I had it tougher than my students. Some of the training I’ve been through was much more grueling than anything my students have experienced. For example, students never throw up in the middle of my classes!
In the old days, I was stricter with my students. But I’ve softened with age. Like a parent who has had a tough life, I want things to be better for my “children”. I don’t want to torture them the way that I was tortured by some of my teachers. So I take it easy on them. Even spoil them.
Teaching Qigong and Tai Chi is a lot like parenting. You make lots of mistakes along the way. And in retrospect, I think that I may have made a mistake in being too soft on my students.
Don’t Hold Back!
The famous Zen Master and swordsman, Tesshu (1836-1888), was known for being incredibly tough on his students. The training was brutal. For example, when a new student would arrive in his dojo (school), he would say something like this:
“The purpose of swordsmanship is not to fight to defeat others in contests; training in my dojo is to foster enlightenment, and for this, you must be willing to risk your life. Attack me any way you wish. Do not hold back!”
Typically, he would knock the newbie to the floor over and over until they dropped from exhaustion. That was lesson #1 in Tesshu’s school!
The 21st Century
Obviously, this would never work in the 21st century. Most of my students are interested in healing, not martial arts. Attacking them during their first lesson probably wouldn’t go over too well.
Certainly, my insurance company wouldn’t be too thrilled.
But can we perhaps learn something from Tesshu’s approach? Is there something that we can implement in the modern era?
The answer is yes. We can use what Tesshu called a seigan.
Seigan is a Japanese word that means “a deep vow”. Tesshu encouraged his students to take a series of these seigan, each one more challenging than the previous one.
The first seigan in Tesshu’s school was to complete 1000 days of training — in a row.
(That works out to 2.7 years, if you’re curious.)
This was no small task. Training in Tesshu’s school typically involved 2-3 hours of vigorous practice, including heavy sparring, every morning. Imagine coming to my studio from 6-9am every morning for 1000 days in a row!
(You would need keys because we’re not open 1000 days in a row.)
2555 Days of Lifting The Sky
I haven’t completed Tesshu’s exact version of a seigan, but I’ve made good use of vows in my own training.
In January, 2000, after struggling with discipline for several years, I finally got fed up and took a vow to practice Lifting The Sky every day — no matter what.
I kept that vow for 7 years (2555 days!) without missing a single day.
More recently, in 2009, I took a vow to do 365 days of a Qigong exercise called One Finger Zen. By the end of one year, I had so much momentum that I kept that practice going for a total of 3.5 years.
To this day, I continue to make use of 365-Day Seigans. They help me to stay disciplined with my own personal practice.
Start With 100 Days
Okay, so maybe 1000 days is a bit too much for most of you. And 365 days isn’t a walk in the park either. That’s totally fine. This is the 21st century, after all.
To make it more accessible, consider a 100-Day Seigan. In other words, vow to do 100 days of something — in a row.
Here are some suggestions:
- 100 Days of the 2-Minute Drill
- 100 Days of the 15-Minute Routine
- 100 Days of Gratitude
- 100 Days of 100 Kicks
- 100 Days of Strength & Flexibility Qigong
- 100 Days of Small Universe Breathing
- 100 Days of Morning Practice
- 100 Days of Sunrise Practice
- 100 Days of Horse Stance
- A Kung Fu Set A Day for 100 Days
- 100 Days of Forgiveness Meditation
You can implement a 100-Day Seigan even if you’ve never learned from me or another teacher. In fact, developing discipline is one of the most productive things that you can do before finding a teacher.
If you’re a newbie, I recommend that you start with the 2-Minute Drill for 100 days. You can read about it here.
Before You Start
Hold your horses. Before you commit to doing a 100-Day Seigan, you need to get serious. The reason why Tesshu’s students were so successful was because they took their vow so seriously. It was a DEEP vow. To them, it symbolized the vow that the Buddha made to attain enlightenment.
How will you make your vow more serious? Here are some suggestions:
- Make it public.
- Make a ritual out of the vow.
- Write the vow down and hang it on a wall.
- Offer to pay someone $1000 if you fail.
Does $1000 seem like a lot to you? Good! That’s the whole point! There has to be some sort of serious motivation!
Just Do It
I’ve probably been too soft on my students. But the solution isn’t to swing in the other direction and become too strict. I need to find a balance.
I think I’ve found that balance with the concept of a 100-Day Seigan.
If you’ve learned from me face-to-face, then I want to encourage you to do a 100-Day Seigan. Do an easy one if you like. But just do it.
Let me tell you from my own personal experience that completing a seigan like this feels absolutely wonderful. To say that you will feel good about yourself is an understatement.
If you are thinking about undertaking a 100-Day Seigan, let me know in the comments. That’s a good way to hold yourself accountable. Declare your vow to me, and the entire Internet! And please feel free to offer to pay me $1000 if you fail! From the heart, Sifu Anthony