Beginner Mind – The Martial Artist Mentality in Writing

Connecting the dots can only happen by putting rubber to the pavement. For writers it means showing up and putting tracks down on the page regularly – every day, the way a martial artist trains wholly (mentally, physically and spiritually) for the encounter with an opponent. I am going to weave between two great thinkers and doers: Steve Jobs and Bruce Lee.  There are many common threads to their philosophies, and I am hilighting persistence and passion.

The original thought and words about “connecting the dots” came from the commencement speech to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford given by Steve Jobs.  He said,

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” (

I agree with what he said, and I’m adding: in hindsight it’s also important to only dwell briefly on the past, and to continue to improve on the past.

Last week in my activing class there were numerous times when I felt fed up with listening to the self-directed put downs an artist puts upon themselves for not putting in time into their creation work. I’m not so much fed up with hearing about their complaints, but how their words and the feelings resonate in my own life. I heard the stories of the woes spent on distractions such as eating, talking on the phone, surfing the internet, or cleaning the apartment instead of just sitting down and doing the work. “Yes, I know… I know…I do it too. Now tell me something I don’t know.”

I admire the resolute compassion the teacher has for dealing with the situation, because she had the experience and the vision to guide the student to a higher truth. The practice in the class is to have the mentality of “from this moment forward.” This means to get on with it, and stop flagellating yourself with self-defeating thoughts and words. In the quiet of my own thoughts I faced my own defeats. I felt shameful with thoughts of: Where is the authenticity of meaning what you say? Why is the realization of an idea so hard? What road blocks am I putting up over and over?

I scour books on Zen, Psychology, Philosophy, Drama Art, Anthropology, Archaelogy, and the answer is all there but I can not see it or I’m just not ready to see it.

The gap – that lag time between conception and birth. “When is it gonna be?” I ask like a bored and impatient child with the wild mind. Rather organize my life to accommodate as best as possible the art that needs to happen I have a tendency to run away and allow for distractions to trickle into the “important stuff”. Again I recall the practice at the studio (or the dojo in this case) – “from this moment forward”, and it means to let go of the past – the transgressions of not having done the work, and make re-commit to doing better next time. It is wasted energy to flog oneself for opportunity missed. I think John Little describes it pretty well in the book “The Art of Expressing the Human Body” (by Bruce Lee, John Little)

“Lee believed each day brought the opportunity to improve ourselves physically and mentally; we could choose either to seize the moment to take a step closer to maximizing our potential and progress, or to decline the opportunity and thereby stagnate and regress.”

To complain and rehash the past is stagnating. It can become a harmful and addictive pattern to touch that hardened scar over and over without the intention of healing within, and propelling forward. So as artists, we are all vulnerable to be very hard on ourselves when we miss the mark we set for ourselves. So today was not the best for producing any gems. In fact today may was only a hollow image staring back at me.

 (Credit to Authors:  Bruce Lee and John Little of the “The Art of Expressing the Human Body)

 As the martial artist shows up at the dojo practicing that kick 10,000 times so I too must show up at the desk exercising my imagination and strengthening my courage to create. There are many layers to why that is, but among the leaves that fall to the ground, one that reminds me of my purpose as a writer is ‘for the love of it.’ And with that thought I am back to the beginner mind which found joy in the journey I began with 5 years ago.

One thought on “Beginner Mind – The Martial Artist Mentality in Writing

  1. I love this Analyn. I used to read about Bruce Lee when I was a little girl. I did enjoy his philosophy. We watched all his movies. My mother studied marital arts Karate and Tea Kwon Do (has a black belt) and she would always talk about the nuances he had that came from the many years of practice. I think about katas and kicks and precision and force when I need to regenerate sometimes, and you’re so right, we must show up at the desk…

    Regarding dots, I am finding that by searching for my heritage, my history, my ancestors, my yesterday years, the dots are coming together…in ways I never expected…

    Wonderful observation, Analyn. Thank you for sharing.

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