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"Your form was fine." Sensei said when he came to discussing my 4th-kyu test. He was giving us each feedback in the post-exam circle of promotion candidates. "Were you nervous?" he asked.
Huh... Nervous? I had felt really well prepared. I hadn't been afraid I would screw up any particular techniques (but of course I did anyway). I knew I was really focused. Intent on giving it my best. I had sort of half-assed my previous test (5th kyu), and had instantly wished I could've done it over - done it right. But there aren't do-overs on tests. This time I was doing my darnedest to nail it.
"Yeah..." I allowed, as best I can recall saying, "not totally freaked out, but I was probably a little nervous."
I was totally freaked out. The weird thing is that I didn't recognize it. Sure, I made a couple of mistakes on jo suburi - the one thing I thought I really had down, and there was that one technique where my back heel came off the ground and I noticed my leg was shaking... I didn't recognize that I was nervous. It's not OK with me to be nervous. Nervous is fearful, uncertain, and weak. I don't get nervous.
What I did recognize was a feeling, one I'd had after my first and only piano recital as a teenager. I had played "Come Sail Away" by Styx. I played it just fine. But when I was done and sat down I had to ask someone how I'd done. It was like I hadn't even been there when I was playing. At the end of my test I'd had the same feeling. I thought I'd done basically OK, aside from a few dumb mistakes, but it was like I wasn't quite in the same room with my body when I was doing it.
I was almost surprised, when I watched the video afterward, to see how many people were there on the mat. For the most part I'd been unaware of them. I think the walls of the dojo could have fallen away and I would not have noticed.
I have learned that Sensei sees right through me. When he offers what seems like a casual observation, it's worth taking a good look at it.
One of my reasons for practicing Aikido in the first place was to learn to stay present and relaxed in the face of overwhelming physical threat, and take effective action. Hmmm... Instead, in the face of a kind teacher, a supportive group of dojo mates and a limited set of techniques I had been reviewing and refining for weeks, I went away - out of my body and out of the room, was wound tight as a high E string, and screwed up things I knew like the back of my hand.
"Were you nervous?" "Oh, wow... Yes, I really was!"