Enter the Gauntlet

Ienter the gauntletn medieval Japan there was something called Musha shugyō: a samurai’s path to mastery.

Here’s how it used to work. . .

A young man, wanting to become a samurai, embarked on a journey–like a religious pilgrimage, a rite of passage–in order to test his mettle, learn strategy, challenge other warriors in duels, and build his skill set.

The purpose of Musha shugyō was to harden the young man; to hone his abilities until he was skilled enough to survive on his own as a rōnin (a wandering samurai without a master), or serve the Daimyo (a Japanese feudal lord).

The modern world seemingly lacks rites of passage and holy missions. Nothing is sacred anymore. . .

Where is the honor and meaning today? Where is the quest?

–It’s still there, it’s just not as easy to detect.

Similar to the Japanese tradition of musha shugyō, in Europe, there was knight-errantry.

Knight-errantry was the process by which a squire rose to knighthood.

The final rite of passage for the squire, before he could become a knight, was to pass through the gauntlet.

–Most people in the modern world are squires, and the gauntlet still exists (it just takes a different form). But few have the guts to enter it.

If you want to become a man of value, an interesting person, and someone who does meaningful work. . .

. . . You must first enter the gauntlet.

No squire survives the gauntlet without adequate preparation

A knight who has not passed through the gauntlet is not a knight. He is a squire. The squire has neither honor nor skills, he must serve a knight who does have those things, like an apprenticeship.

The dream of every squire is to one day become a knight; to have honor, to order other squires around, to lend his hard-won services to the kingdom, and be awarded his own land, riches and estate and…

… one day, establish his own fiefdom.

But in order to do that, the squire must first pass through the gauntlet.

The gauntlet is brutally challenging and painful to go through, and that is its sole reason for existing.

Yet, nearly all squires could pass it, if they prepared themselves adequately. But, for some weird reason, only a few squires do. And for even weirder reasons, most squires never even show up to give the gauntlet a try!

It used to be that only nobles–born in the right bloodlines–were eligible. And then, if they passed the gauntlet,  knighthood too.

Once a peasant, always a peasant. Or so it used to be.

Once a peasant, always a peasant.
Or so it used to be.

In the past, there was no meritocracy and social mobility was not possible. You inherited your parents’ professions. Peasants and paupers remained in their lowly classes, doomed to eternal stagnation. Squiredom was a privilege.

In recent times, squiredom no longer requires one to be a nobleman. As a result of this, there are more squires than ever before. Yet, the amount of knights remain about the same.

No one knows why.

Strange things have started happening in recent times. For instance, it has become a commonplace occurrence for jealous squires, who have not yet earned any honor, to pick fights at random with honorable knights.

(Obviously, the squires get beaten to a pulp.)

No one is sure why this is happening, but a wise man proposed that it might be the case that the squires, in their state of confusion–hungry for honor they have not yet earned–delude themselves into thinking that some amount of the knight’s honor could rub off on them, if only they managed to besmirch his shiny armor.

–They think they can become knights without entering the gauntlet.

Like a shortcut.

But it is impossible to cheat the gauntlet. . .

Most squires, when they should be preparing for the gauntlet, occupy themselves with other things instead. Even those who come from peasant families, who could not have dreamed of such privileged opportunity in the past. They forgo their preparation in priority of cheap pleasures.

Come, friend. Have a beer with me. There shall be many fair ladies at the festival tonight. ” Says squire #1.

“But I need to prepare for the gauntlet. . .?”  Says squire #2.

Squire #1 replies: “Oh, but there will be lots of time for that later. The gauntlet will remain forever, but the festival is only in town for the weekend!”

Squire #2 responds anxiously:

“But what of the plans for my future fiefdom, when I have become a knight? You see, I have this great idea. . .”

Squire #1 interrupts him mid-sentence:

“Well, you can tell it to me when we’re drinking beer and dancing!”

Squire #2 pauses briefly, and imagines how nice the beer will taste, how lovely the ladies will be, and how IMPRESSED everybody will be with his idea. He finally relents:

“Ok. Let’s do it.”

But as it turns out, the festival is not nearly as much fun as he had expected. The beer is average at best, the ladies are semi-fair, and no one cares about his idea. They tell him:

“But you are just a squire, and you are talking of a fiefdom. . .”

With a feeling of slight desperation, squire #2 realizes he should’ve just stayed at home and prepared himself for the gauntlet instead. . .

Squire #1 could never pass the gauntlet.

Squire #2 could  have passed the gauntlet, if only he had firmly said “No.” to squire #1, and continued with the preparation and practice.

But he didn’t do that–and now he’ll never be a knight.

What is Needed to Pass The Gauntlet

In your preparation for the gauntlet you must not only exercise discipline, but also cultivate tactful ruthlessness.

For example. . .

Do not engage in conversation with squires who:

  • Are not already preparing for the gauntlet;
  • Squires who, when you share the insightful things you’ve learned, reply back: “Yeah…sounds cool man.” (as opposed to giving you constructive feedback on your training, or help stimulate your thinking),
  • And squires who do not show promise and potential, for example, in allying yourself with later, when you are both knights.

A squire who doesn’t fulfill at least one of those criteria is useless to you.

How to Not Pass The Gauntlet

A piece of candy today can result in a painful death inside the gauntlet.

Is that what you want?

If you have any excess fat, lose it. It is of no use to you. It will only be in the way, and slow you down inside the gauntlet.

To persevere through the gauntlet you need to acquire toughness.

Like natural selection, the gauntlet roots out the weak–those who cannot adapt; it penalizes the weak-willed squires, who cannot delay their indulgences until after they’ve passed the gauntlet.

Gear all your actions towards survival.

Every action counts.

When you are faced with temptation, always ask yourself:

How will this help me get through the gauntlet?

There are only two kinds of decisions: those that offer some conceivable way of helping you get through the gauntlet, and those that do not. The more of the first type you make, the higher your chances of survival will be.

But there are no guarantees that you’ll make it.

No, you can’t have any guarantees. . .

enter the gauntlet squireMost squires do not have the mental fortitude to accept this fact. So they waste time going to church, where they listen to the soothing sermons of pampering preachers, who tell them that they should be content to remain squires, and find happiness in the little things befitting of their lowly position.

–Dumb move. They could’ve used that time to practice instead.

Eternal squiredom.

No one cares about a squire, and no one cares about the death of a squire either. Squires are insignificant. Only knights and kings matter, their great deeds are recorded into the glorious annals of history.

The gauntlet is not merciful. It has no conception of fairness, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, whatever. You either make the cut, or you’ll be cut down.

This is how it is, how it always has been, and how it forever will be.

The gauntlet is the sorting mechanism that separates the squirming squires from the knights and would-be kings, and no amount of wishing can make the gauntlet go away.

There is No Shame in Dying Inside the Gauntlet

You must enter the gauntlet at all costs.

You must be more motivated than anyone who stands between you and the gauntlet, and tries to prevent you from entering it. This includes your family, who don’t want you to die a painful death.


Death by a thousand cuts.

–But even if you die in the gauntlet, you will still have made it further than 90% of everyone else, and you will die with honor.

Better to die with integrity, in pursuit of the quest, than to live in mediocrity.

By not entering the gauntlet you are, in fact, dying anyway; death by a thousand cuts, the slow death of a coward.

You must practice diligently. You must make it so that your entire life is practice; so that everything you do counts as preparation for the gauntlet.

–That is the only way.

Your 20s-30s Are the Gauntlet

You have three choices:

  1. Enter the gauntlet: if you get through it you will live gloriously, and if you don’t, you will die with integrity.
  2. Evade the gauntlet: pretend it isn’t there and postpone entering it until you are too weak to make it through; you will then rationalize your cowardice, and spend the rest of your life as a failure.
  3. Do nothing (and get the same end result as #2).

No need to overcomplicate things.

You have these three choices; no more, no less.

Take your pick.


  1. Hi Ludvig

    This is an intriguing post and I love the way you tie purpose, goal and achievement with the concept of an ancient tradition, The Gauntlet.

    So many people want to achieve greatness and would like to make a difference but are not willing to get their hands dirty. Some even try to cheat to greatness.

    No achievement can come unless one is willing to prepare himself for the task.

    If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. FoggPhileas says

    Först: Hej Ludvig och tack för ännu ett inspirerande inlägg :).

    @Shaun: “The main reason you NEED to go through the gauntlet, is that you simply don’t know what is coming. People make very simple models of the future in their heads and think their current routines will carry them through all the way to their 80s.”

    While making simplistic assumptions about your ‘lame-ass low skill job carrying you through your entire life’ is indeed counterproductive, I fail to see how *anyone* could build a reliable model that can correctly predict the nature of society and the workplace, decades in the future, given the ridiculously complex and dynamic nature of the modern world. Sure one could argue that some jobs are more ‘future proof’ – e.g software development won’t probably become less important any time soon – but one happens if one doesn’t have the interest or the talent to go for the ever dwindling pool of ‘future proof’ jobs -if such a thing exists?

  3. I think a very important part of this is never being so satisfied with your achievements that you let yourself “rest on your laurels.” This is something I’m personally guilty of even at 15 and have recently noticed a lot with the people around me. Grow, and keep growing throughout your life, no matter how good you are at XYZ. In a sense, never leave the Gauntlet, but make it a lifestyle that you adapt and live by.

    Take the 4:00 mile. About a month later, many other runners also broke it. Why? Because their laurels were no longer so comfortable after all. But if everybody else had been constantly growing regardless of the level they deemed ‘acceptable,’ then competitive running would’ve been somewhere else in Bannister’s time. This goes the same for everything else; keep improving no matter how good society tells you you are;

    Don’t be “good enough.” Or even “more than good enough.” Be better.

    That being said, I’d honestly still probably go to that county fair he mentioned (although it would also depend on how immersed I’d be at the time in my projects). If I were as strict as the article, I’d probably burn out. I think breaks are good, and can be justified by the more intense work periods that come out of them (not to mention variety, inspiration, and enjoyment they bring). However, I like that goal-driven focus. Solid article.

  4. Nice article. I like the comparisons with knighthood, points at the competitive nature of life.

    I do believe – contrary to medieval times – that we have multiple chances to enter the gauntlet. Literally until we die. Most people start companies and become rich in their mid-thirties, but there are people who get it done earlier and much later in life. It may be tougher to go through the gauntlet when you are older, because you have less energy – but it is also easier, because you know better where your strengths and weaknesses are, so you are less likely to go down the wrong road.

    The great thing about the times we live in is that the playing field is level. Every day can be the first day of a new life.

  5. Nice article. It surely helps me see my way on the world. Thanks.

  6. ‘You must be more motivated than anyone who stands between you and the gauntlet, and tries to prevent you from entering it. This includes your family, who don’t want you to die a painful death.’
    This is so true, I wish I had read this post a year a go, when I missed a great opportunity because I was listening to my family.
    “In the past, there was no meritocracy and social mobility was not possible. You inherited your parents’ professions. Peasants and paupers remained in their lowly classes, doomed to eternal stagnation. ”
    Maybe I am going off topic here, but I want to notice that mediocre parents (which are, most people) are able to and will raise mediocre kids, if there is not some significant ( random) external factor.
    This may connect to LKY article and his beliefs about genetics. I believe that success, intelligence etc. have nothing to do to with genetics and everything to do with the influences and path one is taking (as in this article)

  7. Funny I am currently in the middle of a book about Samurai called Shogun based in the 16th century. During that time the Samurai also used to perform Seppuku(ritual suicide) which was part of the Bushido code of Honour. This allowed them to die with honor when they were defeated in battle, committed serious crimes or brought shame to themselves.

    Its true today that there are few rites of passage. In previous generations it was serving in the army, moving out of the home to carry out your life mission. Today’s ‘rite of passage’ is leveling up on the latest call of duty game.

  8. Here’s how it works:

    You’re born, you live, you die. No one gives a shit about you, unless you give a shit about them. This is the crux of the “gauntlet”.

    We’re predisposed to take the “easy” route. Ludvig will call this the “homoeostatic” way — your brain trying to conserve as much energy as possible. This is a natural disposition which everyone gravitates to.

    The “best” people are no more talented, special or fortunate than the rest. Of course, they may have help from a stable family, or inherited asset. But in the whole, everyone has an “equal” opportunity to grow.

    The “gauntlet” is the description of the trials & tribulations you must overcome in order to “get ahead”. This is not just professional. Remember the first time you had sex?

    The “gauntlet” was not invented by anyone. It’s part of nature (some would call “evolution”). In the “wild”, it would be the equivalent of the “alpha male” proving his worth by consistently being the best hunter.

    In the modern world – where energy is as abundant as water – we have the unique opportunity to cultivate our own gauntlets. These differ, but abide by the same principles. Specifically, if you want to get ahead (IE apply yourself to bigger, more interesting projects), you need to surmount the obstacles in your current situation.

    You will find that every single “knight” has got to where they are by overcoming obstacles. Maybe they learnt something new, met new people, or created a new way of doing things. In organizations, you can spot these people by virtue of their impact. They’ll always be involved with the “crunch” projects.

    Being a knight / king is not about having power over others. It’s about holding power over yourself. It’s knowing who you are – where you’re going – what you need to do to improve. The underlying reason for wanting to become a knight is so that you can apply yourself to the bigger projects, to do things which contribute to life in more impactful & beautiful ways.

    Every time someone wakes up with fear is a calling to the “knights” to get to work. Their calling is holistic. “All for one, one for all”.

    • Ironically, energy and water are the two most critical and limiting resources in the modern world.

  9. The main reason you NEED to go through the gauntlet, is that you simply don’t know what is coming. People make very simple models of the future in their heads and think their current routines will carry them through all the way to their 80s. If you don’t know what is coming it seems to me the best thing to do is to read a lot to have accurate models of the future and do everything in your power to ensure you’re prepared for this future based on your model.

    In England most working class guys think that their plumbing jobs combined with their leisure wasted away in the pub watching football will last forever. When they find it impossible to find work they will cry “immigration!”. The gauntlet exists because competition exists and because we all want similar things. If you’re personal idea of happiness is being a buddhist monk in exile (not that theres anything wrong with that) then maybe you don’t need the gauntlet, but otherwise you better man up. Your job responsibilities WILL change (you won’t always get to do what you LOVE except in the early days).

    It’s up to you whether you want to be in control through discipline and gathering of worldly wisdom or you want to be thrown about from pillar to post by reality.

    • “When they find it impossible to find work they will cry “immigration!””
      …. or “Europe!” ;-)

      As a fellow Englishman, I’ve made a similar observation. But unfortunately, it’s a problem for most cultures, some more endemic than others. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture. I’m beginning to think nurture.

      • Combination I would say. There is the status quo bias or homeostasis which makes people think there is any such thing as an everlasting routine of life (a utopia). Then there is herd mentality. “I was only doing what my mates are doing so I didn’t incorrectly predict my job future, the government must have done something to screw up my job situation! Hmm…. must be all that immigration”.

  10. Live fully, be all you can be, work hard, play hard

    My first thought is that knights sound exactly like the dicks I thought they were: insecure wannabes that only want to ascend in order to boss people around, as well as get chummy with the king (licking his ass).

    My second thought goes to Les Mills Grit aerobics classes with the “How bad do you want it?” ads. Want what? Kiss king ass I guess. I don’t want “it” bad at all, and I see that damn ad at the gym 3-4 times a week. No Grit gauntlet for me. I also eat candy precisely when I feel like it.

    However, I still see where Ludvig is going: Live fully, be all you can be, work hard, play hard – or something like that. It’s just that I take issue with the Lutheranistic “Life has to suck first to get better later” message.

    Sure, I hated both finance school and investment banking but got emerged on the other side as a much wealthier and connected person than I had ever imagined. I still don’t think it has to be that way.

    For some, being reminded that most valuable things are both free and demand an effort is probably very important. Others benefit more from hearing that you don’t have to become powerful, rich, well-educated or famous to lead a very happy and full life; often quite the opposite.

    • Anonymous says

      Hi Karl-Mikael,
      I am also in the finance industry, albeit not very far along yet. I have read your site since SGM linked to it some weeks ago, with robots and AI and becoming future-proof etc etc. I also read your ebook and was inspired by how hard you worked when you were in my position on the totem pole.

      I like my job, but it is a lot of long hours these first years, many get burned out or unhealthy (I probably don’t need to tell you this as you surely know from experience)….

      So, to me, these first several years are like a gauntlet. And I don’t really view it as kissing ass for my boss(es), they’re actually kind of cool, and sometimes give me good advice, but they expect a lot from us. Hard work basically.

      Also, did you really dislike/hate investment banking? I mean, you must have enjoyed various aspects? Otherwise you are like a total machine (terminator).

      So what I guess I’m trying to say, is that even if you regret having worked so hard / not got out of the industry earlier, you still “went through the gauntlet” and worked harder than most could motivate themselves into doing (without drugs and getting poor health).
      For me, I feel like I just need to power through these early years…persevere…so, in that way I do expect it to “first be worse and then be better” (probably not as good as for you though, if what you predict with machines and the decline of the finance industry comes to be).

  11. “I have this great idea.”

    Ugh, so true. Everyone has a damn idea, who cares. It only matters if you can focus on how to put it into fruition.

  12. When I was 13 I played paintball seriously. Anyone who joined our crew had to run “the gauntlet”.

    20 of us lined up along a field and the newcomer had to run 100 yards while we all unloaded on him.

    It was terribly painful, everyone dreaded it, and everyone was proud to have done it.

    Like you said, it’s tough to see the gauntlets now. Especially the ones that are actually useful… and maybe that’s part of the modern gauntlet: it’s on us to choose the right one.

  13. That article you wrote about Jakob Walter is good. He is truly a badass. Gonna get that book.

    I also really like the first image for the article. It is very artistic :)

  14. And those who don’t have the guts to enter the gauntlet, deserve to run the gauntlet:

  15. Indeed there is no guarantee we’ll make it in the gauntlet. Reminds me of a previous comment I made somewhere in your blog about some dumb people thinking that it’s guaranteed if you work as hard as a certain successful person X. But then again, life isn’t just about “making it” in the gauntlet. I always tell people that. Daring to enter it, giving your best shot and everything you’ve got and all, is the thing that really matters.

    • “But then again, life isn’t just about “making it” in the gauntlet”

      Damn right! You’re not here to be a number, get out of the office and enjoy life once in a while. However, having said that, you can’t depend on others to give you a subsistence, *you* have to do it yourself. This “self dependence” is what entering the gauntlet is all about for me.

      • Actually, I don’t mean that we should work less or overwork, if that’s what you mean. My point was that, the ultimate prize/treasure of getting yourself into the gauntlet isn’t the ‘gold’ you get from passing it safely. Rather, it’s the person you become from going through its trials. That’s something that has really stuck with me.

        Of course, I do agree however that we should “get out of the office and enjoy life once in a while.” I actually read somewhere that we should make time for play/rest, but the main reason for it is to recharge and get back to work and hustling. Just some food for thought!

    • “it’s the person you become from going through its trials.”

      Exactly. Give it a try, then talk. If you fail, so what? You’ll be all the more wiser for it.

      “I actually read somewhere that we should make time for play/rest,”

      –There is a good book about this called “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr.

  16. Samuel Welch says

    Thanks a lot for writing this article as a response to my question, much appreciated Ludvig!

    I identify a lot with this concept of “squiredom” and feel it is largely true as a global phenomenon of the modern world. There’s nothing wrong with being a squire if you’re content with that, but for someone as myself it just isn’t enough.

    And I DO want a guarantee, damnit! That is really where I am struggling. But at least I realize it, so I can work to overcome it. Something I’ve done lately, over the past 2-3 weeks every night, is to write in my journal and reflect on what kind of legacy I would like to leave behind, admittedly inspired by your articles on that message.

    I don’t yet have any definite answer to that (and it’s certainly not a small question), but I feel I am making good progress and it’s a great process I would recommend to anyone else who might be reading this.

    If you have any thoughts on this, reply and I’ll answer back.

  17. An inspirational quote from the 13th century (by Ramon Llull in his “Order of Chivalry”):
    “The exceptional nature of his courage has caused a Knight to be picked out from among all other men, who are beneath him in service. Therefore, exceptional habits and upbringing are also appropriate to a Knight. For extraordinary bravery may not achieve the high honor of chivalry without selection also based on virtues and good habits. Thus it behooves a Knight to be well-stocked with good habits and manners. Every Knight ought to know the seven virtues which are the source and root of all good habits and are the path to everlasting heavenly glory. “

    • That’s awesome, Peter. Going to feature this.

      –What are the 7 virtues?

      • There are 3 theological ones and 4 cardinal. To further quote the Order of Chivalry by Ramon Llull: “The “theological” ones are faith, hope and charity. The “cardinal” ones are justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.”

  18. Yo man, very motivating article. I found your site last week and like it a lot, got many useful tips here, and also like the 75 practical tips, especially the health/fitness section.

    Btw I commented on your other article about getting ripped and i will repeat that comment here since you didn’t reply. Don’t mean to be a bother, i realize you’re busy, I just want to know :)

    Here’s what I wrote:

    ” could you write more articles on this? like reveal more way to gain muscle or lose weight and so on.. more smart best practices?”

    • Hello Sway,
      I’m glad you liked the ebook!

      –No. I will not write any more of those articles on SGM, because I don’t have much more to say on the topic of fitness and health. I do the things in the articles, and that’s pretty much it. Try it out for a few months, and if it doesn’t work (which I think it will) do more self-experimentation until you find something that is a good match for your genetics.

    • Alright, got it man. I just need to be more patient and consistent probably, not look for quick fixes or diet but to be more committed!

  19. Great article as per usual. The question however is how do you find “real” knights. Its much easier in a bigger city but in a small town where I live it seems impossible. On the internet the best of people actively seeking “self-improvement friends” are people that struggle to give up cheesecake or go for a run every morning. Not to belittle their goals, everyone begins somewhere, but they will only slow me down. I wish there were people with BIG goals around my level or better whom I could find a way to connect through the internet.

    I’ve given up hanging out with my old riff-raff mates. For getting a bit of socialising I might daygame in an effort to improve my social skills. But I still miss actively socialising with people who are on the same path as myself. When I was first learning pickup that helped me massively, in a few months I become pretty great at something I struggled with for years. The power of networking is immense.

    I have a suggestion as I feel many of your readers may benefit from this too. You could perhaps arrange a google hangout for sgm readers at some point so that similar minded people can get a chance to speak to each other. What do you think?

    • Hey shaun, i was feeling the same way as you some weeks ago. I guess there has to be a period of time when you will inevitably be lonely in your quest before you find other knights to accompany you. This happens in bigger cities as well. So i think you only have to wait.

      By the way the “google hangout” seems a cool idea.

      • “Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait.” T. Edison
        The only thing I took from Think and Grow Rich was meetups in my imagination. Try that in the meantime.
        I work my ass off. So far I got an email from David Allen, a tweet from a rock star with 2 million followers (got a nice surge of traffic then), a tweet from Darren Hardy and a week ago I had a few minute chat on the phone with a real millionaire.
        I was nobody 3 years ago. I have no tangible benefits from those interactions yet, but I’m sure they will come.

      • That’s awesome Michal.

    • I agree with you, Shaun. But when it comes to the Internet, it depends. I’ve met some pretty cool people via SGM thus far. You are probably right if you’re talking about YouTube or random forums.

      The Google Hangouts is not at all a bad idea. I will consider it.

  20. hey ludvig! I always enjoy reading yout posts so much! There is no way i won’t learn something new & interesting. Absolutely no chance man. How are you doing that?

    The best about that article is that you took a simple concept (lack of mission and purpose) and you presented it in such a different and unique way. Well done.

    And as for the reason that the knights have remained the same even if squires have increased i think that you have answered the question. The answer is Instant Gratification…


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