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Imagine being in a room you are somewhat familiar with. You have a general idea of where things are and you could go and get something if someone asked it of you. Now, imagine that same scenario, except the room is pitch black. You can no longer see the room well enough to navigate; you have lost your sense of direction. You are left with nothing but your memory, which you just can't seem to recall with much clarity. All you have is what little muscle memory you have from walking around that room from time to time. This is how I feel with my 5th kyu exam a day away. I have never had to grade before. In all my previous years of training, I never tested. The rank was awarded to you when they thought you earned it.
::cue dream sequence:: The one time I had to test was for a patch. You had to go out in front of the entire dojo by yourself and do a kata (Shaolin Strike Kata #1). Once you finished, everyone in the class then told you what you did wrong. Once everyone gave their opinions, my teacher would then decide if you had earned the patch. I was a green belt at this time and this was the very first kata I had learned. So, I had been doing this kata for over a year. I pretty much knew this kata in and out. I could do it forward, backward and if you called out a number (there were 21 moves), I could easily do that move without thought. In fact, I had already performed this kata alone in front of everyone in the past without a problem. The fact that I was being tested changed everything! My confidence in my abilities suddenly flew out the window. I was nervous and my memory completely left me. If it weren't for me being able to do the kata without thinking about it, I probably would have just stood there in the ready position staring at my sensei. Turns out, I did just fine and I didn't get any negative feedback at all. I passed and received my patch. They complimented me on how well I did and that I showed great composure. The truth is, I was shaking in my gi! I was so scared that my body was still shaking even when the second hour of class had begun! ::dream sequence over::
At this moment, if you were to ask me to do a given technique for my upcoming exam, I would be able to do it. My technique wouldn't be perfect (which is expected), but I could do it. The problem is, I just can't help but think back to how I felt testing for that patch. That was just one kata and I had been doing that kata for over a year. I have not been doing all these techniques I'm being tested on for over a year. I'm afraid that when the test comes, it will be as if someone turns out the lights and the somewhat familiar suddenly seems so unfamiliar. I'm afraid that I will be fumbling around in the dark, stubbing my toe while looking for the light switch. I have never been fond of the dark. I have always said "I am not afraid of the dark, I'm afraid of the things I can't see in the dark." Part of this comes from growing up with crazy people living across the street (I'm talking about- someone chasing another person through my yard with a sledge hammer- kind of crazy) and knowing that someone was raped down the street from me (Note- I actually lived in a nice rural area with corn and soybean fields all around me and this stuff wasn't the norm, but it still made me cautious).
All past events aside, I guess what it really boils down to is that I simply do not trust myself enough. I don't have the confidence in my techniques. If I felt that way after a year of doing a kata, how am I going to feel on this test? We don't do those techniques every day and I certainly am not competent with those techniques. I do not know them inside and out. Heck, I don't really know them at all. The techniques and I are not friends; we are acquaintances. You know- the type where you know their name and a bit about them, but you don't really know all the details. Then a voice in the back of my mind tries to calm me down. It says "Believe. Believe that you are stronger then you give yourself credit for. Believe that your sensei wouldn't ask you to test if you weren't ready. Believe in yourself!" I take a deep breathe and a sense of serenity takes over, if but for a moment. And that is when I realized something. Sure, I have never graded in martial arts, but I have been pushed to my limits and tested countless times throughout my life. I guess the thing I have come to realize is this: when your back is up against the wall or your face is in the mud, keep pushing, keep fighting, because you never know how close you are to conquering whatever it may be that is stopping you (even if it is yourself).