Pete Wilkins, wrote an essay about his relationship to aikido. Below is his reflection on what it means to be a White belt and a Black belt.
White Belt (Being a Beginner/Beginner's Mind) - In Japanese there is a term which is called Shoshin which means beginner's mind. The concept reminds me of the story of a Master that offers one of his students Tea. The master starts to pour tea in the teacup but instead of stopping at the top, the Master keeps pouring and pouring the tea as it overflows the teacup. The student tells the Master "Master can't you see the teacup is full?" The Master replies saying "Yes, just as the teacup is full and can't accept anymore tea, so too is your mind full and can't accept any new ideas."
Beginner's mind is about giving myself the space to be a beginner. That space allows for new ideas and feelings to come into my way of being. We've really been trained in the Western world that we always need to have the right answer to the problem and never are we allowed to be a beginner and say I don't know. But this is not the way we actually learn as Human beings. Just think if when we were little babies if we had to get walking right the very first time! If that was the case we'd still all be crawling around on our knees. I know that sounds silly but its true.
Too often we don't allow ourselves to be beginners, to fail and to understand that failing is not bad its just really getting some results back so we can gauge what to do next time. I do know that the farther and farther I get into my Aikido practice, the more and more I feel like I have to learn. It's funny but when I first started making progress I thought to myself "Ok, now I'm getting it!" But Aikido is like an Onion, once I learn about one layer and start to think I'm mastering something I realize "Oh WOW!!! There's like umpteen more layers and I really don't know anything!". There is a quote by the beautiful Zen Master Shunkryu Suzuki that sums this up well, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." And I always like what Yoda says to Luke in Star Wars "You must unlearn what you've learned".
Black Belt (Path to Mastery/Loving the Journey) - To the outside world many believe that the black belt means you are a master of the art. In Aikido this could not be further from the truth. What it means is now you are a true beginner. Sensei has told us at times what it means is, now we have learned the basics and now we can start to go deeper and begin to learn the art. To me that means I'm a beginner. I'm ok with that, I know this is a life journey and that its not about getting my black belt its about remaining in the process, remaining in the practice and loving the path versus getting someplace or achieving something.
I think this is summed up well by something Sensei Bookman said once in class. We were practicing weapons work with the Bokken (wooden sword) and I remember him demonstrating uchi-komi which is gliding across the mat practicing the sword strike. He said "You could spend a lifetime practicing shomen-uchi (sword strike) and it wouldn't be wasted." Honestly this wouldn't of meant much to me if it weren't for a scene from the movie 'The Last Samurai', with Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise. Ken Watanabe plays a Samurai called Katsumoto and Tom Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a captured American soldier learning the ways of the Samurai.
They are in this garden which is full of cherry blossoms. Ken Watanabe says as he is looking at one of the blossoms, "You could spend a lifetime looking for the perfect blossom and it wouldn't be wasted." At first I had no idea what he meant by this, but after reflection I understood it as all flowers are beautiful and perfect in their own way. The very act of looking for the perfect flower would not be a waste because you would see the beauty and perfection in each blossom. I interpreted Sensei Bookman's saying the same way when practicing the sword strike. Each strike is where you are at and each strike is beautiful. Its the act of continuing to perform the strike, refine it, perfect it, staying in the moment that is beautiful. Each strike would not be a waste but it would be a movement and growth towards perfection.
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