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Fighting Monks-Trekking Japan's 750mile Shikoku Pilgrimage with Black Belt Travel Writer Paul Barach

Follow Black Belt travel writer Paul Barach as he treks the 750-mile Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan. Dedicated to the 8thcentury Buddhist Holy Man, Kukai, Shikoku is the wildest of Japan’s four main islands filled with steep mountains, thousand-year-old temples and thick cedar forests. Walked for more than 1,200 years, this is one of the hardest Buddhist pilgrimages in the world and Paul will be doing it all on foot, staying in traditional villages and camping out along the way.

But this is more than just a trek. A black belt in bare-fisted full contact Kyokushin karate, Paul had dreamed of coming to Japan since he was a small boy. He had trained hard for this moment. He had dreams of fighting monks on hilltop temples, dodging ninjas or perhaps even meeting a wizened old man on the path who would give him a samurai sword and say: “You’re ready.”

What he didn’t prepare for was the trek. At all. He arrived in Shikoku during the worst heat wave in over 100 years with shoes that didn’t fit, a map he couldn’t read and no ability to speak Japanese. He survived, but only just.

He fought off wild boars and heat stroke. He struggled to find food, water and places to sleep. He was nearly arrested, broke a temple and ended up in hospital. But through that struggle, for fleeting moments, he also caught glimpses of the enlightenment and wisdom he sought. And let’s just say all that kung fu training wasn’t for nothing either …

Highlights include:

· Find out about the 1,200-year-old Shikoku pilgrimage, one of the hardest but also most beautiful pilgrimages in the world

· Join Paul on his many misadventures: wild boar attacks, temple catastrophes, hiding from security guards, hospitalization and more

· Hear about the wisdom and enlightenment Paul found along the way, and how you can benefit from that in your own life too

· See if Paul’s dreams of fighting monks on mountain top temples comes true …

My photos

Here's a few of my favourite shots from a similar trek I did called the Kumano Kodo ... it's a lot shorter, only 54-miles, but the spirit of it is the same. Pilgrims have been walking the Kumano Kodo for more than 1,000 years, emperors and peasants alike, stopping at three Grand Shrines along the way to pray and make offerings. This is the home of Shugendo, a unique Japanese religion that fuses Buddhism and traditional Shinto nature worship and holds that enlightenment is to be found through physical exertion and immersion in the natural world ... that's my kind of religion

Paul's photos

And here's a few of Paul's photos from the actual Shikoku pilgrimage ...

Follow Paul he's awesome!

Paul’s book is called ‘Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains: Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage’ and his Instagram is @barachoutdoors … connect with him, he’s an awesome guy!

Kyokushin Karate

Sadly Paul doens't have any video of his mountain top fight ... but here's the style of karate that he practices. Full contacted, bare fisted, hard nut.

Shikoku Pilgrimage Documentary

And here's a PBS documentary about the pilgrimage for some background info ...

Check this out ...

Thank you to Wondrium for sponsoring this episode! This is the new name for The Great Courses Plus, but it’s now loads more content from documentaries and expert courses to world cinema and more. It’s awesome and we’ve got a deal for you – just go to to get 1 month of content absolutely free. No obligations, just check it out for free. It’s a great way to support the show!

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