Finding “Beginner’s mind”

I was speaking to someone recently about “beginners mind” and was reminded how some of the things we take for granted in martial arts actually can mean a lot to those who are not practitioners. Furthermore, spending time with some of these concepts can bring a whole new level of… dare I say it…enlightenment. 🙂

I think I heard about the concept of “beginner’s mind” when I went to a course in Cork taught by Sensei Steve Cattle. We we were to spend the entire weekend working on the kata Tekki Shodan. Now, this is a kata that you study in Shotokan around purple/brown belt and it hangs around for quite a while. You spend ages with it and before long it can become somewhat repetitive. More about this course later.

So the concept of “beginners’ mind” is nicely wrapped up for us as having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level and is called Shoshin in Japanese. With roots in Zen Buddhism there is of course a whole field of study that sits behind this pretty simple concept.

Or is it simple?

Every now and again I set myself a challenge, usually a kata challenge, to do a kata 108 times in succession. The last time I did this was Okinawa and it was for me a very special experience because I had taken some space in the Karate Kaiken and I did try and find something special in each kata. It wasn’t easy. Did it make me a better person? Did my kata (Seisan) improve? I’m not sure to be honest I’d like to think so…

So why bother with this “beginner’s mind” in the first instance? Recently I started to study some Judo. I stand in lowest rank of the line, in my white belt and I am a little nervous to tell the truth. Pretty much everything is new and I have to deconstruct each and every move in order to figure out what is going on!

My mind during these classes is empty and open. I have to consider and learn all the various bits and pieces of information as they are offered to me. I have no preconceived views and I am, in many ways like a child discovering something for the first time.

There is a danger that comes with the known or experience in my opinion, no matter the discipline, business, martial arts, driving, painting… I see it in myself, I will find the information that I need to validate my approach to something if I’m familiar with it and proceed regardless.

Once I began to realise this and after doing some work with some very clever people at the ESA…. I adopted the first of my “Beginner’s Mind” business approaches. I work with people and their general well being, often called upon to help when a situation is less than favourable. I call this my “I’m an idiot” approach.

To explain further, a few times I’ve been really caught out… in one case, someone came to me once to tell me that they were pregnant and I responded with completely the wrong answer. Now I try and assume I’ve not a bloody clue what is going on in order to get to the truth of the actual matter. I read a great book called “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Taleb who says, “I try to remind my group each week that we are all idiots and know nothing, but we have the good fortune of knowing it.” My other get out of jail phrase is “Where do you want to get to with this” always handy when you want to really test the mettle of the person you’re dealing with. I will be the first to admit that I can talk (OK, a lot) so actually asking the question and then shutting up is a challenge, but it does furnish with loads of information by return.

So back to the beginning… a weekend of Tekki-Shodan… now I’ll be the first to admit that I was less than impressed to be spending the entire weekend doing this Kata. It’s not one that worked well for me and I’m not a fan of Kiba-Dachi (horse stance). We started the class with a short lecture on “Beginner’s Mind” and over the course of the following 2 days did not do the kata once until the last half an hour when all the previous trainings seemed to come into focus and then… we made a huge circle and did the kata as a group. Mind blown. It was like waves of energy that you received and contributed towards. Not a bad way to learn about “Beginner’s Mind” for the first time.

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