While recovering from this weekend’s seminar with Demko Shihan, I reflected on how little I know about Aikido. In Zen Buddhism there is a concept called Shoshin or “Beginner’s Mind.” One goal of Zen practice is to cultivate Shoshin, even in advanced practice. Its application to Aikido is not an admission that you know nothing about a topic, but instead that you retain the openness to learn something new. This new thing can build on something you know already, or help you refine something in a way that you didn’t previously. Sometimes it helps you remember a lesson you learned a long time ago, but have lost through the passage of time. Shoshin says that not only should we be open to this, but that we need to be eager for it as well. In our practice we should maintain that youthful enthusiasm that we had in our first few days of our Aikido journey. A running Aikido joke has a punchline of “that’s not how we do it at our dojo” and it’s humor resonates because we’ve all experienced that at one time or another. As a beginner, however, we don’t know how “our” dojo does it yet, because we haven’t learned yet. And as a result, we embrace this new thing as canon. Indeed, proper Shoshin has no canon; everything is new and worthy of exploration.
Attending seminars helps you to practice good Shoshin. Do your best to come to your practice of Aikido with a fresh mind, one willing to embrace new techniques and subtle modifications of your practice. Try to expel your preconceived notions of how Ikkyo should be done, learn from those that have studied longer than you, feel your Uke’s Ki and what it takes to redirect that energy to break their kuzushi.
Zen master Shunryū Suzuki wrote that “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” When you attend your next seminar, approach it with the mindset that there are many possibilities; forget what you know and remember what it’s like to be new again.