During and after college, I studied a martial art called Isshin-Ryu ("One Heart, One Mind"). During the first few years of my training, my sensei lived nearby; when he moved to Connecticut and opened the Bushido Karate Academy, we drove to study with him once a week. If it weren't for that commute -- two hours before class, then two hours home again -- I suspect I would still be an active student.
The first thing a Bushido student learns is that karate is about the perfection of one's character. Yes, fitness is involved. Yes, discipline is involved. Yes, forms and sparring are involved. But at its heart, Isshin-Ryu as my sensei teaches it is about finding balance, being ready for what comes, and becoming the best self one can be. I used to joke that Saturday morning classes at Bushido were my Shabbat practice, and that wasn't far from the truth.
We left the dojo because other things in our lives demanded our attention, and (maybe as a result) the commute became too much. By the time we left, we were brown belts, which meant we regularly assisted with classes (and ran them sometimes in our sensei's absence). It was amazing to see people walk in nervous and uncertain, and then watch them blossom as they became comfortable with their bodies and their capabilities. Teaching kids was especially satisfying that way. I remember how good it felt to help their confidence and sense of groundedness improve.
But I remember also that, in the last year of my training, sometimes I missed being a white belt. Advanced ranks help out with classes as a way of beginning to repay the energy and love that went into their training, and I never questioned that; it felt good to be part of the chain. But sometimes I missed the experience of just showing up. Knowing that somebody would take care of me. Knowing that my education was in somebody else's hands, and all I had to do was be present and willing to learn.
These last few months I've been wishing my Hebrew studies were progressing faster. Wishing I knew more, lots more, right this minute. Wishing I could read Torah without a dictionary and without puzzling slowly through the syntax. Wishing, in short, that I were a brown belt already.
That seems to be my nature. I always want to know more than I do. I always wish I were learning faster. But I've been trying to remind myself, lately, that being a beginner is important, too. That there's wisdom in beginner's mind, and I should enjoy it while I'm here. Because just as I used to feel wistful about my white belt days, someday I'll remember these early months of Hebrew study fondly, wishing I could be a beginner again, discovering the language of Torah for the first time.