When we began practicing Aikido, we received a copy of the technical program from our teacher.
The peculiarity consisted in the fact that, for each rank, an indication was given about the methodology of the test. We started from these indications for the first fifth kyu test:
There is no real chance of failing the test.
The teacher will communicate to the candidate the need to take the test and then the date of the test will be scheduled.
As the intensity progressed, the indications stressed the need to increase awareness and self-criticism. For instance, for the black belt test, the program reported:
Errors attributable to the technical nomenclature and knowledge of suburi, kata, awase and basic kumi of ken and jo are no longer tolerated. At this level, the candidate is required to have developed a clearly autonomous critical ability, inherent to the didactic schematization of the discipline practiced.
A basic knowledge of the history of Aikido and the biography of its Founder was also required.
How to approach a test? How to experience such junctions of martial practice?
If we look at common experience, a good definition of an exam is: a picture that connects the “already” and the “not yet”.
A student preparing for an exam already knows several aspects of that subject but has not yet passed the exam.
A university student who has passed all the exams already has a good CV but has not yet discussed the graduation thesis.
If an engineering graduate is non qualified, the practice of certain jobs is not allowed.
If we change the direction of time and reverse the perspective, in that child who sixty years later became a Nobel Prize winner, there was already his/her story. Everything was already there but it hadn’t yet manifested itself.
All true. All very romantic.
Being available to remain on the floating bridge of heaven between the already and the not yet requires courage and the preventive acceptance of frustration.
The frustration of sometimes not being satisfied with your own performances. To alternate days in which we seem to have understood everything with others in which we are awkward and clumsy. Of having understood on a mental level what we have to do and not being able to express it fluidly on a physical level.
It’s hard for us, people used to going to a supermarket and finding tropical fruit on the shelves even in winter, to discover ourselves for what we are: beings that are part of a natural system. And nature requires time to produce its fruits. It requires pruning and grafting. Spring requires accepting the risk of winter’s sterility.
Yet the human being is the only being capable of planning and imagining the future, even in the very long term. From this tension the great achievements of humanity – and also the greatest disasters – were born.
That tension and desire that fuel a test transform it into a turning point: whatever happens, the test transforms and changes you. For this reason we believe that taking an exam, a test as soon as the conditions are right, is fundamental for a growth path.
Especially in situations like those in which we practice and teach, where there are two sessions a year in front of a commission made by instructors other than candidates’ ones, which stimulate students and teachers to mutual commitment and empowerment. The traditional method – the teacher knows you, knows when you are ready, examines you one day and gives you the rank – had its positive impacts. But it took away from the exam, however severe, the chance of being useful for all-round growth, which starts from comparison with people who are not your teachers, in environments that are not those in which you ordinarily practice.
Waiting, never considering yourself ready, is a way of remaining still as much as taking the exam just for fun.
Great achievements arise from the courage to aim for the not yet, on the basis of what we already are.
After all, Aikido consists in realizing what is missing.
Disclaimer: Picture by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels