Deborah about an hour into her nidan test Credit: Sean McNintch
Our first tests as a dojo are a month away, and I want to concretize a few things that we have been talking about as we start to prepare in earnest.
Tests are simultaneously an important opportunity for everybody in the dojo to face challenges and deepen their practice, and the same as every other training day. They’re a time to remember that we are always here to take ourselves and one another seriously as warriors in training. They are a time to reflect on rituals we do all the time, like quieting down 5 minutes before class, bowing to one another, and paying regular homage to a lineage. All etiquette and custom in the dojo reflects that, while aikido is certainly joyous and this community is a treasure, we aren’t just playing with our friends. We are participating in the transmission of an art that is much bigger than we are, and that is joyous in part because it is so damn real, revealing, and challenging.
Yes, obviously, testers are going to be working on specific techniques! But there’s so much more to it than that. The moment testers are identified among a community of practitioners, we are all thrown into a challenging position of some sort. Maybe you are identified as a tester, and got into aikido because you do not like the pressure of competition! Or maybe you were not identified as a tester and have to face regrets about uneven attendance. Maybe you are struggling with a little comparative thinking around your skills. Maybe you are fine not being a tester, but don’t feel confident about your ability to help others by showing up, or do not have very much time to give others who need your help right now. All of this is really normal.
Everybody is asked to grow and stretch when we are preparing for a test. Everybody’s being asked to give a little more. Testers are stretching their skills, and everybody else is stretching to hold them. Many of us are facing internal resistance to do that. And working through that, together, even if it’s kinda messy, is the point. Sharing a struggle is a great way to grow.
The most beautiful part of tests is that they aren’t fundamentally different than the way you should be approaching your training every single day. Every time we get on the mat, we should be ready to give every single bit of what we can give. Every single bit of awareness. All the trust it is smart to give. All of our bodies, within the limits of self preservation of course. This is important because this dojo does not run on rules as much as it runs on this principle that we are creating a space that is safe for serious martial and spiritual study. By giving yourself, you make it safer for others to give.
Please allow this process of testing to inform how you are creating that space every day you train.