How To Prepare For Your Black Belt Test In The Martial Arts

Now in part two we are going to explore a training syllabus to prepare you for your black belt test.

An outline based on the dozens and dozens of test I have participated in as a judge and the many that I have been responsible for giving myself.

I want to give you a sneak peek of what to expect so you can be a bit more relaxed and at ease.

Being RELAXED is the most important skill you can have, and the one you need on the day of your test. It is and will be natural to be nervous, but being nervous creates tension, and tension breaks down your movement and unbalances your mind.

Worry never worked in school when taking tests, and it certainly doesn’t work on the day of a physical movement exam.

This training outline will help you prepare and help you to relax now that you have the outline to be able to perform to the best of your martial ability.

In preparing for your test we are going to take the list of skills that you need to know- what you are going to demonstrate and perform and work on them from three levels:

ONE: Repetition

TWO: Flow

THREE: Relaxation

(Part three of this guide is going to focus on KEY points for your list of skills in more focus detail, but for now we are exploring the big picture scope of the test.)

The starting point of our test-training outline is going to be repetition. You are going to be called on to demonstrate the skills on your list, and they are going to have to be perfect- so how do we get to that perfection?

Repetition to build muscle memory and confidence doesn’t mean just going through the motions of each kata, waza, or skill you need to know.

Being able to break down each part of that skill, move by  move, bit by bit and perform each movement with correct balance, distance, and timing is what we are aiming for.

In preparing for your test at this point you have been studying the martial arts for a bit of time- perhaps a few years or more, so I feel it is safe to assume that we know how to break down a technique into its component parts.

The KEY is to be able to perform all those parts together and slowly.

Going as slow as possible is the important part of repetition drills.

For many of us, we equate “correct” with speed- the faster we perform something the more impressive it looks, the more power it has. But often when we go “fast” we not only make mistakes, but we fail to see those mistakes or how to correct them.

Practice your skills slowly so you can see and feel what is going wrong, what needs to be corrected, and what is working and moving correctly.

Finding those last minute mistakes before your test and having time to correct them is what we are aiming for.

Practice your techniques a few dozen times each training session, slowly, in an almost yoga speed like manner.

The second and next practice point is going to be developing what is called nagare in the Japanese martial arts, which means flow or fluidity.

The ability to chain one technique after another without pause, loss of balance, or noticing a break is important.

Part of your test might involve going from one set of techniques to another, or demonstrating multiple techniques in a row on the same training partner, or perhaps even an element of sparring.

Lots of stuff in quick succession.

Nagare is generated though correct footwork- by being in the right place at the right moment with your training partner so you can effortlessly flow to the next technique.

If your footwork is off, when it comes time for the next technique you might be far away, or not facing the correct direction, causing you to take an extra step to catch up- breaking the flow and smoothness of what you are looking to demonstrate and perform.

In the weeks leading up to your test review all the footwork drills in your martial arts.

Pay attention to the direction and alignment of your feet and where they are facing with regard to the technique.

Work to develop nagare, which will power the perfection of your techniques and skills that you have been working on and building through repetition.

The final part in our training syllabus is developing relaxation.

Relaxation is the capstone to good technique and nagare/flow.

If you are relaxed your body will be working to make what it has learned and performed better, while on the opposite side if there is tension it will be slower, less crisp, and not as smooth moving.

So just how do we move in a relaxed manner?

Naturally you should be stretching and warming up before each practice session, but when looking to cultivate relaxation in your movement pay extra time and attention to stretching out all the major parts of your body.

When you are limber and in a relaxed state, pick one of the skills you are going to need to demonstrate and perform it at a moderate pace for fifty or so repetitions.

After the last set, stand ready, and pause.

Take a moment to mentally review your body and make note of any places you feel tight, sore, or are a bit off in your body.

These are tension points that are not correct in your movement- either because you have done them incorrectly, returning to the first point of our syllabus, or based on the mechanics of your body you are a bit tight in that area of your body- that area is going to need some more stretching, or relaxation to limber up.

See what points as your practice are not relaxed and work on those body areas, joints, and parts over the next couple of weeks leading up to your test.

Think of these three points: repetition, nagare, and relaxation as a formula to work through for each skill, waza, or demonstration expected for your test. Work through your list taking each point through all three elements of this syllabus to help position you in a good point for your test.