The Great Benefits of Testing

For the first time in a long time, I had a martial arts test. It was in Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu or Japanese Swordsmanship.

Firstly, there were 3 individuals from Japan, including Hataya Sensei who is one of the highest and most respected Sword Masters in all of Japan. He, along with his top 2 students and about 9 other high ranking Sword Instructors from America (mainly FL) watched and “graded” us as we did kata and cutting. To say it was nerve-wracking is an understatement.

Many years ago, my wife was a figure skater who trained with an Olympic gold medalist, Paul Duchesnay. Paul was one of the most likable people I have ever come across. Also one of the most knowledgeable in the world of skating and training in general. The latter should not come as a surprise of course, as he (and his sister) were THE premiere skaters in the world at one time and had access to the best of the best.

Aside from the exceptional information he shared about training, altitude training in particular, nutrition and others, the one piece of advice he shared that I always remember is this: “When you are on center stage, anticipate performing at about 75% of your best. Nerves always come into play.”

Translation. When we are testing for black belt (or any rank for that matter) or when we are in front of people like Vladimir or Michael or one of the other Systema Masters, no matter how much breathing we do, no matter how much training we have done, there is always the element of nervousness that comes into play. Welcome to life.

And this is great!

Granted, it does not feel this way when we are going through it. Quite the opposite in fact. But there are a number of benefits that come about from this.

For starters, it “exercises” the nervous system. In other words, we train ourselves to deal with stress. It is a preparation of sorts not only for potential physical conflicts but for everyday life events.

Secondly, we have an opportunity to practice relaxation and breathing, 2 of the 4 cornerstones of Systema. It is one thing to practice in our regular training sessions. It is quite another when we are on stage, being “judged” by those for whom we have the utmost respect and admiration. The latter lets us know how well we are doing, how effective our training has been and how far we have to go.

Lastly and most importantly, it lets us know we are alive and are living with passion. We are taking a risk – a risk failing, a risk at looking stupid in front of our teachers and our peers, a risk at feeling less – and we do it anyway.

The former issues will fade. Our teachers will provide the corrections. Our peers will continue to support us. We will get over ourselves. But overall, the great benefits that risk-taking and living with passion provide, will live on for a long time.