Marathon Monks

Last night, while reading Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, he mentioned about the marathon monks of Mt Hiei of Japan. I was curious to know about them, and this is what I find.

From wikipedia:

The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000-day challenge, which would rank among the most demanding physical and mental challenges in the world. Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1585.[1]

The Kaihogyo takes seven years to complete, as the monks must undergo other Buddhist training in meditation and calligraphy, and perform general duties within the temple.

The training is divided into 100 day sections as follows:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7
30 (40) km per day for 100 days. 30 (40) km per day for 100 days. 30 (40) km per day for 100 days. 30 (40) km per day for 200 days. 30 (40) km per day for 200 days. 60 km per day for 100 days. 84 km per day for 100 days, followed by 30 (40) km per day for 100 days.

(The numbers in parentheses indicate the distance of the Imuro Valley course which is slightly longer.)

The running is punctuated in the middle of the term by the Katsuragawa retreat which takes 4 days. Although not required all modern Marathon Monks have been known to add the missing days due to this retreat onto the end of their course, thereby completing the full 1000 day term.

During the fifth year of the challenge, the running is punctuated by what many consider the most daunting phase of the process. The trainee Monk must go for 9 days (192 hours) without food, water, or rest of any kind. He sits in the Temple and prays constantly. Two monks accompany him, one on either side, to ensure he does not fall asleep.
At 2am every night he must get up to fetch sacrificial water from the well, around 200m away, as an offering for Fudō Myōō.

Author John Stevens, in his book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei describes the running style which dates back over a thousand years. ‘Eyes focused about 100 feet ahead while moving in a steady rhythm, keeping the head level, the shoulders relaxed, the back straight, and the nose aligned with the navel.’


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