“Courage and the Beginner’s Mind,” by Drew Gardner

The most powerful tool for learning is often forsaken by those who fear it. But those capable of consciously letting go of what they know in order to clear their minds for the full absorption of new learning, more effectively progress. The beginner’s mind does not mean truly forgetting, for this is not even possible. However, one who has embraced this precious mind state keeps knowledge previously acquired floating among his conscious, preconscious, and most of all, unconscious.

Michele’s “Fast Track to Black Belt” piece has inspired this brief essay. Once I get to know some people, I can almost hear them thinking, When do I become a master? When do I get to be the best of the best? I would like to answer, “Never, but so what?” Even once every standard technique has been ingrained in an Aikidoka, along with all their subtleties honed, accomplishing slight advancement opens new doors for infinite techniques. During a lifetime, total mastery cannot be attained in Aikido or any other skill set. This is rather easy for some to accept, but extremely difficult for others.

Some have convinced themselves they have beginner’s mind even though they do not. This falsehood may have to do with the fear of relinquishing prior learning into the unconscious, where its access is not completely under the person’s control. Courage to tuck away thoughts and concepts, to let them present themselves when necessary, is more readily available for some than others. The key word is LET, the suitable acronym for George Leonard Sensei’s energy training program.

One who understands, “I am the universe,” recognizes his or her physical center under the navel, but is freed from self-centeredness. Placing self-focus in the midst of the big picture reminds those who truly do such that, as the REM lyrics proclaim, “Oh life, is bigger, it’s bigger than you and you are not me…” Some people discover a healthy place for themselves, yet for others this is confusing with no resolution in sight.


  1. Hi Drew,

    I loved what you wrote about maintaining a beginner’s mind. I believe whether we belong to those who still want to be the best, or to those who have already accepted that the path is the destination, it is always important to remind ourselves that no matter how much we already know, each encounter with any aite has the potential to teach us something new.

    Ki & Ai,


  2. …isn’t it wonderful how each situation unfolds? all roses are roses, but each is also unique.

  3. These comments are great additions to this writing piece.

    A short while after submitting this to be considered here, I thought of something I think important. I remember taking shortcuts while physically and mentally exhausted toward the end of two-hour classes. For example, if I watched Sensei and his uke begin in, say, kosa dori, and then I saw ikkyo, I would think on occasion, okay, kosa dori ikkyo again. While sapped of energy, I would not have the same good concentration as during, say, the first hour-and-a-half. So, in the preceding example, I would do ikkyo in a way I already knew, ignoring the nuances Sensei had been demonstrating. Therefore, at least with me, sometimes the beginner’s mind would fall prey to lack of endurance.

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