Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Test

It was hard.

Was it the hardest thing I've ever done?  I'm not sure.

Physically, unmedicated childbirth is no walk in the park, and it takes a whole lot longer than the test did.  But there are breaks between contractions; time to regroup and refocus.

I've definitely experienced events that have stressed me mentally and emotionally more than the test, but they were also spread out over much longer periods of time, with breaks throughout the ordeal. 

My other belt tests and many sparring nights have been challenging, but not like this.  I think the key difference was the relentlessness of it, especially at the end when we were sparring and grappling and doing forms and burpees, all without a break, without time to catch the breath, grab a drink, take a knee... I felt pushed to the max - and then a bit farther - which is the whole point.

In Living The Martial Way, Forrest Morgan describes the process: "... a ritual observed in some way, shape, or form by every warrior society in the world.  It involves hardening the spirit through severe training or some extreme physical test.  The ritual takes different forms in different cultures, but they all have a common element: the warrior drives himself, or is driven, to a level of endurance beyond what he previously believed possible.  The experience is both grueling and frightening, but the warrior emerges from the ordeal feeling purified.  One who has experienced this kind of training is never quite the same afterwards."

He goes on to point out that most Americans go through their lives never really knowing if they are cowards or not.  They go through their lives not knowing how far they can really run, how long they can fight before they have to stop, not knowing their own physical and emotional limits. Without challenges such as these, he argues that a society drifts into shallow complacency. 

He also recommends that severe training like this should be followed up by a rewarding social or recreational activity.  At our dojang, we have a tradition of sharing a meal together after a test.  After both my red and red stripe tests, we also had a huge group of people back to the house for food and fun.  Fried as I was, it was great to be surrounded by friends and family, looking at the pictures, recounting the experience, discussing what we did well and what we needed to improve - and just celebrating the achievement.  As a result, I have felt recharged and happy - a dramatic contrast to the testing days that were followed up by crashing on the couch and waiting for the stiffness and soreness to set in. 

This is not to say that I'm not sore today - I am.  Very sore. All over.  My body definitely knows what it's been through.  And now I'm taking it to the gym to stretch and work out the kinks.

Looking forward to seeing the stripes applied to my belt - and beginning to train for my black belt test.

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