Aikido Testing Tips


Kiryu Kids Testing

Testing for a few dojos in Colorado is comming up soon. My dojo Kiryu Aikido is one of the dojos participating. In preparation for the testing we have been going over a lot of the techniques and presentation of how to test. It is interesting every test to see how your students and other dojo’s students approach testing.

Some take it very staight forward and prepare with the “tools” that are presented to them. Some students get very stressed out and sometimes their techniques can suffer. And, some just make it another training session and use the skills and experiences that they have been working on for the past x months from the last test. Here are just a few tips that I try to give my students and students from other schools when approaching their upcoming Aikido test. I believe these tips can be used in all levels of testing from 5th kyu to black belt testing:

  • Relax, relax, relax; You see this a lot. Students who do fine most of the time, but get them up in front of other students in a testing atmousphere and they become flustered and have trouble with techniques they know well. For most people testing gets easier. For others they may never get over the fact that they don’t like the spot light. Either way try to breath before the test and tell your self that it will be ok. Another way to deal with this is always be over prepared. I always thought of belts and testing as I needed to be 1+ level above where I was being evaluted for. For example, if testing for 5th kyu, know the 5th kyu and 4th kyu technique and really push your self in your training. This is one way you can build the confidence you need.
  • Know your requirements; Your instructor of school should always attempt to put their students in the position to succeed. You usually will get a list of all the techniques and requirements for yours and the level above where you are going to test for. As a student you should memorize the techniques that you need to know. Say them over to yourself so you can also recognize the sound. Also in class if you hear one of the tecniques that you are testing for make a mental note that this is a technique you will be evaluated during the test. Then during the test when you hear the technique being called out you will recognize the name and able to do that technique. Note however that sometimes you may get thrown a curve-ball (especially the higher you go). This may be done for many reasons, but just relax and think about it before you start. Then do you best!
  • Keep going even if you make a mistake; No one is perfect. We all make mistakes and especially when you are nervous and up in front of a lot of people. If you make a mistake I always tell my students to finish the technique even if wrong, and the next one do it correct. Along with this try not to make visual/verbal signs you made the mistake. A lot of people make a strange face or shake their head. Or sometimes people say “Agggg” or other assorted sounds (hopefully not cursing ;P). This signals not just to the testers, but also to all the students that you made a mistake. Again with a straight face just continue and on the next attack do the technique that you have been asked to demonstrate. Sometimes you may have misheard the technique and you should listen carefully if the instructor calls out the technique again.

These are just a few ideas and tips, and there are many more. Remember you are mostly testing against yourself and even if you do not pass you made your best effort. If you did not then try harder next time. Aikido is a difficult martial art and takes time to learn and employ the nuances of the art. Be patient and do your best. If you have any questions on these or other aspects of testing, post a comment. Or if you have your own tips share them with us!

Andrew Blevins
Kiryu Aikido, Littleton Colorado

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Comments (3)

Kara StewartMarch 26th, 2009 at 8:48 am

Thank you, Andrew Sensei.

These are great tips, both for the upcoming tests and a mindset for practicing all the time.

Something I’ve found helpful in memorizing anything — from the list of techniques on my current test to early on when I was learning names of attacks, techniques, numbers, etc. — is to write them out long-hand over and over and over. First, using the list as a cheat sheet, and then writing the list from memory. I’ve approached learning these things like a spelling/vocabulary test. It seems my brain learns from a touch and visual approach, so the physical act of writing and seeing the words helps me memorize them.

Another thing I’ve done is to keep lists in lots of places: on the bathroom mirror, in the car, on my nightstand to read every night before I go to sleep. For some reason, again, seeing the words helps me remember them.

One thing I really strive to do is take the focus and learning that hopefully occurred while building up to the test and continue on from there, rather than backsliding and letting down too much as a “reward” after the test. It’s just me, but I’d rather hold on to as much as I can, get right back on the mat the next class, and keep working.

There’s always sooooo much to learn and if I can at least not take a bunch of steps backwards by slacking off and missing class, then I can learn a little more in the too-short time I have in this life.

This sounds cliche-ish, but I also try to start right away looking at the next level — or two, as you say. That way, when we are practicing techniques on my test, I’ll know it and be able to write it down and store it in memory a bit better.

And finally, I try to have the mindset to Have Fun! This is something you’ve been emphasizing for a couple years (thank you), and it goes along with relaxing. 🙂 Yes, it can be stressful, and we all want to reflect well on our teachers and dojos. But stress is not a bad thing, as it motivates us to work hard and do our best.

And testing usually means the wonderful opportunity to practice Aikido several hours in one day, experience extra classes and learning from guest Senseis, spending time with people who share a love of this martial art, and relishing good health and community. That’s pretty cool.

Kara StewartApril 1st, 2009 at 9:05 am

I read an interesting article in the Feb/March 2009 issue of “Scientific American Mind” magazine yesterday. While this is too late for this round of testing, perhaps it can be helpful for students testing in the future.

The article, titled “Avoiding the Big Choke” by Elizabeth Svoboda, said that there are two parts of the brain that help us do tasks.

Cerebral cortex — for learning new tasks and information

Cerebellum — for the automatic performance of tasks you know (when you no longer need to actively think about what you’re doing)

The cerebellum is not consciously accessible, so we can’t check our performance in the moment at the same time we’re doing something automatically. In my interpretation, both of these brain areas cannot be functioning at the same time.

So if we’ve practiced our Aikido techniques well and often so that they’re now automatic, if we are in a test situation and start thinking, “OK, with Irimi Nage I need to put my front foot here and enter behind Uke….” doing that will activate the cerebral cortext and take us out of auto mode and into thinking mode — and that’s where the freezing takes place.

The author suggested focusing on a single-word description of what your goal is for this activity, maybe “smooth,” “flowing,” or whatever it is you want to accomplish, rather than “keep my arms extended” or “keep my center pointed correctly.”

One-word mantras help prevent us from regressing to conscious control of thought but provide enough of a cue to activate the automatic responses.

“Part of the key is not to be overconfident in advance and do recognize that you may feel more anxiety than you expect,” said Svoboda. “Practice so you can deal with any eventuality. This is especially helpful when something goes wrong.”

She suggested adding stress to practice in whatever way will simulate the actual environment. Have audiences, be thrown curve balls, add whatever extra stressors you can think of. All this preparation will help handle the actual testing with more confidence (but not overconfidance), because you know you can handle the unexpected.

Thought it was interesting!

AndrewApril 1st, 2009 at 10:01 am

Nice addition to the post. I like the scientific backup that we have to practice to get it to be in the part of the brain that controls our automated actions. Impressive that you read “Scientific American Mind” 😉

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