I’d dreamed of going to brown belt training for a little under two years. Being with a cohort of “advanced” students every other month was something I really looked forward to. Now it’s no longer a daydream but a reality. I earned san-kyu (low brown) in August during Gasshuku (camp). Gasshuku counts as brown belt training, as does Godo Renshu (unity training) held two months later. At last, the first Saturday of December, after nearly two years of anticipation I made the three hour drive to our Hombu Dojo (our Karate organization’s headquarters/school) and participated in my first brown belt training.
I could give a narrative of the entire class but I won’t. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprises for any of my kohai (anyone lower-ranked than oneself). I was out of my comfort zone but I already knew that the end result would be growth so that didn’t bother me. I found out that I’m now better at something that used to vex me no end – yeah, I still struggle but not nearly as badly. And of course I got feedback – “homework,” if you will.
There are three degrees of brown. The first is san-kyu, the rank I am now (low brown). The next is ni-kyu (middle brown), and the last one before black is i-kyu (high brown). So if I’m a brand-new san-kyu I’m one of the lowest ranked karateka at brown belt training. It’s almost like being a white belt (brand new beginner) again both in etiquette and in the difficulty of the material presented relative to my present abilities. The sensei urged me to ask questions, and I soon found that, like a white belt, I indeed had questions.
“Please show me this again.”
“What is the name of that kata?”
“Do my arms go like this?”
“Oops – how do I make that turn?”
Do any of those questions sound familiar to any of you who have had more than, oh, say four lessons in any given martial art? Do these questions sound familiar to any of you who teach a martial art?
The beginner’s mindset keeps us from stagnating or (worse) becoming arrogant. I love Wikipedia’s definition:
Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism which means “beginner’s mind.” 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.
If I’d come to brown belt training with whatever the opposite of shoshin is, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. I certainly would have been miserable during the last hour, which we spent doing something that has been an especially challenging thing for me all of my Karate career. The sensei wanted to learn who I am, what I am made of, and what I need to work on. I was, after all, a brand-new student to him. I not only survived, I not only learned, but I also had a smile on my face at the end. Not a relieved smile but a smile of happiness with what I’d gained from the time.
Brown belt training was everything I anticipated. I am looking forward to more in the future. There is a lot for me to learn and three more difficult tests to take before I tie on a black belt. I intend to enjoy these years, and I’m glad to have this training available to me.