This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Katherine Derbyshire © 2016, all rights reserved.
Your test will not be perfect.
It doesn't matter what rank you're testing for — sixth kyu, shodan, sandan — there's always more to learn. You may not master aikido in a lifetime; you certainly won't between now and your test date.
At my dojo, a number of people are testing for black belt ranks in a few months. There's a lot of preparation going on as people try to fix the imperfections in their aikido. Everyone is training with more-than-average intensity right now, even people who aren't testing.
That's a good thing. I'm among those who believe that the preparation process is as important as the test itself, that a period of intensive training teaches lessons that cannot be learned any other way. Train hard for six months or a year and you almost can't help but get better.
And yet you won't be perfect. At the end of the day, when it comes time to bow in for the test, none of the half-remembered suggestions from teachers and training partners matter. None of the things that you ran out of time to fix matter.
When asked, I suggest that people stop taking advice a few weeks before the test. Don't pepper instructors with questions, don't solicit feedback, just train. It's too late to change anything anyway. Rather, the test is about stepping forward and saying, "This is where I am. This is the best I can do today." Don't apologize for the mastery you haven't yet achieved, own the place where you are standing now.
We often talk about owning the center line, controlling the interaction with a partner. We talk about irimi, about entering without evading. Irimi is not just a Japanese word for a particular footwork pattern, though. It's a way of being, a state of mind. It applies on the mat, but also to giving a presentation at a business meeting or confronting an unhelpful contractor.
The real world doesn't care why you missed class last week. It doesn't care about the things you understand in your head but can't yet manifest in your body. It doesn't care about the mismatch between what your teacher does and what you can do.
A test is not the real world, but it's not normal training, either. There's nowhere to hide, nothing to do but step forward into the moment, into the place under the sword.
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.