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Untitled Document

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 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.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Beginner's mind, beginner,judgements

Read more articles by Sara Aoyama

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