When Goals Go Bad

A couple of months ago, roughly, I set a goal for myself of training as if I were going to be testing for 5th kyu on February 6th, the next day tests are held at our dojo. As I said in a post about it then, my goal was not to test that day, or even to be ready to test that day, just to train so that I could be as prepared as possible.

What I was hoping to avoid was what I did before my 6th kyu test. In that case I was bopping along happily training in whatever came along in class (which is great), but not paying any particular attention to what techniques that would be required on the test. When my name appeared on the Dreaded Dojo Whiteboard (where Sensei writes the candidates names), I found I had a lot of learning to do. So I was hoping to at least be less blindsided if my name were to appear this time around.

If you’ve read my last few posts you know that I’ve been uneasy about something recently. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. It felt like some mashup of grief, disappointment, pressure, and feeling very inadequate. But I couldn’t put my finger on a reason. There were no circumstances to support feeling like that, or none that I could see.

What was really out of character was Thursday night, in weapons class. I was freaked out at not feeling like I had one of the techniques down clearly. I didn’t know it, and felt like I should’ve known it. Sensei was walking around the mat watching and correcting people, as senseis do when they are teaching, you know, normally. I was really concerned that he might see that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. Mind you, I fully realize the absurdity of that thinking, on a lot of levels. Just the same… I could hardly make myself breathe, I was so wound up.

I blogged about that on Friday morning (“Stupid Ego”), and one of my friends commented “hmmm just wondering but would it have anything to do with you having set a deadline for your next test? Perhaps not realizing it but feeling the pressure to get up to the next level by a certain time period might be part of the issue.” My first reaction to that was basically “no, no, that’s not it, I wasn’t really trying to test then, blah, blah…” But the more I thought about it, the more I see she nailed it. I was saying I wasn’t really trying to test this time around, but really… I was kinda hoping I’d would.

(For those readers who aren’t familiar with martial arts, you test when your teacher decides you are ready. You don’t ask to be considered. You, of all people, are the least qualified to make any determination about your own readiness. You just train. If your teacher says you’re ready to test, you test.)

How it works at our dojo is that before you can be considered to test for 5th kyu you have to have done at least 40 training days (not hours or classes) since your 6th kyu test. I  have been really pushing to get there, and just hit 40 just a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly at 40+ there’s the possibility of being considered for testing. At least a month before your test you need to find a senior student who is willing to mentor you. I’ve talked to a few, and have had a few in mind, just in case, because if your name appears on The Whiteboard you’d best get busy finding a mentor, fast, especially if you have a preference for who you work with. Because the next test date is February 6th, and everyone needs to have a mentor at least a month ahead of time, if you’re not called to test by the first few days of January, you’re not testing this time around. So there’s a pretty narrow window time there.

Anyway… I’ve been assuming (probably wrongly, but there goes my little mind & ego, running off together) that Sensei has been watching to see if I’m within shooting distance of testing in February. And I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to not screw up, and really feeling it when I do (inevitably) do just that.

My friend’s comment finally rang true when I put the dates together and discovered that the unidentifiable knot in my gut started about the time I hit 40 days, when testing became a possibility. Once I realized that I really did have some attachment to, or at least attention on, being called on to test, I was able to let that go a little, and the knot started to unwind. I had a wonderful time in Friday night’s class, just training.

Enthusiastically getting to the point where something is a possibilty, and actually doing it, are two very different things. Like signing up to go skydiving is a different experience from jumping out of the plane. I’ve spent a few months training as though I intended to be ready to test in February. I signed up for the skydiving trip. Do I have an opinion about whether I could actually be ready to test? Sure. I have a lot of opinions about that, some of them in direct contradiction. And, quite correctly, they count for nothing.

I find I’m consciously having to let go, and let go, and let go of any attachment I have to the whole testing thing. What there is to do is to train, relax, learn about Aikido, and have fun, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Big sigh… There, that feels so much better…