For the last four months I have been preparing to test for my black tip. As the days draw closer my anxiety creeps upward. When asked what I want to work on in taekwondo class I immediately jump to testing requirements. Is it my responsibility to practice outside of class? Absolutely. Does it happen every day? No. I read my one-step instructions daily and practice all the forms I’ve learned to date on the weekends. It’s a little harder, though, to work on my flying side kick when I have a creaky floor plus downstairs neighbors and would look like a crazy person if I practiced them outside on the parking lot of my condominium complex.
Preparing for the test can give me tunnel vision. I’m so focused on practicing the particular kicks, forms, and one-steps I’ll have to perform that I let the rest of my technique slide. Ironically my schoolmates and I used to admonish our 10th grade English teacher for “teaching to” the state standardized test. Here I am 20 years later doing exactly the same thing.
How often do we direct our actions towards other “tests” in life that hinge on someone else’s approval? That’s not always a bad thing based on the thousands of articles out there on how to ace a job interview or how to compromise with your spouse. It becomes detrimental, though, when we lose sight of the big picture. We become so concerned with pleasing others and snagging that one particular golden outcome that we lose sight of our own stake in the game. Eventually we can no longer benefit from the richness of the journey since we’re focused on a sole non-negotiable outcome. It becomes a performance based on ultimatums: I’ll do this if you continue to pay me. I’ll do that if you continue to love me.
Sure I want to do well and impress my instructors and pass my test. But I don’t want to cast what I’ve learned aside in order to cram for the next test. That’s not learning; that’s regurgitation. Taekwondo practice draws from a comprehensive body of knowledge, not a single kick or a punch existing in a vacuum. Only one student from this past spring’s black belt test has continued coming to class. He understood the connection to the bigger picture, and I have enjoyed watching him mature emotionally in his practice (plus his mom drives him to class so he kinda has to).
Cramming for the next “test” is akin to chasing the carrot on the stick. It’s always juuuuust out of our reach. When we do catch it we’re immediately dissatisfied and are chasing another carrot. Our self-imposed blinders keep us narrowly focused on a fragile dream. We stop connecting the dots. We miss out on the rest of life happening around us.
Let’s get real. I WILL be cramming for my black tip test over the next two weeks. The REAL test will occur later when I’m able to demonstrate (or not) that what I performed on the test is an easily accessible and repeatable piece of my taekwondo toolbox. Passing that knowledge onto others will seal the deal.
…Oh let’s cut the sanctimonious crap. I’ll start cramming for my bo dan and black belt tests.