“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
For more than ten years now, our dojo has observed “White Belt Weeks” for the entire month each January, but the origin of this special month goes back a bit farther…
In May 1995, when I returned home from college for summer break, one event occupied the forefront of my mind: an upcoming seminar and black belt test. The test would take place in Chicago, Ill at a Nishiyama Sensei seminar hosted by JKA Chicago (Sugiyama dojo) in late June. Though I’d been training with, and teaching my college club, I knew I needed to ramp it up if I was going to pass my Shodan (1st degree black belt) test. So, with determination and absolute focus, I created my hardcore, mad-dog training plan, tweaked my diet, mapped out each day of next several weeks, and jumped right into it.
But, the training sputtered within the first few days; something just felt…off.
I became more than a little concerned and I knew I had to figure it out and fix the issue fast. And within a day or so, an idea came to me. Since I passed my previous test, I’d been wearing the well-worn brown belt a good buddy let me borrow, but when I switched it out for my white belt something changed, pretty much instantaneously. As I stood in my bedroom staring into my training mirror, seeing myself as a beginner again, I felt somehow new, like anything was possible. And from that moment on, even when faced with obstacles and setbacks, I not only owned my training and trained hard, but my mind opened up to new growth, my joy in training deepened even more, and passing the test was only a part of quest and no longer the whole.
I didn’t put that brown belt back on again until the first seminar class more than a month later. That was my first time participating in a Nishiyama Sensei seminar, and though I was nervous, everything just felt right. I had a great time learning from and training with so many other dedicated karate instructors and students, and, I passed that test.
Now, every January, everyone, whether orange belt or green belt, brown belt or black belt, sheds their colored belt in favor of a shiro obi, a white belt. It reminds us that the color of the belt matters little–the skill, the mind, the heart, the potential and the dedication matter most. It reminds us to maintain beginner’s mind and to never stop learning. And, it reminds us to enjoy the journey!