Beginner’s Mind


“It is easier to write on a clean sheet of paper than one that someone has already scribbled all over”

It’s a bit like singing in the choir with one chorister horribly out of tune, as the class glided nimbly across the Dojo floor into Neko Ashi Hanmi with an almost imperceptible ripple of power through each body manifesting itself like a whip into a powerful Shuto Uke, there was one klutz among us spoiling the harmony……

Thud!  As his foot stomped down on the floor in an unnaturally elongated stance, you could light a fag in between the timing of his hands and feet as he stiffened his body and tried desperately to draw some power from his mind – frozen shoulders.   As if snorting at the same time was going to help anything other than increase the quantity of hair gel in the room he unfortunately put in one hundred and ten percent. He couldn’t be more out of place, it was like an alien had landed.

Sensei, as ever, was patient kindness itself.  “If you stomp on the floor, the energy created by the momentum of your body will be sent downwards instead of forward into the hands.  You should travel parallel to the floor, time your hands with your feet and root with a backward – forwards pressure not downwards.”

“Hai Sensei!”  He then hurtled himself forwards and did exactly the same again.

“How can you expect to change what you are doing if persist in trying to move faster than you are capable?  Slow the movement down so that you can correct it.”

“Hai Sensei!” He then hurtled himself forwards and did exactly the same again.

“OK, slow the movement down to a tenth of the speed.”

“Hai Sensei!”  He slowed it down about one hundredth.

“OK, (at this point I marvelled at Sensei’s patience) slow it down to about a hundredth of the speed.”

“Hai Sensei!”  Now it looked like a Pythonesque movement from the  “Ministry of Funny Walks”.

Sensei got him to remove his obi, set the length of his stance and tied it to his ankles at that length.  This time he tripped over his front foot as the obi tightened but Sensei had managed to bypass his frozen mind and the body was learning by its most efficient medium – pain.  Within a few minutes Sensei was able to remove the bindings and his stance was corrected.  The movement of his body was now more controlled and he had stopped dragging his back foot forwards at the end of the movement.  We all suppressed a cheer.

“But Sensei, it now feels weak!”

“Patience my friend, your nose is stuck against a brick wall that you are unable to see around.  Your perception of power is based in what you feel, you must understand that your feelings are not relevant, what the opponent feels is what’s important.  If you are driving an old banger at 70mph you think that you are driving fast, if you are driving a Porsche at 70mph it seems slow, so if you are moving skilfully, you feel almost nothing, but the power is transferred into your opponent……”

“Haaaaaiiiii Sensei………”  I could see the light going on inside of his brain.

“Don’t endlessly bang your head against the wall, step back from it to the point that you can see around it.  Get worse to get better, redevelop “Beginners Mind”, become a white belt in your mind again, start writing on a clean sheet of paper, don’t try to write over the previous scribble………”

“You mean start learning the same techniques again as if I was a beginner………”  It was like Blackpool illuminations going on one bulb at a time but gaining momentum.

“Haaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiii  Sensei………..”  Sensei’s mimicry was having the desired effect……

At that moment he was “reborn” into the Martial Arts and began his serious study instead of the former mindless training, he was now about to develop the necessary patience, compassion and attentiveness necessary for that kind of progression.  He had been officially initiated into the “mysteries” of Martial Arts study.  This is a form of “Kensho”  (sudden enlightenment) that is typically initiated by a Sensei in the Martial Arts with this type of “Karate Koan”.  The “direct transmission” method can also be known as “Jikiden” and can be completely wordless .

“So my power is going to come from the hips?”

“No, your power will come from the co-ordination of momentum, timing, opening and closing of the chest and back, rotation of the waist and arms, vibration of the hips, whipping of the spine and focus, lets work with these one at a time shall we?”

“I think I’m going to need to ………..”


Sensei was now able to work with him and started to get an immediate and quite profound improvement.  He was also able to “listen with his body” to the class and get the most out of copying the rhythm of the seniors, understanding that instruction comes from many sources when you are “opened” to learning in a “Zen” way.

Now our choir was singing in harmony once again……….

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