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Preparing for an Aikido Exam

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Someone in an Aikido group on Facebook has an exam coming up on Saturday. Here’s the gist of his post:

“Next Saturday I will do my 1st kyu exam. I am a bit nervous. I feel confident about the techniques but it’s still a big thing for me. Some advice or nice words would be appreciated” 

I answered him briefly there, and it got me thinking about all the things I do in the week before a test. When you are preparing for an Aikido exam, in addition to polishing your techniques you can also be preparing your body, mind, and circumstances to help you do your best. Sometimes I’ve prepared well, and sometimes not. Here are a few things that have worked for me.

Take care of your body

Between now and Saturday take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, eat well, and get extra sleep. Stay well and uninjured. Run away from sick people! Wash your hands a lot. This is not the week to start a new fitness program or go to the trampoline park for the first time. If your test will be in the morning, and you are not a morning person, start getting up earlier this week.

Stick with “safe” foods in the days leading up to exam day – things you know agree with you and leave you feeling energized. Don’t try a new broccoli casserole recipe for dinner, or visit that just-opened sushi restaurant the night before your test.

Get in a good mental space

In your training, focus on building your confidence.  Save exploring new variations or cool, weird techniques for after your test. Instead, become more comfortable and fluid with what you need to demonstrate. In class, practice in the same connected, flowing, expansive spirit you want to feel during your exam. Don’t fiddle with things.

Understand how your test will be conducted so you know what to expect and aren’t thrown off by surprises. If you have any questions, ask your teacher, mentor, or sempai (senior students).

Each day visualize doing the beginning of your test brilliantly, starting with knee-walking to the center of the mat calmly, shoulders back, head up, breathing freely. Do not entertain our habitual pattern of imagining all the ways one could screw up. See yourself doing your best.

Whatever will come first on your test, have it down solid. You will be fired up and nervous, and nailing those initial moments will do wonders for your sense of ease throughout the rest of your exam. Begin on a strong, confident note, and let the rest come naturally.

Handle your circumstances

If your test includes an essay or other written component, complete it several days ahead of time so you aren’t left cramming at the last minute. Same with thank-you notes or gifts – have them done and ready to go.

Set yourself up to have a relaxed, early evening on Friday. Trim your nails a couple days ahead of time. Fuel up your car. Set out your clothes and a clean uniform the day before, so you’re not rushing to do laundry into the wee hours – or the morning of your test!

Pay your exam fee early, too. Don’t add the last-minute chore of stopping at the ATM to your already-busy Saturday morning.

The morning of your test

On test day, get up earlier than you think you need to. Eat right away, so you’ll have time for your breakfast to settle. Arrive at the dojo early and warm up slowly, especially if it’s a chilly morning – still visualizing doing well. If there are any techniques you’re worried about, review them with a friend. If you need to demonstrate weapons, put them where you can get to them easily during your test. Remind yourself that you are well prepared, and relax.

And finally, some nice words

You are ready or your teacher wouldn’t have asked you to test. You are as prepared as you can be. You have done everything you can to support yourself in preparing for an Aikido exam. Now relax, breathe, flow, and demonstrate your best Aikido with gratitude for all the teachers, dojo-mates, and experiences that got you this far. You will do fine.