What a topic! Raises so many questions. It really got me to thinking, (always a frightening prospect), and mulling over all your posts. Here's what I've gotten from all of you so far- please be gentle. These are just the meanderings of a feeble but inquisitive mind.
I can't help but wonder here if what we're really trying to figure out is how to every day show the art of Aikido and those on the same path the respect and honor they deserve while always recognizing that there will be something to learn, be it the first day on the mat or the first day tying on a black belt. Humility must be necessary, but also confidence, and with practice, each must, by default, grow and evolve, but perhaps not in contradiction of one another. There's no need to ever feel badly about one's self for having someone with less experience correct you- that is based on this false idea that because you've been at something longer than someone else, you should have more answers than do they, and if not, you must be failing somehow. But everyone has a singular vision, and where those visions collide is where enlightenment can happen. Appreciate a newbie's input as much as you would appreciate the input of your instructor. That is not to say you should necessarily take a newbie's advice over that of your instructor, as certainly one's scope increases with time and experience, but what I'm trying to say is be open to input and feedback from anyone, without prejudice, as the view from infinite and unique vantage points can yield infinite possibilites.
It doesn't make sense in some way that we should always strive to be "beginners". Why else train if not to note
our progess and grow? Why start anything if only to never leave the stage of "beginner"? Certainly, it's not a good idea to give oneself the idea of having nothing to learn, but I think it's probably also not a good idea to try to keep oneself in a state of beginning.
The word itself may be the problem, and our stubborn inclination to use it. You can only begin once, and then begin anew elsewhere, but a beginning is a beginning. Once you've begun, you can never go back in time to begin the same beginning. So maybe what we're looking for is a better way to describe the perfect and beautiful moments, often right in line, that have us feeling comfortable with a certain technique, for instance, then completely baffled by it in the next moment when someone shows you something about it you've never before seen. I think the idea of beginning here really means to never abandon the idea that you always and forever have something to learn, from anyone at any given time, regarding anything. I really like how some of you talk about "shoshin" and having an empty mind. I'm finding myself more comfortable, however, thinking of it as an "unhindered" mind, or "unburdened"; free of the need to compete, compare, impress, etc. I certainly wouldn't want my mind to be empty! To do so would be putting myself in denial of what progress I have made, and that seems somewhat dangerous to me, and self-defeating, not to mention it sort-of countermands all the time and patience and effort my fellow-aikidoka/Senseis have put into teaching me!
Maybe the goal is just to recognize balance? In one breath, you may help someone, and in another, someone may help you. How much fruit will get thrown at me if I make a "circular" reference, here?
(No groaning, please, unless in the form of a kiai.
Anyway, maybe one way to consider this is to always strive to be "learners" or students, but to always be a beginner is to take away the meaning of beginning! The first step in anything deserves its own recognition, as does then staying with something. There shouldn't be a need for false modesty or egotism, just a genuine desire to show yourself and fellows respect, and to train in appreciation of the things you do know, and the things you know are yet to come. Always let yourself give, and always let yourself receive, and the need to classify yourself or anyone else as "beginner", "intermediate", "advanced", etc., will disappear.
So, I guess I'd say that I stopped being a beginner the moment after I began. But it was the beginning of a beautiful journey, with a few mile markers along the way so that if I try to travel too far on what fuel I have, there's something I can look back on in order to find my way again, and start from where once I was, but never start over.