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SHOSHIN: The "Beginner's Mind" of Martial Arts


Shoshin is a term that comes from Zen Buddhism, and it refers to the "beginner's mind." This mindset is characterized by openness, eagerness, and perhaps most important, a lack of preconceptions. This means studying a subject just as a beginner would (even if you are advanced). It is commonly used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts. This is one of what is considered the "Four Zen States of Mind" and they apply particularly well to the martial arts. This post will address the first, with the rest (including a relatively less common 5th state) being covered in following articles.

Adopting this mindset early on in your martial arts journey puts you on the right track, particularly when it comes to being open-minded and dropping any assumptions, fears, or expectations you might have about what training will be like. It's easy to become disillusioned with something if you went into it with predetermined judgment, and this is a big reason why many people quit the martial arts at the white belt level. Going to class with an open mind, being willing to listen, and letting go of anxious notions is key.

As a beginner, it's easier to have a "beginner's mind" because everything is new. That typically goes without saying. However, as you advance in rank and develop deeper understanding and skills, the mental “cement” can begin to harden and set, becoming closed-minded. The more expertise you accumulate on a subject, the more you tend to block out any contradictory information or become resistant to feedback from those with less experience. Sometimes we seek out information that confirms or justifies our beliefs and behaviors instead of questioning them. This is why embracing Shoshin as an advanced martial artist is even more important than when you were a beginner.

The famous quote by Shunryu Suzuki, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind, there are few," reminds us that having an open mind is crucial to growth and development.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know everything there is to know about your chosen martial art and to resist learning new things. However, stepping outside of your comfort zone and exploring new arts can be humbling and uncomfortable, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. It's essential to approach new experiences with a beginner's mind and to be open to new ways of thinking and moving.

In conclusion, a person’s ignorance will always outgrow their education. The more a person learns, and becomes wise, they more they become aware of how much they don’t know. And the more they learn, they see the chasm of the unknown continue to grow.

There is no endgame to knowledge and experience, it’s all about the journey.

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