Tassia Pellegrini

February 27, 2021

An experienced beginner

When was the last time you felt like a beginner?

Maybe it was when you started a new hobby. Two years ago, I decided I was going to learn drums. It was a childhood dream that I could only fulfill now in my early 30s.

Besides the initial monetary investment (which, with drumming, is always high), other interesting objections started to creep in: "I'm too old for this," "I work full time," "It's too difficult," "I tried learning other instruments before and it didn't work that well"... yadda, yadda.

I did it anyway. It was Christmas, after all. Good prices.

But a curious thing happened: I wasn't that frightened when the kit arrived. The fear was just an imagination. Instead, I was jumping with joy by myself in my living room as if I have won the lottery. I stayed until 3 am that Christmas eve making terrible sounds.

It was bliss.

And I noticed, two years later, that I didn't let those old thoughts contaminate my joy, as they always did with other hobbies.

What changed?

My expectations about my destination. Because I'm not a good drummer, let me tell you. I play for fun, I do study here and there, but my urge is ultimately to play. I play every day: for fun, for the lols, for the feels. Not to be good. Not to get anywhere. Just to be there, playing.

Sometimes I'm so moved playing that I don't recognize how my limbs move. They just go.

And, even though I'm not making a conscious effort to become a decent drummer (as I would if I had a teacher, mentor, or followed classes rigorously), I'm getting better. But in a slow lane.

And that's totally fine.

Bam! That's it. I was never "fine" with just doing something for the sake of doing it. I always had the highest expectations ever, which is excellent for many things but not always the wisest way to approach other things.

This realization reminded me of the time I practiced Karate. I did that for ten years straight, from 8-years-old until I was 18. I always progressed smoothly from belt to belt.

Until I was 16 when I started preparing for my black belt exam.

Now I was more financially conscious. I knew the exam was expensive (at least for my family standards), and my folks struggled to pay for my school. Not passing that exam didn't only mean that I would have to suffer my own self-loathing (worst than anyone else's), we would lose the money as well (I was doing unpaid work at the time, sweet).

So I started thinking: "This is not for me," "This is too difficult," "I gotta prepare for college, I don't have the time," "This is too expensive, and I don't want to waste my parent's money." So I didn't.

My sensei was really sad that I wasn't going for it, but he respected my decision. After all, he cared about me as a person, and he knew it was only a hobby. I had other plans for my career; I wasn't going to become a professional athlete or a sensei; I was going to be a Webdesigner (my words). So I could try another time.

But my goal-driven personality and excellence values weren't shut. I was torn. I knew I could do it. My sensei knew too; otherwise he wouldn't put me on the line (his words). I would also be his first female student to become a black belt. I was very proud.

But now, I felt like a coward. I was so close to the "finish" line (well, black belt is just the beginning but let's not go there now) and I was running away from it because I was afraid. I knew it was a prudent decision but wasn't also some sort of excuse?

Still, I kept training as a brown belt as if I was going to do the exam. I just knew I wasn't.

I have announced that I wasn't. I have decided that I wouldn't.

Then something changed.

I realized that I trained Karate this whole time not because I wanted to become a champion or a black belt, as everyone else would remind me occasionally. I trained Karate because I LOVED it.

I was having a lot of fun in the dojo now, which I didn't experience in a long time. With the anticipation for this moment and what kind of performance was expected from me, I forgot the reason why I studied this martial art in the first place: because it spoke to me.

I was light, I didn't take my mistakes so seriously (so I learned from them faster), and I was excited to be there. I was employing more energy and attention than ever before.

It was bliss.

And then, a year later, my sensei approached me and said: if you don't really care about a career in Karate, you don't need an exam to be a black belt. I would rather give you mine.

So he did.

That gesture was really special to me. I never used a black belt in a dojo, not even in his, with his permission. It doesn't matter to me. But I carry it with me as a symbol. As a reminder.

I often tell people that I'm a Karate black belt as a fun fact on those corporate games. But it has been ten years since the last time I've been to a dojo. I had a hard time training with another community or teacher since I pursued college and work life.

But if I would train again, I would start from scratch. There's actually a belt called "Shoshin" (roughly translated as "the beginner's mind"): it's a black belt covered in white. As you use it, it ages, and reveals what's beneath it.

I would be happy to start there. I would be a beginner again.

Just for the sake of it.