Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A beginner's mindset....

Yesterday I read a comment left on one of my recent posts on my personal blog (My Journey to Black Belt), Joint locking – how useful is it really? by an anonymous commenter, which accused me of having a ‘beginner’s mindset’. I say accused because the tone on the comment was clearly an attempt to patronise or insult me.

This is the offending part of the comment :

“…….I find this discussion rather sterile and representative of a beginner's mindset: take this question to your sensei, if he/she can't show it follow my previous advice. 

I don't mean to be condescending but from what you've written it's clear your understanding of this subject is rather limited:

(This is just an excerpt from the comment; visit the post to read the entire comment)

At first I was a little taken back by the comment but after thinking about it for a few minutes I realised that being told I had a beginner’s mindset was in fact very high praise! It meant that I was open-minded, my cup isn’t yet full, I can still learn new things, gain new understanding….

Actually I don’t thing Anonymous meant that at all but he/she is wrong in thinking that a beginner’s mindset is a bad thing in a martial artist.

Maintaining a beginner’s mindset is a Zen concept called shoshin.  It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”

There are clearly many advantages to maintaining a beginner’s mind:  curiosity, openness, enthusiasm, creativity…… Unfortunately, the person with the ‘expert mind’ becomes the opposite of this:  un-inquiring, closed mined, stilted, un-creative – arrogant even.

Clearly the concept of shoshin has spread far and wide. A quick google on ‘beginner’s mindset’ found articles promoting the concept on a range of activities including swimming, software production, yoga and advertising. Each of the experts in these fields was promoting the idea of maintaining a beginner’s mindset to improve one’s ability in the respective field of practice.

All I can say to Anonymous is thank you for noticing that I have a beginner’s mindset. Clearly I am still on the right path in my martial arts studies.

Do you have a beginner’s mindset?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at 
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Friday, 2 March 2012

Age and martial arts

I was recently browsing around the Download website and came across a video looking at students from different clubs testing for their shodan rank. The point of the video was to give you a flavour of what standard should be expected for a 1st kyu grade testing for shodan.

Here is the video:

I found the standard of the students good but also in line with what I would expect someone testing for shodan to be like. However, I was more interested in Jason Armstrong’s comments towards the end of the video where he states that in their organisation they have a different shodan curriculum for people over the age of 40 than for those under 40 (the students seen in the video are testing with the under 40 curriculum).

My first reaction to this was Hey, we’re not past it yet you know - no need to slow it down for us! Then I was reminded of my current persistent shoulder injury and the excessive aching I often get after training and realised that was my ego talking!

After thinking about it a bit more I realised that having a slightly modified syllabus for middle aged and older people is probably not a bad idea. In Jason Armstrong’s organisation the under 40 curriculum focus’s a lot more on ‘modern’ karate i.e point sparring, kata performance etc and slightly less on self-defence and bunkai. The over 40’s curriculum is balanced the other way around with more emphasis on traditional karate, self-defence and bunkai. 

I think this probably works well. In my experience younger people are better at point sparring, can get their kicks up higher and faster and often look better in the performance aspects of kata . They are often more interested in the competitive aspects of modern karate than older people.

I also think (and I’m generalising here) that older people are more interested in the technical aspects of karate and have more patience to learn and experiment with them. They tend to want to discuss technical details more and often read to assist their learning.  Of course, many younger people are like this to and many older people still like competition but as a rule of thumb  I think that younger people get more excited by the thought of sparring and putting on a good kata performance and older people get more excited about delving more deeply into bunkai and self-defence issues – it’s certainly true for me. 

I think that having different but overlapping curriculum for younger and older people can help them to play to their strengths and interests whilst still working on their weaknesses. I know some people might view this as a bit of a cop out for older people but is it reasonable to expect someone of 50 to be able to do the same physical activities as someone of 20? Anybody over the age of 40 or 50 will know that their body is not as flexible or capable as it might have been when they were younger. However, a young person cannot possible know what their body will feel like when they are older and so are in a more difficult position to make a judgement on this.

Some people would argue that everyone in a club testing for shodan should be tested on exactly the same material because that is fairer and ensures everyone achieves the same standard. This would be fair if the curriculum represents all aspects of karate equally so that older people can score more highly in areas that they are better in and younger people can score more highly in areas that suit them better. However, if the curriculum is biased towards areas that favour one age group then it isn’t fairer.

I know that this thinking may be a bit controversial. What do you think? Does your club have different curricular for younger and older people (not including children’s curriculum)?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt