The "Big" Test
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The "Big" Test
03-09-2010 05:54 PM
A funny thing happens when you're a person who gets all introspective like I do. After a while you start to think you can see patterns within and all around you - like you can somehow figure out what's going to happen next based on some form of erudite elucidation. I'm positive that it's actually a new form of cynicism that protects us from being unduly taken off guard when things don't go our way. The result is you get to keep your cool and don't bat an eye when things take an unexpected turn. Whatever the cause, one thing is for certain: the next thing you know, you end up building all sorts of expectations around these educated guesses.
But I'm here to tell you that all of this goes absolutely cockeyed in reality.
For one, remember those 11 predictions I made in my second-last post before the test? Only half of them came true - and just barely.
You see, I was prepared. Really prepared. Yes, as if right on cue, I fell asleep during the drive while running through my test in visualization. But it didn't matter. I went right ahead and memorized all of the techniques, including the ones that I didn't have a solid mnemonic device for: namely the basic techniques for the optional section of the test that included Tanto/Tachi/Jo-Dori, Henka Waza and Kaeshi Waza. I even reviewed them in my mind before going to bed at the hotel on Friday night, first thing upon waking up on Saturday morning (in spite of it taking time away from my breakfast and almost not finding the time to do my "lucky braid"), and for the last time during the lunch break at the seminar.
Unlike I assumed I would do as always, I didn't exhaust myself during the seminar out of the usual pressure to give a good showing for the club. I spent each session in near-relaxation, actually -- especially once it dawned on me that this would be the very last time I would be attending a seminar where I could just blend into the crowd with the rest of the white belts (for, out of an overwhelming urge not to stand out, I chose not to wear my brown belt -- for which I was sternly reprimanded by Jon Sensei afterwards). This would be the last time I could get away with not knowing what the heck I was doing since no one would have any expectation of me to "get it" all the time -- I was only a Mudansha, after all.
It was then and there, during the warm-up -- in the middle of Tae No Henka, no less -- that I realized that those happy-go-lucky times were almost over. So, shedding the unnerving feeling that Kawahara Sensei had his eye on me, I proceeded to simply enjoy the seminar and each movement I made. I did my best to hear and comprehend Sensei's broken English above the occasional shrieks of children running down the hall and the loud rattle of the room's heating or plumbing system. In the end, my efforts were rewarded with some gems to help me with my Morotedori Kokyuho (keep your back/posture straight when squatting and rising up), Sankyo (performed at an upwards angle such that your elbow points up and back almost at 45 degrees) and Kokyudosa (emphasis on pushing your elbows forward), to name a few. Naturally it helps that pointing at your elbow needs no translation, even for a futz like me. I even made a mental note of the Henka Waza he got us to practice (Munedori Kotegaeshi to Sankyo) in the hopes of using it during this section of the test.
The afternoon session ended early to accommodate what was scheduled to be four long tests including mine: Murray (Ikkyu) and Ilia's (also Shodan) from Saskatoon and Virgil's (Sandan) from Regina. During the 15-minute break before them, I went to the ladies' room and scarfed down my energy snacks and the last of my Gatorade and waited. No adrenaline rush, no shaky hands. I started to mentally go over my memorized list of the optional section again but gladly let myself get interrupted by banter with Lisa and Miranda from Saskatoon, who would be my uke for the test. I figured, "What the heck, I've either got it memorized or not at this point" and after three flawless run-throughs, was certain of the former. Minutes passed. I took a few long, deep breaths. Still no loss of fine motor control. Hmph. Weird.
So I popped back onto the mats early, chatted with folks and did a bit of stretching. At one point during the break, I was chatting with YuLin from Saskatoon when a smiling Kawahara Sensei gestured to her and from what I could make out, asked her if I seemed nervous. Oddly enough, I wasn't. This was all in spite of recalling Kawahara Sensei's ominous words from two years ago (plus his reminder when Jeremy and I tested for Ikkyu) that he would test us hard this time. Still, I remained calm, even knowing that Sensei is infamous for giving you a psychological test more than anything else -- that he'd often tell your ukes to attack hard and fast and expect you as the defender not to reciprocate, instead showing that you are in control. I kept a cool head despite the knowledge that during the Randori portion of the test, it was practically expected that your attackers would madly run at you with the intent of taking you down at all costs and that with the odds stacked against you (ie. the defender not being allowed to respond in the equally aggressive way they would realistically), you were definitely going to be taken down sooner or later. But whatever was going to happen, I was ready. I had trained hard for this day and I was finally going to get a chance to demonstrate the culmination of those efforts. So really, there was no need to be nervous.
As Murray did his test (so my not going first, of course, also helped) I watched, if only peripherally -- I didn't know at the time that he was going for Ikkyu since they were doing the same test techniques as I would -- I didn't want to bias my mental imagery, if you will, with another person's style. During his test, a Yudansha sitting next to me was kindly giving me tips as to particular versions of techniques for my upcoming test and I graciously thanked him but I realized that now wasn't the time to try and incorporate anything new -- I just had to do what I had been taught, exactly the way I'd practiced time and again and let that be what would be judged; any new way of doing things would likely just mess up my muscle memory at that point.
When Murray finished his test earlier than expected and without the optional or Jiyu Waza sections, it sounded like Sensei was going to get him to do the latter later on. I wondered if this was going to be in the interests of time. Then they called me up. Deep breath.
I was ready to feel that surge of nervous energy -- that brief and customary mind/body conversation that would make me feel awkward in the beginning -- but it never happened. It was the strangest thing. They say that when you're testing for Shodan, it all goes by in a blur - but that was only partly my experience. Time did not slow down and I did not lose my memory of what had gone before. Rather, it felt like I was hyper aware more than anything else. My body started out like it was "feeling out" the energy and movements of my one new uke, Miranda, who was taller and heavier than me. Little did I know at the time that she had only come back to training very recently from being off after having her second child in November -- kudos to her! Lisa, who was lighter, was breakfalling out of almost everything and as always, impressed more than a few people; she did a great job.
As prepared as I was to call out my own techniques for the "any 5" series, it turned out that Kawahara Sensei opted to call out random ones himself, which took a lot of the guesswork (and my conscious memory) out of it.
I don't know how else to describe what I was feeling at the time except like I was extremely…in the moment -- going back and forth like we did between a lighter and heavier uke was in a way like turning on a dime. Little did I know at the time that Kawahara Sensei was scrutinizing my adaptations to technique and even grunted in approval at my literally last-second, mid-technique decision to adapt to a different version of my dreaded nemesis Aiki Otoshi in order to compensate for the heavier uke.
The other thing about this strange hyper-aware state I was in was that what mistakes I made, I was fully conscious of and immediately sought to correct on the next rep (which also earned grunts of approval from The Man). All except one mistake, which I later found out had its origin in incorrectly interpreting a note I had made to myself that formed the basis of my visualizations of the test: the "direct entry" version of Katadori Menuchi Iriminage was not (as I erroneously imagined) supposed to be like the "direct entry" I wrote down for the same attack's Ikkyo. Sheesh. Without going into a treatise about language and meaning, suffice it to say that my old Wittgensteinian Analytic Philosophy prof would have had a heyday with this. But at the very least, the incident was a lesson itself on the power of visualization. To have so easily overridden repeatedly-practiced movements and muscle memory by mere thought alone is quite impressive…not to mention scary.
In the end, the only criticisms Kawahara Sensei voiced were directed towards my own Sensei for not teaching me a different version of Ushiro Ryotedori Kubishime/Ushiro Ryotedori Koshinage -- while the Ikkyo-style version that I did was considered perfectly legitimate, it apparently is not one that Kawahara Sensei himself usually teaches and as such he did not feel he could grade it.
Sensei wrapped things up shortly after the Hanmi Handachi Waza in the additional portion of the test, though it really felt like we had skipped all over the place and that I had done an awful lot of Koshinage (most likely because the versions above were not what he was looking for). But folks seemed convinced that I had been sped through the test because I was doing well. In any case, when Sensei called me up, Jon said he thought I looked like I was going to get all emotional.
In reality, I was feeling really sheepish. I didn't think I had done at all as well as I thought I could have. I was also disappointed that just like with Ikkyu, the old man did it again! After I was totally ready to do the weapons-taking and the adaptive stuff -- not to mention my favourite thing: Randori. I didn't get to do any Jiyu Waza or any Randori! I was despondent. Little did I know that at one point during my test, Kawahara Sensei called Jon up and asked him how long I had been training and how frequently (seven years at four times a week); he also asked Jon if I knew the whole test and when Jon responded yes, Sensei gauged his reaction. It seems that knowing that (plus seeing a scant 15 minute performance from me) was good enough for him to know where I was at.
When Kawahara Sensei looked me in the eye and said, "Not bad. Tae Sabaki very good." I can genuinely say that I was touched. I bowed and gave as heartfelt an "Arigato gozaimasu" as I could muster.
"I give you Shodan. You pass," he said.
And that was that.
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