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Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
Mr Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?
The Karate Kid
before the test
Prepare seriously. Make sure you know the curriculum. Practise often. Especially for your first test try to remember the names of the techniques.
the day of the test
Try to stay as calm and quiet as your life lets you. If you can, leave a clear buffer of time before the test. Go for a walk or sit down and have a hot drink. Try to avoid distractions.
Go to the dojo as early as you can. If you clean the mats before training in your dojo try to get there in time to do that - if you get there very early do it on your own.
Change into your gi slowly and deliberately. Many professional sports players have rituals they try not to vary. It's like preparing for battle.
When you enter the dojo bow slowly and formally with a feeling of gratitude. Look at the dojo. This place is where you are going to do a great test. This is your space.
Warm up thoroughly. Do some ukemi. Get your blood flowing and get rid of any stiffness or lethargy. Now you're ready to do a great test.
If you have to wait while other people are testing occasionally move your legs and ankles and feet and toes. It's not cool to fall over when you stand up.
Use the adrenalin as a help to peak at the right moment.
Be sharp. Now is not the time to be slow and thoughtful.
Finish all your techniques clearly and decisively with zanshin - re
I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
Last week I was asked about promotion tests. If your teacher asks you to test do you have to test?
Not to test
I think once you have shodan and a black belt it's OK not to test if you are really not interested in grades. But if you have trained for a long time and you still have a white belt there is maybe a danger of becoming a Q-car. A Q-car (in the US a sleeper car) is a modest-looking car with a hidden powerful engine. Like a VW Beetle with a Porsche engine. Hello. Surprise! The name came from the Q-ships. They were originally warships disguised as innocent merchant ships to invite attacks from submarines. When the submarines surfaced to attack the Q-ship revealed its guns. It sounds like advice from The Art of War by Sun Tzu ("all warfare is based on deception") or The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Or Captain Morgan the pirate.
I knew one man with a white belt who had a solid background in several martial arts and quite a few years of aikido training who surprised a few shihan with his powerful grip and attacks. So if you have a white belt and your teacher asks you to take a test it's probably a good idea to do it.
If a test is too expensive to fit in your financial priorities of course just decide not to test. But talk it over with your teacher.
In Japan the traditional way is very easy. You don't have
He'll always tell you he was a basketball player in a football player's body. He was my toughest competition. Taught me how to shoot, the whole form thing about keeping your elbow in, all the basics. He helped, and I pretty much give all the credit to him.
Alison Bales, WNBA Atlanta Dream
In many, many sports - like tennis, golf, weightlifting, kayaking, baseball and basketball, say, just to take a few at random - from the beginning players are often told to keep their elbows close to their bodies. It's a simple concept. Your body is strong like a tree trunk - but your arms are weak like the branches. So the tighter you keep your elbows in to your central core the stronger your posture.
But it's a little more subtle - and interesting - than that in the martial arts. Of course a block in karate is solid when your arm is close to your body. But in kendo or kenjutsu if your elbows are in too tight when you raise the sword you can block your own vision. And in judo if your elbows are in too tight some techniques can be weak and ineffective.
Your elbow has to be close to your body. But not too close. In tight. But free.
So in aikido keep your elbow in tight and move your arm by first moving your waist. And try extending your hand by extending your elbow, not the hand itself.
Don't, more music, don't stop the dance
Some teachers teach aikido like dance - in a way that's not at all martial. I have seen synchronized demonstrations where everyone is doing the same technique in the same way at the same time like synchronized swimming. Hapkido is a Korean martial art derived from Daito Ryu aikijujutsu. It is written 合気道 the same as aikido. In hapkido they use music as a background for training.
His guitar teacher told him to play the chord like it wants to be played. That's the way to do aikido too.
There are some clear parallels between budo and music and dancing that go beyond body movement. Timing and rhythm and flow, for example. And ma ai - the critical distance (the ma ai in music is in rests and breaks). And balance. And connection.
If we look more closely at what O Sensei was doing at the end of his life perhaps it's not a parallel at all. Maybe that's what O Sensei was really doing. Maybe he was dancing. I don't mean in that diluted way of some budo training. I mean real dancing. Dancing from his soul. Dancing for the gods.
picture of Matisse's Dance (La Danse) from Wikipedia used under creative commons licence