The word exam generates a shiver down the back and a stomach ache to many of us.
Anyone who has lived the adventure of getting through from a graduation path knows that every exam was a real birth. Each phase of the gestation is experienced by the student up to the travail of the night before the fateful date.
Based on the outcome of the exam, the student experienced the question “how was it”? of the relative or friend with immense joy and pride or with deep sadness and disappointment.
When I was in the last year of Law I wrote down a table (strictly by hand as a student of a humanistic and non-scientific academia) with the list of all the exams to be passed to get to the degree with highlighted in green those already passed so I could sense relief and an incentive at the sight of that table since I had few steps to reach the goal.
In those years I experienced every exam as an end. My goal was simply to get over it in order to highlight in green another row in my table.
More than 10 years have already passed since my graduation and only after passing the qualification exam for the legal profession I did reach the maturity to understand that all exams lived well or badly were a mean to get to my goal and not a end at all.
This new perspective radically changes the perception of my experience.
Only now I can understand that expecially the most difficult exams – the ones I had to take again since my preparation was not enough in the professors’ judgment despite the months of intense study, those grades deemed unfair, those questions asked on purpose to put in trouble the one under examination – to give me the strength to stand up and rise up after a ruinous fall.
With Aikido, in addition to ukemi, I relived the experience of feeling under judgement.
I have to admit that for kyu grades I was really terrified of forgetting the names of jo’s suburi and not correctly performing the techniques required by my Teacher.
Looking back at those years I can admit that my greatest fear was to disappoint my Teacher. I wasn’t living the exam for myself but for him.
Thanks to my Teacher I have over time understood that in Aikido, the exams are fundamental to overcome our fears and, above all, to put ourselves in front of a mirror, being able to take a snapshot of our journey.
Under stress, we move differently than during a simple Aikido class.
Our battlefield is not on the road but our mind.
If we put ourselves to the test in a context of psychological stress we can grasp our body management skills and how we manage to execute the techniques in a fluid manner and without the use of force or we can see our difficulties through rigid, nervous, disrespectful movements of our uke.
Each exam is therefore a fundamental moment of growth.
With shodan test I discovered that the management of fear and stress must start above all from correct breathing.
If I am in apnea it means that I am blocking the breathing muscles and consequently I am stiffening the whole body.
If I can maintain a constant rhythm of my inhalation and exhalation, it is easier to keep the body relaxed, flexible and, consequently, faster in movement.
When my Teacher will address my preparation for the nidan as adequate I will be happy to test myself not only for him but above all for me.
What makes me understand that I have improved thanks to Aikido is the fact that if I would be told to take the exam tomorrow for a dan grade or to start a new path I would do it without any fear, at least with a little of healthy trepidation.
This is becauseit’s clear to me that the exam is a mean of improvement and not an end!