Acing the Test

DSBK Offers First Post-Covid Kyu Test

Sensei called out the first technique to be demonstrated on the test. Mike Boeckman listened to the long Japanese phrase. He drew in a slow, collected breath much like a lion targeting its hors d’oeuvres among a distant wildebeest herd. He offered his wrist to the uke who promptly grabbed it in an attack.

Mike moved with poise and certainty through that and the next several techniques. Then came technique number four. Katate tori kokyunage tenchi nage irimi. Tenchi…heaven and earth. Moving one arm up, the other arm down simultaneously, in order to imbalance the attacker and send them toppling backwards.

Something about its Japanese name had always thrown Mike during the pre-test prep sessions. Time and again, he forgot what tenchi nage meant and instead performed the next technique listed on the test: katate tori kokyunage ude oroshi irimi. Using the arm (ude) in a particular rotation to imbalance the attacker, sending them falling backwards.

Naturally. Both techniques ultimately elicited the same fall from the attacker.

But now, Sensei Mark was scrutinizing his every move. His fellow practitioners across advanced and beginner ranks were also watching him. Could he now, at this critical moment, distinguish the tenchi nage from the ude oroshi? Attaining his first order of rank in the dojo (5th kyu, or gokyu) hinged on demonstrating ten fundamental techniques.

As if that weren’t enough pressure, Mike’s test represented the first which the Durango Shin-Budo Kai Dojo had administered since the 2020 pandemic sent the world into a tailspin.

Mike may have been a beginner at aikido; however, he arrived with over two decades practicing shotokan, a karate style developed in Japan before World War II. With a brown belt already knotted securely around his waist, he was well versed in testing for martial arts rank promotions. He knew that performing well boiled down to ample repetition and focus.

During the prep session the day before his test, he easily ran through all the techniques when they were called out at random. He also performed them without any glitches when running through the list in reverse order, starting at number 10 and working down to number one. Then the list was called in order as it would be during the actual test.

Tenchi nage had turned into ude oroshi and Mike immediately laughed, “I always confuse those two!”

He and his practice partner ran those pesky problem techniques a few more rounds. Finally he shrugged, “The test will be what it will be.”

When Sensei called for tenchi nage, Mike collected a solemn breath. He offered his wrist and delivered an impressive and effective…

Ude oroshi irimi!

Mike knew his mistake immediately. He smiled and reset for another attack. Then he delivered a walloping yet graceful tenchi nage.

While plenty of other test candidates suffer serious wobbles in confidence after such a public blip, Mike remained poised for the remainder of the test. No further hiccups interrupted his accuracy or power. In so doing, he demonstrated something that far surpassed the basic requirements of a gokyu test: an excellent kokoro-kamae. This phrase can be translated as a “proper mind-heart posture.” The concept can imply the degree to which a person’s heart and mind are unified. It can also refer to a student’s ability to be self-aware, to be willing to find and diminish blind spots, to find and diminish deficiencies. In other words, how a person executes techniques is a reflection of their heart and mind.

As a community, we seem to say it after every test, “Wow! That was the best test we’ve seen. A new bar has been set.”

It’s never false praise. Every time an aikidoka tests, he/she/they should do better than those who tested before them because their teachers should also always be better at the art since the last time they prepared someone to test. It’s almost an immutable law…something Sir Isaac Newton would have penned into the Principia had he only studied aikido.

Mike’s test truly set a new bar. And, it offered proof that, regardless of any catastrophic interruptions, a community committed to training together can lift each other up and continually improve together.

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