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Martial arts rank tests - it's not all about you

A fellow student takes a fall for another who is testing.
Copyright Manuel de Joya, 2012

"For at this moment I am the whole reason they my ancestors have existed at all."

- Joseph Cinque, from the movie "Amistad"

Rank testing is a regular occurrence at many dojos and martial arts schools across the country. As Westerners, we always view these tests with the same trepidation as we view our finals, and our SAT and ACT tests. We are also conditioned to think that tests, by definition, are solitary efforts, and at the moment of truth, we are all alone.

While this is technically true, consider the typical test preparation at any decent dojo. Often, special times are set aside to prepare those who are testing. You will see senior students, or senpai, take those who are testing aside for some extra practice, or to go over the arcana of testing etiquette. Instructors may take time during class to go over the tests. Students may call each other out for some extra practice time before or after class.

Any observer will notice an increased sense of intensity and focus during these periods leading up to the actual date of the test. Beneath all this, there is, for lack of a better word, an aura of generosity that seems to permeate the dojo. People willingly give up their time, and in the most real sense, their bodies and safety, to help those who are testing.

But how is this different from cramming for finals?

When students study for major tests, they often flock together into study groups, and ostensibly try to help each other. However, in the end, it is the individual who benefits the most from the result of the academic test. None of the other students have a vested interest in each others' success, nor is the school advanced in any way as a result of one good test.

"A dojo is not a school, however. It is a place where people come to pursue the same path." - Akira Tohei Shihan, 8th dan, Aikikai

A dojo is a community that is upheld by the dedication and participation of its members. Its very existence, and consequently its success, are owed to the combined efforts of its members and instructors. The advancement of even one member lifts the entire dojo to a new level. Ranks tests, regardless of how they end, reflects upon the dojo as a whole, and not jsut those whoare testing.

Any good dojo member recognizes this, and steps up to help those who are testing. And any good dojo member who is testing should recognize this as a community effort and seek help.

And when the big day arrives and that dojo member bows in for the test, he or she bows in for all those who have given something of themselves for that very moment.


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