One of my major goals in taking up the violin as an adult was to add another dimension to my pursuit as a lifelong student. My martial arts training has been immeasurably important to me for many reasons, but one of the most profound is the way it’s helped me internalize learning as a process that is never complete; there is always room to grow. As I’ve entered the intermediate levels in my violin playing, I know now more than ever that the musical path is similar. I’m very early in discovering this truth about my music – and it’s still with the relatively basic technical elements – bowing, vibrato, smooth position shifting, intonation – that I think about learning over time. It’s that way in the martial arts too – at first it’s all quite concrete. In my music, for example, I can’t even honestly say that artistic expression makes the cut yet. But I know the list will shift over time.
This weekend I have a couple of karate training mates who have been in New York testing for advanced rank in our martial art – both of these women are seniors to me in the art, and I’ve learned a lot from each of them over the years. So of course they were on my mind yesterday, when here in Chicago we tested nine children for their first black belts, and one adult for his. The tests are always inspirational, and for me watching this one young man testing by himself was especially so.
For our promotions, we write essays. The children’s are always a treat, but this young adult’s was especially thoughtful – full of the ways that his martial journey has been impactful to him. He wrote a lot about the ways our art and having a community in which to train have helped him grow. While I love the physicality of our practice, my favorite part of our black belt tests is always when the candidates speak about what they have written. Hearing him speak of his art as a grounding force for his mind reminded me of the degree to which our training does that for me too.
And so does doing the hard work of learning to play the violin. I’ve written this blog in part as a diary of progress in my musical art. As faithful readers know, I don’t write much at all in this space about my martial art. But reading my fellow student’s essays (including those of my two seniors currently testing in NY) prompted me to re-read my own this morning – it’s interesting for me to think about what has changed and what has remained the same.
So I thought I’d link my own essays here to get them into this chronicle of my life as a learner. Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan. They are markers on a path, reflections of the moment when they were written. They certainly wouldn’t come out the same way if I wrote them today.
Thanks for reading.