Thursday, October 18, 2012

On testing (and failing)

As I write this, it's been about three hours since I took my 3rd-degree black belt test and about 2 hours since I was told I didn't pass.

I expected it to sting more, honestly, but I'm not thrilled about it (obviously).  I feel like I tested too soon and it wasn't the head sensei who failed me; I failed him.  I'm not the sycophantic type and I'm not trying to wax philosophical about it - he wanted to see more than I was able to deliver.  I failed because my body didn't have the proper understanding he wanted to see.

It wasn't all bad; I was pleasantly surprised how calm I felt when the test actually happened.  No hint of nervous energy after a day of butterflies in the stomach.  And I pushed myself hard the entire week.  It was 2-3 hours of intense, sometimes painful exertion a night, including tonight before the actual test.  I could have cut corners but I wanted to test myself.

So as I reflect about what I'm going to do from here, two things really stand out:

  • I practice what I preach.
I talk about fear and failure in many of my blog posts, and how the fear of failure is often worse than the failure itself.  It's nice to know I truly believe that.  I had my doubts about this test, and was definitely nervous the entire day.  But every time I felt that doubt in my head, I said there was no going back and since I was committed, I was going to see it through.

Pulling out would have been so much worse.  I'd have to explain why and I'd have the question in my head for a good year of "could I have passed?"  If I'm going to fail, then dammit, I'm going to fail gloriously.  I'll laugh about it later much easier that way.

This is a major learning opportunity and I have to look at it that way.  In some ways I feel like I'm at square one, having to rethink and relearn a LOT of the basics I've taken for granted.

  • Plan to test from day one.
I tried to learn brand-new material three weeks from the testing date and then learn what the head instructor wanted the emphasis to be (on ALL material) in the week of the test.  That was insane - and really, what was I thinking?  We tell other belts that the two weeks leading up to a test is NOT the time to be asking us to teach you a technique on your requirements.  Like three weeks is a big improvement over two...

As soon as you learn a new technique, you should be contemplating having to be tested on it.  This mindset is the only way you'll constantly question what you should be doing better.  Otherwise it gets easy to create arbitrary guidelines for when you should start trying to get ready.  Get ready now!  Don't wait until it makes sense "down the line", because who knows when that line will come?  It may never come unless you push forward to get there.

For taiko players, most of us don't really "test", but instead we learn new songs/new parts.  Maybe you know you'll play a song for the first time on a certain date, but why pace yourself?  If you think that the song is just around the corner, you'll push yourself a little harder.  And when the actual song happens, you might just be in a position of confidence instead of nervousness.


I was told that I should definitely test again at the next opportunity.  I have about a year to get to that level, but there's a lot of things I have to work on - some of it familiar, some of it brand new.  I can sit on my laurels, I can admire what skills I do have, but I'll be damned if I'm going to be satisfied with just that.

The first time I auditioned with San Jose Taiko, I failed.  In two months, I'll have been with the group for 20 years.  The only way a failure should shape you is when it drives you to become better.  Stay hungry.

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