Always a Beginner

MY OPPONENT LUNGED and reached out to grab hold of me. I dodged smartly, grabbed his hand and elbow, and raised his arm high, stretching his side and pushing him off balance. As I prepared to take him down and apply a pin, he stopped me. “Lead more with your right hand,” he said. “The elbow hand doesn’t push.”

A “1st control” technique.

My partner was another senior student and we were practicing a very basic technique, one of the first that new Aikido students learn. I’ve performed it hundreds of times; what more was there to know about it? And yet with a simple adjustment to how I raised partner’s arm, it became much easier and smoother.

Our instructor recently spoke about a trap students can fall into when studying something familiar. “Once you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I know this one already,'” he said, “you lose any opportunity to learn.” Instead, we should approach each technique as if we’re practicing it for the first time – what in Zen Buddhism is called shoshin, or, “the beginner’s mind.”

For example, he said, maybe it’s the first time you’ve practiced it with this particular partner, or on this hot an evening, or in this particular dojo, or at your current rank. By approaching the technique this way you open your mind to learning more about it – to find ways to improve it, or a part of it. And it can lead to asking questions that develop understanding even further. Beginners have this attitude naturally; advanced students need to actively practice it. More on that in a future post.

As with many aspects of Aikido training, the concept of “beginner’s mind” can be applied in many areas of life. This article at, ” How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner’s Mind,” says it so well I will defer entirely to its wisdom. Read it. You won’t regret it.

So after seven years of training, I have now learned the correct way to begin that basic technique. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. After all, it took me 49 years to learn how to properly change a bike tire.

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