Over the few years that I have been practicing martial arts I’ve had the fortune to witness, give, and participate in a number of black belt examinations and one of the questions often asked before an upcoming exam is how pass said exam. Let’s talk about my experience to help you relate to your experience, and perhaps calm some of those fears and butterflies in your stomach.
The first thing I would say is to have some faith in yourself! Put the test into “reality” and take a good hard look at it. The idea of heart, faith, and steel is critical. Chances are, under a good instructor, that you do indeed have the base tools and movement to pass the test. You have probably been training for a number of years, been to many classes, and have practiced on your own at home. Add to this, that most students know of their upcoming black belt test, and chances are you have been practicing more than ever outside the dojo. Lack of faith in yourself, in my experience, is one of the main reasons of test failure- and I speak from experience- having failed one such test myself for a lack of faith, and the ability to let go! Practice, drill, and meditate, etc. whatever you have to do to build that faith.
Often the next hurdle comes on the day of the test itself, often moments before- the dreaded what if I fail question? No doubt, failure is a possibility and a huge deal, a real blow to the ego, that has derailed more than one student along the way. Much harder to do, but put failure in its proper place also. Fear of failing the test has a certain power over you, take that power away by accepting that possibility- I know I just told you to have faith in yourself! But honestly, what is the big deal if you fail? You take it again at another time?
Let’s now talk about the test itself, regardless of the tradition, exam, or what is expected. In truth this is of little consequence. When you get up there and the test physically starts (one could argue that the test begins the moment your teacher tells you to prepare for it) don’t think! The worst thing one can do is start thinking about what you should be doing! Let that go, go mushin, and let your body take over and guide you. At that moment in time years of practice, body repetition, muscle memory will guide and take you through the exam over conscious though, thinking, and rationalization. In the test there is only movement, let your mind, worries, and ego go, and just trust in your body knowing what it needs to do.