A man who is learning some art is apt to say, “I won’t rush things and tell people I am practicing while I am still a beginner. I’ll study by myself, and only when I have mastered the art will I perform before people. How impressed they’ll be then!”
People who speak in this fashion will never learn any art. The man who, even while still a novice, mixes with the experts, not ashamed of their harsh comments or ridicule, and who devotedly persists at his practice, unruffled by criticism, will neither become stultified in his art nor careless with it. Though he may lack natural gifts, he will with the passage of the years outstrip the man who coasts on his endowments, and in the end will attain the highest degree of skill, acquire authority in his art and the recognition of the public, and an unequaled reputation.
All the performers who now rank as the most skilled in the whole country were at the beginning considered incompetent, and, indeed had shocking faults. However, by faithfully maintaining the principles of their art and holding them in honor, rather than indulging in their own fancies, they have become paragons of the age and teachers for all. This surely holds true for any art.
Someone remarked that you should give up any art of which you have not become a master by the age of fifty. At that age there is no prospect that you may acquire it by hard work. People cannot laugh at what an old man does. For him to mingle in society is unbecoming and unseemly. It is better and more attractive as a rule if an old man stops all work and lives at leisure. A man would have to be a fool indeed to spend his whole life occupied with worldly matters. If there is something you would like to know, study it if you like, but once you have learned the general principles and your curiosity is assuaged, you should stop. Best of all is to dispense with such desires from the start.
From Donald Keene, tr., Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967).
I for one am not disturbed to be laughed at for being a beginner in my old age. Kenkō will just have to deal with it.