Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A beginner's mindset....

Yesterday I read a comment left on one of my recent posts, Joint locking – how useful is it really? by an anonymous commenter, which accused me of having a ‘beginner’s mindset’. I say accused because the tone on the comment was clearly an attempt to patronise or insult me.

This is the offending part of the comment :

“…….I find this discussion rather sterile and representative of a beginner's mindset: take this question to your sensei, if he/she can't show it follow my previous advice. 

I don't mean to be condescending but from what you've written it's clear your understanding of this subject is rather limited:

(This is just an excerpt from the comment; visit the post to read the entire comment)

At first I was a little taken back by the comment but after thinking about it for a few minutes I realised that being told I had a beginner’s mindset was in fact very high praise! It meant that I was open-minded, my cup isn’t yet full, I can still learn new things, gain new understanding….

Actually I don’t thing Anonymous meant that at all but he/she is wrong in thinking that a beginner’s mindset is a bad thing in a martial artist.

Maintaining a beginner’s mindset is a Zen concept called shoshin.  It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”

There are clearly many advantages to maintaining a beginner’s mind: curiosity, openness, enthusiasm, creativity…… Unfortunately, the person with the ‘expert mind’ becomes the opposite of this: – un-inquiring, closed mined, stilted, un-creative – arrogant even.

Clearly the concept of shoshin has spread far and wide. A quick google on ‘beginner’s mindset’ found articles promoting the concept on a range of activities including swimming, software production, yoga and advertising. Each of the experts in these fields was promoting the idea of maintaining a beginner’s mindset to improve one’s ability in the respective field of practice.

All I can say to Anonymous is thank you for noticing that I have a beginner’s mindset. Clearly I am still on the right path in my martial arts studies.

Do you have a beginner’s mindset?

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The Strongest Karate said...

Hey Sue,

It sounds like Anon is one of those d34dly internet warriors we've heard so much about. You should tread carefully around him. You can tell he is VERY experienced in what he's asserting because he makes sweeping statements using words like "always" and "never", and claims truth without giving evidence.

You and me, Sue, we're insects before this King of martial arts.

I've worked hard to maintain a beginner's mindset. It is a hard thing to do as your belt grows darker and you're asked to instruct or demonstrate to individuals. Fortunately, we spar a lot, so that keeps my ego from growing too big.

I also enjoy reading the works of others more knowledgeable than I (subtle compliment ^_^ ); it reminds me that the MA world is very big and I have much to learn.


Cath said...

I'm just as confused as when I started training so think that I manage to keep beginners mind. Starting at a new club in a different style has helped. I think shoshin is important which is why it's the name of my blog!

John Coles said...


You must be doing something right if you're earning the ire of the knowledgeably ignorant.

'Sweeping statements' or generalisations are rife within the martail arts world. As are unsupported statements. There are a great many opinions, but very little facts.

Having said that, I'm also not a fan of Zen type simplifications or generalisations. A beginner can be as close minded as an experienced person. We need to be open minded, and not using simply using what's available to support our particular methods. For instance, learn the science and apply it unbiasedly. If it doesn't support the ascertion that your methods are the best being taught, maybe they're not.

Finally, and it's a cliche so I apologise, but the only stupid question is the one that is not asked. If you have a question, explore that question. Seek an answer. If that means questioning the orthodoxy, so be it.

Charles James said...

When one comments in this manner as did this guy and does not sign in with an account, anonymous, I usually ignore it.

Ignore the comment by anonymous and continue your excellent postings :-)

Sue C said...

Hi Brett

Thanks for the compliment;-) I think we all learn from each other, however novice or experienced we are. Like you say it's a big world...

Hi Cath

Great name for a blog! Just visited it, some great posts. I've added you to my blog list so I don't miss anymore...

Hi John,

Being open minded is the key. I respect your need for scientific validation, I have a scientific background myself so I understand this. However, I also like the more philosophical perspective on life - it allows you to ask questions that science can't always answer (at least yet). I will continue to ask questions, even if they seem like 'beginner's questions' ;-)

Hi Charles,

It would be easier to ban anonymous comments and in many respects it would be a good idea but allowing them (even if they are unpleasant at times) gives me a clearer perspective of what people think of my writing. If my writing stirs someone up so much they feel compelled to write a comment (good or bad) then that's a success in my book! Like we've said before, it's all about balance....

Fliff said...

I have to say, Sensei Nick has encountered this MANY times. Don't give up and don't be discouraged.

Sensei Nick did not learn about any of the material that Kris Wilder or Miller or Abernethy teach until he was past Shodan. When he tries to talk to other black belts or long standing martial arts students, they don't want to hear it. They shut down and they are not open to learning anything or to the possibility that they could have perhaps not been taught everything or in the right way. The experts, far more often then the beginners, are VERY closed minded. "You learned that from a book? HMPH." "You think that kata application goes like that? Ludicrous. HMPH." I have seen them just tune him out and stop listening. It's really quite sad that they are cheating themselves out of a learning opportunity.

Beginners on the other hand usually eat up every bit of information you give them. They think about it, sometimes do researching, look for various opinions and try lots of different things out themselves. I think it is being around the close minded attitude of insecure experts who do not want to be dis-proven or shown a better way that they begin to lose this ability to ask questions and think outside the box. If questions are discouraged or shot down, eventually the student will stop asking and they are taught this is the best way and should be the only way and they give up an accept that. Its so sad. :(

I think it is great that you have an open mind and never stop asking questions and seeking new ways and new meaning. That is how we learn and how we grow. Always! I'm very impressed by your being able to 'roll with the punches' (Ha... no pun intended) and to take a good thing out of a rude comment. No sweat girl, you're amazing and you'll do just fine! :D Kudos to you!

dave coleman said...

keeping in line with the basics helps with progression at the top of your game! Forget the basics and everthing falls apart!

Sue C said...

Samurai Girl, your enthusiasm for learning comes over loud and clear in your comment - clearly you have an open mind too and Sensei Nick has a great student, so kudos to you too!

Dave, so true and as you know, we're never aloud to forget the basics in our class! Keep in touch ;-)

SenseiMattKlein said...

A beginner's mindset is not a good thing. It is a great thing. It is essential for your own growth as a martial artist, and for the growth of all your students. We need to find ways to challenge ourselves continuously in our journey. Top post Sue!

Sue C said...

Thanks Matt ;-)

Theodore Kruczek said...

While I completely agree that posting anon is the wrong way to go about giving critique, playing devil's advocate, did you consider that they were disagreeing with you passing judgement on how useful something is when you seem to have only just started learning it?

I think you had valid points, just another angle to consider.

To your new question - I think I have more of a beginner's mindset than I ever did when I was new to karate-do. I was skeptical when I started, now I prefer to take in as much info as I can and test it myself later.

Great blog!

Sue C said...

Hi Theodore, point taken! Clearly Anon has a lot of training and experience with locking techniques and has more confidence than me in using them. However, I did write from the point of view that I don't have a lot of experience with locks and therefore don't currently find them useful - I hope this viewpoint will change as I progress. It wasn't necessary for Anon to patronise me in his rather rude manner though - especially without having the courage to leave a name!

On the beginner's mindset topic - I always think that it a wise man/woman who is humbled by the knowledge that the more they know the more they realise they have to learn - sounds like you may be that wise man...


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