Updated: Mar 2, 2020
True Victory is Victory Over Oneself.
The purpose of testing in Aikido (at least in our dojo) is much the same as when you pass a mile marker on a road trip. It marks an achievement to be sure, but not one to be gawked at or lingered on.
The longer the test, the sweeter the victory.
Use every opportunity throwing as an opportunity to master the basics. See the test as keiko, you are demonstrating in front of sensei(s) but more importantly, you have a willing partner taking ukemi while you continue to explore your practice. Find joy in the movement and practice while asking yourself if you are taking balance properly, positioning yourself well, and executing technique cleanly. Did you finish a technique in a strong position, or was your balance compromised? If you only have one uke, are you backing up after throwing, or are you staying assertively in position for the next attack?
Seek perfection, but don't be constrained by it.
It's going to happen. You'll be training and uke will give you a perfect attack, your entry and opening will feel like a hot knife through butter, and the throw will happen almost effortlessly. However, you'll ready up, do the next repetition, and it won't feel nearly as good. This is normal. As your body forms new and faster connections between muscle fiber and brain, you're going to have moments of clarity in perception, precision, and power. Register these moments and then try to repeat them - BUT, do not expect each following technique to feel the same. This is the nature of practice in any martial art - the journey to perfection is endless for this very reason. Imperfection searching for perfection because you get glimpses of it during your training. Seek it, but don't be constrained by it.
Consistent movement is key.
Especially true in 5th Kyu, the best tests are those where you are never "waiting" for uke. Many will stand and wait for an attack from uke, others will even back up/step back to give uke room. This is not proper martial arts. With a clear and present threat ahead of you, retreat is an invitation for renewed and more severe attack. This is not to say that you should act aggressively or in a negative manner - as this goes against Aikido's core teachings. Rather, find your assertiveness so that you can dominate your space, and influence Uke's actions into reactions. The chief motivator for martial arts training should not be the domination of our opponents/partners, but instead, learning to recognize dangerous situations, exit safely or assert yourself so that you control (or at least influence) the outcome. Otherwise you leave survival up to chance.
Kuzushi and Tsukuri matter more than Kake.
Everyone wants a test filled with beautiful Kotegaeshi, Koshinage, Kaitennage, and big breakfalls from uke. These are all nice things to do and see on a test - much like the icing on a cake or the spice you put on at the end of preparing a meal. However, without the cake, the protein - without taking uke's balance and being in proper position - throws are meaningless. This is true of all martial arts. You can have the perfect front kick, knee, elbow strike, arm bar, choke, etc... but if you can't take your partner's balance and get into position to use them, you rely on luck to apply - this is not a recipe for survival. Strong technique is important, but only after you have clean openings, taking uke's balance, keeping their balance as you get into position, and THEN executing technique. When all of this happens together, you may find that your Kotegaeshi is more powerful, requiring less effort.
Remember always to find the joy in your practice - regardless of what style or dojo you practice at. This does not mean it should feel like a careless night out - but rather, like when you master any skill you enjoy. Smile, breathe, but focus seriously and train with discipline. These things often feel at odds in our culture today, but in fact, can blend beautifully on the mat to create a community and environment where seemingly violent physical behavior, is actually a positive, almost spiritual exercise.
As always, everything presented here is for your to examine, draw on, or discard. If you found this content useful, then please, use it in your next test and let us know if it helped. If you did not find this content useful, then please feel free to disregard it.