What rank are you?
A beginners mind.
When I meet a young student for the first time, either at another dojo, or at a tournament, it is not uncommon to sometimes be politely asked, "what rank are you? Now sometimes the person doing the asking needs to know for a practical reason. For example, if I am participating in their tournament that person may simply want to make sure that I am registered in the right division. On the other hand, if I am visiting another dojo that same question might be asked by a student who is simply curious, since I do not wear any stripes, or other insignia on my black belt to indicate my rank.
In the first example, I will always give them my rank right away, since to this person knowing the correct answer is important for reasons other than mere curiosity. In the second example, however, I might take a slightly different approach. I might tell them my rank and then say something like, "but like you I am a student who is still learning". Now this answer invariably causes the person doing the asking to look at me for a moment with a rather perplexed expression on their face. Then they may smile and say something like, "no you're not, you're an expert".
Now I have met a few real genuine experts in my time, and I am definitely not in their company. But, from our time together I came to learn from them that regardless of their area of expertise, they all had one thing in common. Each one of them at some point during our time together admitted that in spite of their status each day still brings them new opportunities to grow and to learn within their chosen profession. Simply put, they always remain open minded. I suspect that this is a fundamental trait shared by most true experts.
But me, in spite of my decades of training I still do not consider myself an expert as I still have much to learn. Very experienced, yes. Pleased with how far I have come over the past four decades, for sure. But an "expert" is a term that I reserve for the few. Like lots of students daily both inside and outside of the dojo make mistakes. I for one consider these "mistakes" to be little markers that are continually trying to point me in the right direction. As such I know that they need to be heeded. I also know that it is important to remember that the right answer may not appear the first, the second, or even the hundredth time I try something. As such I always strive to have a "beginners mind".
This is something that I have always tried to have. Every minute I spend in the dojo is a constant learning process. The moment that I think I finally have something completely figured out is the time when for some strange reason things start to come apart. Yes, rank has its place. After all, as martial artist we are part of a hierarchical society, but as karate-ka our personal goals should never be based solely upon a desire for a higher rank. Instead, our goal should be to focus on learning more about about our chosen style, while seeking to improve the things that we think we already know well enough. If we do that then perhaps, we too might find that we are one step closer to becoming an "expert beginner".
Remember: "An open mind always learns more than a closed one".