Saturday, January 19, 2013

Shoshin - "Beginner's Mind"

Hello all,

I apologize for the lack of posts.  I ended up taking an unexpected hiatus from the blog for a variety of reasons.  I hope to be posting more regularly once again.  I’ve often been frustrated when I’ve enjoyed someone else's blogs and the posts stopped without any real explanation.  Suffice to say, an awful lot has been going on in my life of late, and some things slipped for a bit.  So I thank you for being patient and for continuing to read or check my blog or make comments.

I’ve managed to get some interesting training, albeit in drips and drabs.

One of the tags on my blog is “What to look for in a Sensei”

A while ago, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by an extremely talented martial artist.  He teaches classical weapons, Karate and Jiu Jitsu.  This guy impresses my Sensei and he impresses me.  The seminar was great (more on that in upcoming posts). 

I attended the seminar with my Sensei and we worked together, both to bring back material for the rest of the dojo and to mitigate the issues of a few nagging injuries (both of us).  That’s not the point, however.

While I’ve been at a variety of seminars, my Sensei is usually one of the instructors.  While he always watches the other instructors, he usually assists them, or the students to get the techniques.  Rarely have I seen him as ‘just’ a student. 

“shoshin“ – zen concept of having a ‘beginner’s mind’.  We should always train with this type of mindset. 

This can be tough for many people, especially instructors.  Many instructors don’t take part in training events with other styles, students and Sensei.  Why?  Because every time you, I, or any ‘master’ is learning new or different stuff, they will make mistakes and they will have to work at things to get it right.  Many have egos too big to allow anyone to see them do anything other than ‘perfect’ technique.  They fear it would lower them in the eyes of their, or other, students.  They can’t be seen to be struggling with a move. 

The truth is, of course, if you don’t train with beginner’s mind, you will cease to improve.  Many martial arts teachers no longer feel a need to, but the enlightened ones tend to continue to seek out new ideas, techniques and people.

So there I was, messing up this and that, as usual.  And so was my Sensei.  In my mind, if anything, it increased my respect for him.  So we blundered away (mostly me) until we got the material down pat.  Then we took it back to our dojo and shared the ideas, concepts and techniques with the other students.   

It also demonstrated that we each learn a bit differently, and at different rates.

I don’t know how many of you out there have had an opportunity to train alongside your martial arts teacher as equals (ie both just being students).  It felt strange to me to do so, but I liked it.  It was weird for me to correct him when he was struggling with a piece of the new puzzle.  It didn’t seem weird to him though, he just wanted to learn it.  Not a hint of embarrassment.

I think out of all the things I learned that day, the idea of ‘shoshin’ and seeing how my Sensei trained with an open mind and without any ego may have been the most valuable one.

A lesson within a lesson.

Food for thought.


  1. To empty one's cup is a test we must pass over and over again. If we can't do that, we won't achieve much of anything else either.

  2. Rick,

    I couldn't agree more. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Good post, JM. This really speaks to 'Emptying your Cup', as Rick has already said.

    Although, I've always thought that completely emptying my cup might not be what I really want. Hmmm...I feel an article coming on!

  4. Maybe it's putting one cup in the fridge and grabbing another from the cupboard...

    It is tough to do, but well worth it in the long run. Thanks.

  5. Hi Journeyman. I finished my article I'd mentioned. Here is the link, should you want to read it: