I have been working out with Sifu Tony Brown for about two and a half years. We have done a lot Tai Chi, and a fair amount of Hung Gar. As the family was getting ready to move to Staten Island, Sifu and I were trying to get several workouts in that last month. At the end of a workout, I asked Sifu what it would take for me to test for my White Sash (the first level of rank in Sifu’s system). Sifu looked at me oddly… “Do you really want to test for White Sash?” “Yes Sifu!” “Do you know Chung I Chuan?” “No Sifu.” “Why not??” “Because you haven’t taught it to me Sifu!” We walked back into the training hall, he reached in his file and pulled out the sheet for White Sash promotion: Count to 10 in Chinese, basic stances, basic strikes, basic kicks, and the form Chung I Chuan. “Next time I will teach you, then you can test.”
Sifu taught me the form, and during our last workout, I tested for White Sash…. and passed! The time spent with Sifu on Tai Chi and Hung Gar has helped me with my karate. I am looking at my karate a little different. Some new aspects were opened up to me, even though we weren’t doing “karate”. I wanted to test for a few reasons. We always want to know where we stand. I wanted to formally recognize our time together. And I needed to remind myself that I need to keep a Beginner’s Mind.
Throughout my time in martial arts, there have been moments where I start anew: different promotions, black belt, starting a new weapon, learning a new dynamic, studying material outside of my central tradition. These moments have allowed me to look at my karate with a beginner’s mindset once again. I see things differently, feel things differently, learn differently. It is not that what I learned before wasn’t good, or wasn’t right. or wasn’t learning. I am just taking new steps.
In April, Sensei Jan and I took a trip to Boston to work out. Sensei Michael Pepe and I had a long discussion about curriculum, and how other styles might be integrated into teaching. I will start to add the basics of Judo and Jui-Jitsu from Sensei Michael into my learning. This will once again lead me to a new look on everything: new techniques, new understanding, new learning.
I need to keep a beginner’s mindset not only in my martial arts, but in life. What we learned today will change how we see tomorrow. To see things differently allows us to continually expand who we are and who we are becoming. Being stagnant in thought and belief is just as unhealthy as being stagnant in our mobility.
I recently saw a post on a martial arts Facebook group. The question from the new black belt was how does one keep it from fraying and changing color. The answer, of course, is don’t! I enjoy seeing the senior black belts in their belts that are tattered, and almost white by the use over the course of time. A constant reminder that the more we learn, the closer we get to the beginner’s mind:open, empty and ready to receive.