The Beginner's Mind
By Sara Aoyama
When George Donahue* first broached the subject
of writing a column called "Shoshin" or
"Beginner's Mind," I was hesitant. Why would
anyone want to read something written by a beginner
in the martial arts?
But, a beginner is in that blissful state of discovering
everything for the first time. This is a state that
we may never recover in many cases, but can only strive
to maintain. Within my own experiences, I remember
stepping off the plane at Haneda Airport in Tokyo
for the first time in the summer of 1976 and the staggering
impact of all those Japanese signs around me. They
were all beautiful to my eyes. There were many styles
of calligraphy in different sizes and colors. Everywhere
I looked I saw these wonderful works of art.
After I had been in Japan studying hard for about
six months, there was a certain day that I went out
for a walk, and as I walked past a coffee shop I saw
a sign for cigarettes in the window. Bang! That sign
had ceased to be a work of art. All it did for me
now was to tell me I could buy some cigarettes. The
next day I read a sign on a bus for a department store.
As my reading skills progressed I could navigate my
way around skillfully and my daily life became easier.
Caught up in my daily successes, I failed to realize
that I was losing the ability to see the signs as
works of beauty and art. What was once art was now
simply a sign for a dentist, or the hours that a store
was open. Never again will I recapture that first
view of Japan. But I was there to learn, and progress
was both essential and inevitable. Yet, I was losing
my beginner's mind.
As a beginner in the martial arts I try to hold on
to the freshness that is so natural to me now. How
do I do that? I have an exercise that I perform each
day to help me maintain a beginner's mind.
I live in a small town in Vermont. When I get in
my car each morning, I look up at the mountains. Early
in the morning the mountains are usually sheathed
in clouds of mist. I often murmur out loud in the
car to my kids that "people pay to see this."
They think that is pretty funny and they wonder why
I say it so much. But it's my way of trying to see
it afresh each day, and to keep my mind open and see
it the same way that I saw it the very first time.
And failing that, at least acknowledging to myself
that my viewpoint is changing. I may not be able to
see it with the same appreciation as I did five years
ago, but I still have to try and hold on to that awareness
and not take this beautiful scenery for granted.
This is what I think a beginner has to offer. We're
all on the path, some further than others, but it
is good to savor the journey and enjoy the scenery
just where we are.
About the author:
Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University
of Kansas, majoring in Japanese Language and Literature.
She spent over twelve years living in Japan where
she dabbled in a number of other Arts such as Ikebana
(flower arranging), Cooking, and Shamisen. While living
in Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects
of Japanese society. Currently she lives in Brattleboro,
Vermont where she started training in Shorin-ryu Karate
at the Brattleboro School of Budo in May, 1998 after
watching her son train for three years. She works
asa free-lances as a Japanese-Englishtranslator. Most
recently, she is the translator of "The Art
of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD.
* George Donahue is a member of FightingArts.com
Board of Advisors. He is Executive Editor, Tuttle
Publishing, Boston and Editor, Tuttle Martial Arts.
A 6th dan Shorin Ryu Karatedo student of Kishaba Chokei
and Shinzato Katsuhiko, he is the director of both
Kishaba Juku of New York City at the Ken Zen Institute
of Japanese Culture & Martial Arts and the Ryukyu
Kichigaikan of Medford, Mass.
Other "Beginner's Mind" columns:
To Your Body"
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