We are flexible beings. We have the ability to change for the better. Acceptance of ourselves, our limitations, our weaknesses, along with our strengths is key. But in order for us to accept our current selves, we must first have a realistic grasp of our state and our current situation. To do this, it is important that we acknowledge our shortcomings; and not get drunk with our little successes.
In one of the late Seigo Yamaguchi Shihan’s Black Belt Seminars (kuro obi kai) in Japan, Yamaguchi Shihan gave out a pamphlet to each of the participating students then. Let us meditate on this for a moment. In the introduction part of the pamphlet, the following is written:
“At 56 years old, I am beginning to reassess the real difficulty of Aikido. Truly it is necessary to always maintain a beginner’s mind. Merely by enthusiastically repeating those things which you have learned, you can in no way hope to gain true progress. It is true that the ancient masters were quoted as saying that one must train himself through continual repetition. This does not refer, however, to mechanical repetition.
The ancient masters stated that we must not be content to pluck out only our bad habits. Our good habits as well, must be eradicated. Our bad habits, whether they are within our techniques or our everyday life and attitude, are easily recognized by all. Even though they may be seen to be always with us, nevertheless they are relatively easy to correct. When we are aware of them, they cause very little problems.
Compared with this, our good habits are firmly assumed to be definite attributes and real virtues. The harmful effects of these are seldom realized. No matter how good we may believe we are, let us remain aware that we are still immature and imperfect. We should receive any and all criticism with a modest and unassuming feeling. To concentrate on becoming powerful and also maintain a beginner’s mind is by no means an easy thing. Standing strong and firm without any hardness or inflexibility is the state of real positive spirit. It is all-accepting and yet never loses the consciousness of its own existence.”
The beginner’s mind is based on the human principle of humility. And humility, as expressed by these words by Yamaguchi Shihan, exemplifies the true spirit of Aikido. The beginner’s mind is not naive or lacking conviction. It is accepting one’s weaknesses and knowing oneself. Improvement can only happen when we learn to live with our own individual realities and circumstances. This is a step for us to become wiser. And wisdom, as we grow in it, brings forth prudence and intuition.
The only criterion for understanding anything is if we can do what we say.
In doing any technique, nothing is absolute, there is no right, and there is no wrong. In the course of the way of Aikido, there is no room for conflict or selfishness/pride. There is room enough only for intuition and wisdom.
O’Sensei once said:
“When practicing with one who has realized Aikido principle within his being, all bad feelings and doubts are swept away and you gain a greater understanding of yourself.”
Joy and deep intuition are the fruits diligent Aikido practice bear. And this steadfastness in practicing births in us a stable appreciation of the ongoing process of our development as a practitioner. We view challenges as opportunities for growth. We act with humble hearts and open minds. It is here that we realize that complacency and pride destroys real progress in our art. When the Aikidoka becomes accomplished mentally and spiritually, it is said that: “the Hara is finished”. In this state, everything in Aikido makes sense.
There is a difference in thinking you know and knowing you know. Let us not think like we know when we really don’t know. Only then can we really know.
The Beginner’s Mind is the mental state of being humble and open to the possibilities while training, regardless of the level of “expertise” we think we have. It is to become an eternal student of Aikido, demonstrating a passion towards training that never wavers.
(Please also see: “The Floating Bridge of Heaven“)