Gakusei Ni Ni — Be Like a Student 学生に似

Acting like a student is an integral part of our kartatedō. Actively gathering, processing, and studying the wisdom all around us makes us better karateka.

Gakusei Ni Ni [pronounced “gahk-say nee nee”] means “be like a student” — and brings up the power and promise that is inherent in thinking and acting like a student in many aspects of our lives. To be “like a student” means many things, and it certainly calls to mind the very basic and fundamental concept of shoshin (beginner’s mind; read more about shoshin here) that is one of the central tenets of karatedō.

But it goes beyond that.

Being a student means taking the curiosity and openness that shoshin gives us and using it in our everyday lives. In effect, gakusei ni ni is like “applied shoshin.”

What is a Student?

What does it mean to be a student? It means observing with an intent to learn, to explore. It means asking questions, both internally and asking questions of others and the world around us. It also means taking all this information (observations, answers, etc.) and recording it somehow. And in the end, it also means taking the net sum of our observations, notes, questions, and more — and then reflecting upon them.

Or another way to think of it is that gakusei ni ni requires you to actively and continually seek to learn. Gakusei ni ni is not a passive act.

Being a Student, Actively

Ultimately, any breakthroughs in learning have to come from a spark that builds inside us. At first, we start with a small pile of fuel — some facts, observations, experiences, etc. — and then we start making a fire that hopefully will end up burning bright enough to enlighten us.

Feeding that fire is an important part of being a student, and we have to feed that fire with intent, and not passively wait for circumstances or others to do that for us.

We have to actively be students. We have to ask the questions, take the notes, read the notes and refine our knowledge, and then spend the time and energy reflecting on the outcome in order to learn and grow.

Living Life as a Student

Being a student is a life-long proposition. In fact, it becomes much more important to be a student when our formal education ends: “graduation” is not a symbol of having achieved enlightenment and learning — rather it is a pass that gives us the responsibility to now become our own teacher, and actively be the student that we must be in order to grow and succeed in life.

This is a big responsibility, certainly: but it is also a great opportunity as well, and an opportunity that ultimately is one that is at the central core of our karatedō.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
learning (gaku)
living (nama) when combined with gaku, becomes gakusei [student]
to (ni)
similar (ni)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in San Rafael, California on 22 July 2017, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 21 June 2023.