji for shu was something like ' sweeping away the dust that obscures a persons primal elegance', however the kanji-pair shu-gyo is commonly now translated as "austere training".]
Retreating deep into the mountainous regions, these practitioners - a great many of them devotees of Fudo Myo-o, undergo harsh training, and through the practice of rituals, fasting, abstaining for drinking water, sutra recitation,
meditation, and sitting in misogi (spiritual purification under waterfalls - the Nachi Falls being very popular), and the practice of 'sammitsu' (involving use of incantation and mudra-like techniques), seek mystical states and the development of powers including exorcism and healing.
It has often been said that the Tengu would instruct these priests in sacred rites and magical knowledge. In legend, the distinction between Yamabushi / Shugenja and the Tengu often becomes blurred. It is said that
shape-shifting Tengu often take on the form of these mountain priests, and in turn, the ascetic priests often take on the guise of Tengu to deter the uninitiated from interrupting their seclusion.

Not surprisingly, considering their connection with the legendary Tengu and with Fudo Myo-o, these ascetic mystics have always been closely associated with the martial arts, and as long ago as the 12th century, a great many people came to train at the Kurama-Hachi Ryu martial arts school which had been organised by the Yamabushi of Kurama Yama.

After his Minamoto clan was defeated by the Taira clan, a young man named Ushiwaka-maru (1159-1189) was ordered (by the leader of the Taira clan) to enter the Kurama temple to become a monk. However, Ushiwaka-maru, as well as learning the Buddhist scriptures, also studied various martial disciplines. Legend says that he learned swordsmanship and acquired other more unusual skills from the legendary white-haired Sojobo, King of the Tengu.
The young Ushiwaka-maru (later known as Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune) also became a master of tactical strategy, something which would later help him defeat the Taira clan and and reclaim the
Minamoto clan's honour.
A number of historical sites connected with him are still identifiable on the mountain, including a monument to him, which is situated to the side of the Tokobo temple, where he lived for nearly ten years.
And a simple shrine, the 'Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune Do' (Hall), is located deep in the mountains
some distance above the Kurama Dera, at a place where it is believed Ushiwaka-maru used to practice martial disciplines.
On September 15th each year sees a festival in which
Ushiwaka-maru's spirit is worshipped under yet another childhood name, Shanao.

Morihei Ueshibaaikido_osensei
In the 1920's, Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, was known to retreat to Kurama Yama to undergo austere training.
Once a year, he would take several of his best students with him and they would live on rice, miso soup, wild herbs &
Their routine involved rising at 5 AM to pray and undergo misogi. This would be followed by swinging heavy swords five hundred times, and then practicing footwork.
From 10 AM to noon they trained in body techniques. From 3 to 5 PM; the students would take turns acting as Morihei's partner as he ran through series after series of techniques.
Evenings saw the students reviewing the day's physical and spiritual training, with a midnight training session every third night.

Gogen Yamaguchikurama yama sanchin
And during the 1930's, determined to train his spirit as well as his body, Gogen 'the Cat' Yamaguchi -
possibly the most graceful and exciting karate masters the martial arts world has ever seen - often spent long periods in training on Mt Kurama - undertaking ascetic exercises: fasting, meditating and practicing a kata or training routine known as sanchin.


The Kurama Yama Connection Part 3
- The
Kurama-Kokyo sect & The Reiki Symbols...

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