Beginners Wanted

There are many teachers in the United States and worldwide teaching martial arts. Training with Izawa Sensei has provided me with opportunity to train in Japan, Romania, and even teach in Hungary. I am very blessed to have had these opportunities and impressed with all those Aikido teachers and students from around the world. It is beautiful that people from different cultures with different languages can come together and exchange in a language of Aikido.

People seem to come to train in Aikido and Iaido for many reasons. Some students want to increase their health and approach the class with an exercise mentality. Some students want to learn about the tradition and culture, while others want to recreate a fantasy that they saw in some form of entertainment. Some are doing it because their parents make them and others because they are compelled to do it. All those reasons are discarded once training begins; they must be discarded and left behind so that we may stay safe. When someone is attacking, there is no time for reasoning. We must get out of the way, or blend, or get hit. As beginners, we get hit a lot, but the physical confrontation is not lasting, instead it is the confrontation of the mind that lingers. It is the ego that gets hit the hardest and the chain of the ego’s mechanisms of preservation begin, if we let it. Someone with a beginner’s mind will accept the failure and work to succeed. This is a healthy, growth mindset and usually results in quicker learning, but many beginners do not accept the failure. I see this most in adults. Children seem to be much more flexible with learning. They expect to struggle and fail, because they accept that they don’t know. Adults tend to expect to know how to do things, and forget that they are beginners. A child has only had a few years of life, but an adult…they’re supposed to be experts, right?

The adult “expert” then goes into trying to make himself look like “an expert” and mask his vulnerability exposed by failure with speed, or power, or both. This usually has really bad results. He either hurts himself, or, worse, someone else. He tries to force the technique by muscling through the movement. If he is using a sword, this results in cutting the saya, straining a muscle, being off balance, or damaging the sword. If he is using another person’s body, then his partner experiences pain in some way: being overstretched, being thrown down in a rough way, or having the person fall down on top of him. This is bad, and it all leads to more ego confrontation resulting in embarrassment or injury.

The “expert” is interested in results, and only focuses on results. The “beginner” focuses on learning and the process of learning.

In my training, I try to be a beginner. For many years after I became Shodan, I still wore a white belt. Even after Nidan, I still wore a white belt. I only wear a black belt because Izawa Sensei requested me to do so, he believed it would confuse people who didn’t understand or were new to the dojo. New people always want to know what rank we are, and when they can wear a hakama. I usually try to discourage these people from training because they aren’t usually interested in learning the art. Their thinking is focused on the superficial body, but not the internal mind.

I remember Furuya Sensei telling me I should wear a hakama to assist with the teaching of the Children’s class so that the kids to tell me apart from the other students, and Gary Myers Sensei was standing there and said, “You mean the beard won’t be enough?” I can’t remember what Furuya Sensei said in response, but he wanted the children to be able to tell between teachers and students. There were adults in the class who were students, but it goes to the core of my philosophy on teaching and learning. All our teachers are still learners, they are just more experienced learners. They are not “experts.” They may have already walked the section of path that we find ourselves treading, but they are still discovering what is in front of them. The moment is the master, and we are all its students.

As you walk your path, do it with a beginner’s mind. Be kind to yourself when you fail. Shed your expectations and discover. O’negai shimasu!