Testing for Sankyu (Part 1)
When you assume, you make an a-s-s out of u and m-e.
That was the slogan I learned sophomore year of high school in Driver’s Ed class. It’s also the slogan that rang in my ears as I left the dojo tonight, a brown belt tied around my waist but my spirits a far cry from soaring. I suppose it would have been too easy if Hanshi stuck to the schedule I thought was in place…And easy is not what karate is about, no matter what your rank.
Since I help teach kid’s class and take an hour of one-on-one lessons immediately after, by the time adult class rolls around I’m usually tired but keep going anyway. In advance of my brown belt test, I asked Hanshi if I could use the hour between kid’s class and adult class to stretch, study, and have a small snack before testing at 7pm. “Yes,” he told me last week. “That will be fine.”
What actually happened is that I walked in the door at 4:45pm and found myself bowing in with kid’s class at 4:50pm (ten minutes early) at Hanshi’s request. We weren’t two punches into our opening drills and it became immediately clear that in addition to testing the kohai (junior student) for his brown belt, he had already begun my brown belt test as well.
Hanshi paced the line, counting in Japanese. He routinely stopped in front, behind, and both sides of myself and the junior student, studying our moves and demanding (by his presence alone) that we make each punch count, each kick be our best, each block be the block we’d trust our lives to.
Next, we moved into kata and Hanshi asked the junior and I to perform them together. This meant not only worrying about our own performance, but also synching our performances so that each move occurred at exactly the same time. Since I was his senior, the responsibility lay more heavily on me. We made it through Wunsu and bowed in for Anaku and the first step I took was incorrect. Hanshi told me to stop, let the junior student finish, and then announced the following: “Part of your review tonight will be to teach. Please teach the rest of the class taezu naru waza techniques 1-5.”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied. I turned to a row of hopeful young faces, asked them to line up, and began my work. Meanwhile, Hanshi carried on with the junior’s brown belt test. If all the sudden start wasn’t enough to throw me off, and then the fact that I stepped wrong in Anaku kata (ordinarily my best form), at approximately that moment, a 2nd degree black belt who used to train at our dojo walked in the door: Lis.
We bowed to each other and I smiled—I should have known she might show up. Never mind she lives 4 hours away. Never mind she has work, family, and pet obligations. I continued teaching the kid’s class and Lis joined Hanshi in administering the junior’s ongoing brown belt test. Her support would be crucial whenever Hanshi called on me again, but her appearance also upped the ante on that evening’s proceedings.
The last 15 minutes of kid’s class, I helped judge sparring matches and congratulated the now-junior-brown-belt on his achievement. Within the first 75 minutes I had failed to stretch, demonstrated moving basics at full force, slowed down to teach a new technique, and stood still against a pole to judge matches. In short: I had formulated absolutely no rhythm to my own testing or state of mind. The stakes were high and could only get higher—I’d already screwed up once, completely caught of guard. Now who knew what the next hour would bring…