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I was worried about the usual things: forgetting to breathe, running out of steam, my throat going dry so I'd be longing for a sip of water halfway through. That I'd brain-freeze through sankyo and mix it up with yonkyo. I coached myself that nikyo from kata dori is the same as ikkyo except for the pin, but that nikyo from shomenuchi requires the hand change early on. Keep the "Freddy Krueger fingers" pointing northward when executing an ikkyo lock. Keep my nikyo-ura tight and torqued, as if "the opponent's palm is a mirror you're trying to keep turned towards you." Keep my sankyo glued to my sternum, rise and twist. And yonkyo! I have so much trouble with that one with my small hands grasping my various training partners' huge forearms that I just had to somehow pull it off and make it look halfway decent.
Funny thing after the test, because everything I worried about weren't the techniques Sensei ended up critiquing. Instead, I was told that my irimi hand needed to come over higher, reach to the ceiling, like a wave breaking over rocks. And that my lower hand during tenchi nage needed to reach to the ground, especially important for a shorty like me taking down often-taller training partners. That for my yokomen response in kihon waza, I needed to get in there and stop the attack early on.
There is a moment I remember vividly from my test, a kernel of meaning in chaos, a burst of sunshine amidst the fog of nervousness and uncertainty. When I was executing a kotegaeshi, one of the last techniques on my test, I felt a sudden shift from the normal sitfall-to-roll-over response from my test partner. A quick grab on my gi sleeve to prep, and suddenly he sailed through the air in a highfall, his body heavy beside me one moment, weightless and airborne the next. The first time I launched someone in a highfall, I was so surprised I almost let go--not very safe for the person taking ukemi. This time, it felt right and natural. Never during our practicing together for the past almost-three months did my test partner execute a highfall, and yet, without any former planning or communication between us, this spontaneity, this display of trust for my ability to take him down well, this self-confidence in drawing from my ki during a technique, warmed my heart and made me smile.
There are many things I need to learn how to do better, techniques I still have to work on. But for just a small moment in time, it wasn't a test I was taking, but the creation of a memory that exemplifies euphoria and zen. Because despite the long journey ahead, in that moment I was able to find the "ai" in aikido.