Putting my beginner pants on


All sports have their seasons, a rhythm to their year. Outdoor soccer, brief break, indoor soccer. Cycling on the trainer for miles, cycling for speed and intensity after the base is built, training camp, and then outdoors.

Aikido too has a rhythm to the training year usually following testing. We train for new belt tests, reviewing curriculum over and over again, we test, we celebrate, and then we break from curriculum and do wild, fun, less scripted stuff.

But this Aikido club has another factor that influences what we do and when, new members. People either join our club directly or through a city recreation program. The program is for a set number of weeks and we can get as many as ten or twelve new people at a time that way.

When that happens we often start from square one. Our Sensei this week told us it was time to put out beginner pants on. He instructed us to learn like a beginner with no expectations, no bad habits, and to start from scratch. Tonight’s class, for example, focused on just a few very simple techniques. Front strike, first control pin number one and two took most of our time.

Those techniques are on the very first belt test with techniques. Everyone wearing a coloured belt can do them in their sleep. And this class we did them over and over again, breaking them down into small steps, the Yoshinkan way, stopping at each stage to correct techniques.

The senior black belts smiled.

It felt like polishing the rust off, getting back to square one, the basics. We reviewed basic movements and then practiced focusing on how the basic movements of Aikido form the foundation of the martial techniques.

The brand new people in their sweatpants and yoga pants were smiling too. By the end of the class they were pretty good at front strike, first control pin number one.

I think putting your beginner pants back on is hardest for those of us in the middle, anxious to show off what we know. I struggled a bit the first dozen times through. We worked with the same partner all night and we were both a bit out of sorts. We can do this technique. It isn’t on our next test. Let us do something harder.

Frequent corrections from senior belts though made it clear I still had lots to learn. Back to square one. By halfway through the class I was smiling too. When you do the same technique over and over again you rely less and less on muscle and brute force and more and more on taking the other person’s balance and using their energy and momentum against them.

I’d put that technique deep into muscle memory, every piece of it ready to use if needed. I’d shined off the rough edges. I’d trained with the mind of a beginner.

For more on the beginner’s mind see Beginners Mind: The Art of Starting OverBeginner’s Mind, and 3 ways the “beginner’s mind” improves practice.


One thought on “Putting my beginner pants on

  1. Hi Sam, I love the way you’ve linked the beginner’s mind to the perpetual cycle, rhythms and regeneration of nature.

    I personally adore repeating the basics, and never get bored. In fact, it’s fascinating how you can think you know a technique, and then be shown a new layer of subtlety to makes it more effective – which you never even imagined before; and maybe wouldn’t have been able to access until now anyway.

    I also love the idea of the Void in martial arts. Which is that if you practise things over and over and over again, eventually they become hardwired into you, and will just emerge without thought or any other processing when you need them. I’ve seen it described as a kind of “formless appropriateness”. And the ending of your post definitely feels like you might just have had a tantalising, personal glimpse of the Void . . . 🙂

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