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It used to be fun, because it used to be short. A few techniques demonstrated in both front and rear styles, some ukemi skills to show I can take a fall or go into a roll, some memorized vocabulary to make sure I knew the names of certain attacks. But on my 4th-kyu test, after which I would lose the white from my belt, I felt for the first time a sense of apprehension. It's not the usual anxiety, the normal butterflies-in-stomach release of adrenaline before a test; it's the fear of miscalculation, the paranoia that I'd forget how to perform a certain technique, the doubt in my own endurance.
After the first few techniques had been called out for me to demonstrate, I moved on to the third. Kihon waza: step in to stop the technique before the partner's strike is completed. Ki no nagare: "flowing technique" where the partner's striking momentum is purposefully drawn out, to be used to your advantage as you turn it into your own attack. Ki no nagare has always come more natural to me, and my body defaults to it instinctively. So when Sensei called kihon waza, I took a second to recall the hand and foot movements. When I stepped right into what I was supposed to do, I was so thrilled over getting it right that I forgot what I needed to do for the meat of the technique: shihonage. I froze, my mind coated with panic. I was hyperventilating, not breathing enough, not supplying my desperate body with much-needed oxygen. And then my brain just shut itself off, and my body took over to do the rest. There were a few rough spots during the rest of my test, but nothing quite as dramatic as that. And when it was over and the other students had their chance at their own tests, I found a new blue belt waiting for me, along with my Senseis' feedback for how I could improve my form for the future.
I felt like I had gotten rid of all the white on my belt, but not in my mind. My aikido is far from flawless. I still need to work on taking balance. Not compromising my own posture for an opponent who is taller or bigger or stronger than me. Step in evenly toe-to-toe, and not move so far back. Use my hips to move with power and not rely on my arm strength. Ki'ai and breathe. Relax and loosen up. Kept it steady, keep it strong.
Now I am approaching the more arduous part of the path, the rougher terrain in the road. There's more to learn, more to memorize. There will be more rigid criticism on the mistakes in my techniques, more attention to detail. There are the doubts, and anxiety, and nervousness, and fear. And then there is learning how to conquer these things, like everything else in life worth reaching for.