Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to Approach Your Black Belt Test

Your black belt test, in any style of martial arts, is your Olympics. From the first day you stepped on the mat, you began preparing for your test, whether you were aware of it or not. On the day you test for your black belt, you want to be at your absolute best, your peak; and going through the test should be like crawling through a long tunnel between one world and the next, like a birth; a rebirth. When you come to the other side, you should be changed; from that day on you are a new person.

When you practice your martial arts, whether you’re in your first week of lessons or a veteran of a thousand classes, knowing your test is coming up, that you are preparing yourself, that that day’s training session is connected to your test, gives you direction. You train with intention, with purpose and a sense of mission.

Every part of your life, every relationship, everything you consume, every thought, every action, every movement contains in it something that has to do with your test. You are in training. You are preparing yourself.

Getting ready for your black belt test requires that you become a representative of the martial arts. You represent the truth of it –or its frivolity. You represent every master teacher of every style of every school since the beginning. To everyone around you, you should represent the seriousness of the undertaking. It is more than your formal education, it is more than a contest, it is more than getting your degree, passing the Bar or getting married or any other event in your life. This is your black belt test, this is the event that requires you to practice ten-thousand repetitions, to dig deep, to be consistent, to train and train and train until the connections in your brain are so strong, so time-tested, and so automatic that the space between thinking and doing is eliminated.

Every toe knows its exact place. The foot is aligned, perfectly, as is the knee, the hip, the torso, the shoulders, the head, and the eyes. Like a master carpenter yielding a hammer, your hands, feet, elbows, and knees follow an exact path; they hit their targets with exact precision, with surprising force, with confidence that can only be born from practice. Your movement isn’t just movement, it is integration, it comes from your center, and your balance is perfect. You could do it all backwards, blindfolded, against one or more people, in the dark, on the grass, in the water, or anywhere, anytime, with or without a proper warm up.

When you test for your black belt, you are what you have shaped yourself to be. You have adjusted for any limitations and injuries. You move with a confidence that comes from repetition, from practice, from awareness, from intent, and from your breath. No stone has been left unturned. You ran the extra mile, you eliminated the unhealthy from your diet, you studied the best of the best, and you shaped and forged and worked on your movement. For you, it is all about the technique and nothing about the technique. Something drives you that is not your muscles.

When you test for your black belt, even your mistakes are polished. When you fall you flow, when you get hit, you embrace, when you tap, you win with a smile. You’re not hard on yourself, you don’t get angry; you cope, you adjust, and you accept. You have worked through the mistakes. You have worked through the frustration and the anger and the injuries.

The earlier you recognize the value of training for your black belt test, the better. The earlier you begin, the better. Preparing for your test shapes your experience; it makes you a better person. When other people are easily distracted, you are focused. When others eat without purpose, you choose a diet that prepares you for your training. When others give into anger, you see it as a chance to practice your control. You’re in training to be a black belt.

A professionally trained dancer carries with her a sense of center, of style, of confidence that lasts her entire life. A West Point graduate has a certain posture, an attentiveness and sense of confidence that shines –regardless of the time that has passed since graduation. A black belt who approaches his or her training with mission and seriousness –carries the experience to the grave.

You prepare for your black belt test with everything you have. When you do that, the experience serves you, it is rich, it is life-shaping, and it brings to you skills that you might never have acquired any other way.

Approach your black belt test, starting today, with these ideas in mind. When you step on the mat, remember where you are headed. Make your practice go deep –and then deeper, and then deeper yet. Put as much focus and energy into your hour of practice as you put into anything you do in your life.

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