That Feeling

Tonight there’s another dan exam in the dojo. These are a special time for all of us to not only test the new candidates but to take a moment and reflect up on where we came from. Once upon a time, each of us sitting on the board was in the same position as those testing tonight.

No matter how long ago it was we remember the butterflies in our stomachs, the confidence we had to muster and the energy of the room. We will never forget which katas we had to do – in fact they became inherently ‘our’ kata. The one we formed a long term attachment to, just like the people we tested with. Each black belt can tell you who else was there on the floor with them.

I was alone. A solitary student with a board of examiners watching my every move. There were no moments when the black belts were looking at someone else. Their attention was glued on me – and only me. Testing by myself also meant no breaks while the others did their katas. It was just me. All me.

And I did not test as a young, energetic student. I’d had one of those milestone birthdays- you know the ones that end with a zero. Not to say I didn’t have energy, because I did. The passion lighting my fire to succeed burned long and bright within my core. I was determined to do this and to do the very best that I could.

I did my requisite two heian katas and my black belt kata confident that I’d done them to the best of my ability. Then my instructor asked for another heian kata. And another. He didn’t stop until I’d demonstrated them all. I remember thinking, “Hey, you’re changing the rules on me,” but I didn’t show it in my face or my body language. If that’s what he wanted, to test me on everything I knew, then I’d give him what he wanted. Instinctively, I knew it was about throwing me a curve ball to see how I’d react and to test my endurance.

I ended that test knowing I’d done my best and I can still remember the feeling of my hands trembling as I put on the black belt for the first time. My test was on an Friday night early in April. When we got home that night, snow brushed the ground. In Southern California – snow in April, in the desert. You know that old expression – “When hell freezes over”. That’s the other thing I’ll never forget about that night.

To this day it makes me chuckle. Maybe that’s what some people thought. I’d never earn my belt. By working long and hard, I proved them wrong.

I can’t wait to watch the young men testing tonight. I wonder what they’ll remember most from this experience?

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Test Day

The last Friday of the month is always test day at the dojo. Gosh, I remember how nervous I was as I was progressing through the belts, knowing I had to demonstrate my skills. Like every other student I didn’t want to make a single mistake.

But life isn’t like that, and neither is the kyu exam. Mistakes are things we learn. Sometimes as nerves overtake our abilities we do something silly like put the wrong leg in front or do the incorrect combination. It happens. Being able to move on and not show any type of distress during the testing session is of the utmost importance. Students who do that are demonstrating to their instructors that nothing is going to stop them if they have to defend themselves. Perhaps they meant to throw a huge left punch into the face and smacked their attacker squarely in the throat. They won’t flinch, they’ll just keep going. Or they miss a block. They won’t show they’re hurt.

Tests – when mistakes happen – can sometimes be the very best window into what a student will do in real life. Mistakes happen. Don’t let them derail you. Keep moving and have a strong attitude while doing your best. That’s all you can ever do, anyway. Your best.