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The Importance Of Having A Beginner's Mind As A Karate Instructor

Jan 6, 2008
As karate instructor or high-level practitioners of the martial arts, it is often useful to remember where we came from and how we got to where we are. Our journeys were not always easy and our students deserve to know about our own mistakes and experiences to illustrate that we too are human and went through many of the same struggles that they are faced with in their practices. Here is one such story from my own development as a martial artist.

During a lesson on a hot and humid summer evening during my stay in Japan, Ichihara-sensei (one of my instructors) was teaching us oizuki (front punch) when it suddenly hit me like a sledgehammer - not the punch thankfully, but a realization, an inspiration.

I had been training in karate for 14 years at the time and I suddenly realized that I had been making a basic error in the execution of the very basic front punch. It doesn't really matter anymore what the mistake was as I have since corrected it, but the real lesson I learned that night was something much more than a minor technical adjustment. That night under the watchful eye of Ichihara-sensei I was reminded in my realization, of the importance of having a "Beginner's Mind."

It happens to all of us periodically and usually when we least expect it - in those moments when our confidence along with our egos takes over and suddenly we feel like we are invincible. We have mastered a particular skill and now, knowing everything there is to know, we become self-proclaimed experts, willfully demonstrating the infallibility of our technique to others. Right at that moment, something happens to bring us back down to Earth. For example you're a good golfer and suddenly you hit an "air shot"; or you're playing soccer, and faced with an open goal just six yards out you completely miss the ball and fall flat on your behind with the grace and poise of a 1-year-old just learning how to walk.

Back in the dojo, a senior ranked student performs a front kick and slips and falls over for no reason. He gets up quickly hoping nobody noticed the flub, and mutters about some undulation in the perfectly flat wooden floor. Trust me, I have seen this kind of thing happen repeatedly and it always reminds me of the importance of having a "Beginner's Mind."

If you watch any serious beginner in any activity, you usually see great concentration, heightened awareness and a real drive to succeed. Although they know their techniques are not perfect, their mistakes are usually due to a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of focus. We "experienced" practitioners of karate should learn from this and try to think back to that special feeling that we also had as beginners.

That exciting feeling of learning something new, of learning the next sequence in a kata, of successfully blocking an opponent's attack, and of ending a fight against a black belt and being able to say you were on the floor just five times, instead of the usual ten. Better still that you actually put the black belt on the floor too!

A "beginner's mind" means that you realize you have a lot to learn; it means that you're open to criticism, but more importantly, the next time you fall flat on your face, you'll get up with a smile rather than an attitude!

For insights on how to become a more effective instructor by better relating to your students, be sure to read my FREE Report: "Instructor Mastery: How to Become a Great Instructor Right from the very First Lesson." You can download it at http://www.freekarateinformation.com.

Good luck and best wishes to you on your honorable and noble role in teaching. Feel free to write to me at Paul@freekarateinformation.com with any questions you have on your practice or your teaching.
About the Author
Paul A. Walker, is a 4th degree black belt karate instructor with over 25 years experience in the martial arts. In 2003 he attained his 4th degree black belt, after studying with the legendary Karate Master, Hirokazu Kanazawa in Tokyo for three years. Get more info at http://www.freekarateinformation.com
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