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Beginner's Mind

Following up on my last post about "Brain Freeze", there is a type of mind that we should maintain -- a beginner's mind.

We should always have the attitude of a beginner. In this way, we will be open and receptive to new things and corrections. When we wear our rank in our minds, we tend to miss things.

When I met my Sensei in Okinawa during my recent visit, I began by privately saying something like this:

"Sensei, I am here to learn. Please teach me whatever you wish and please feel free to correct me in front of your students or other instructors. Please do not hold back. If I am doing something incorrectly it is only because I do not understand the correct way yet."
I am serious. I always make it a point to ask my Sensei to teach and correct me. I am not visiting him to show him what I know (or think I know). I am visiting him to learn.

Over the years, I have seen many people miss great opportunities to learn because they lacked a begginer's mind or heart. Sometimes a senior instructor feels that he has to put on a certain face in front of his students or peers. He might feel embarrassed by corrections. Some instructors might actually be looking for praise or approval from their senior... or even for a promotion.

I can understand that. I have seen it happen enough that I think it must reflect an aspect of human nature.

But I am more greedy than that. My desire for learning exceeds my pride or want of approval. Every minute with my Sensei is precious and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot let "myself" get in the way of that!

The funny thing is that the greatest sensei I have ever met all seem to have a "beginner's mind." They are always seeking to improve their techniques and themselves.

I will share a funny incident. One of Sensei's students is 20 years younger than me but is truly gifted. I am his senior in age and in number of years training (I think I have trained 4 times as long). When I was training, this student would sometimes observe my incorrect technique and mildly shake his head. He would then demonstrate the correct way of moving.

I would try again. Sometimes, when I got it right (or just a little better), he would point his finger and give a little nod.

I am almost 50, have 4 children (two already adults), run a law office, head a Karate museum, have a master's degree, wrote a real estate book, wrote about 50 Karate articles, blah, blah, blah. But in the dojo my spirit was lifted and I was tremendously encouraged by watching a student (who could be my own son in age) point and nod!

I was a beginner.

Standing in front of my own students in my dojo, I am also still a beginner. Writing these line, I am still a beginner.

Since there is no end to learning, we are always beginning. Once we cease to have a beginner's attitude, we begin to decline.


Charles C. Goodin