Kyu testing is often referred to as the "milemarker on your journey". It's not a destination, but more of a sign to know how far you've come. Here in Clearwater Florida where we practice the martial art of Aikido, few things are as true as the following when preparing for your next kyu test.
Train. Train. Train.
Nothing matters more than your training. In fact, nothing will prepare you better for any exam, scenario, or interaction, than your consistent honest training. As with remember to "tuck the chin" whenever taking a fall, the most important aspect of preparing for any test, is that you continue training and honing your skills.
Your Diet & Exercise Plan Matter.
How you spend your time training off the mat matters a great deal. Aikido is a fantastic way to challenge your body, but physical training should be a core extension of that practice.
Many of you will notice that I complement my Aikido training daily with a mix of strength training, cardio, and yoga. These three practices for about 30 minutes (or more) a day, give my body the support it needs when training hard on the mat. Time constraints are a real and unavoidable thing, so here are a few ideas for working some complementary training into your day: 1) Early Morning Training (go to bed/wake up earlier to work in your complementary training), or 2) Pre-Aikido Training (come to the dojo before class with enough time to get 30 minutes in - we have the equipment), or 3) Coordinated Time Training (coordinate your schedule with family/friends so that you can get 30 minutes of uninterrupted training in whether it's just going for a jog or exercising at home).
When it comes to diet, the obvious things matter: 1) Don't put junk/garbage into your body, especially as you prepare for testing (sugar, processed food, smoke, etc...), 2) eat more vegetables (key nutrition in vegetables aids in recovery from all the training you are doing and helps us just feel good all day long), 3) stay away from alcohol (I know for many, this is challenging, but at least when you are preparing for an exam, do your best to abstain so you are working at your best for your exam - then plan on a celebratory drink after you pass!).
Practice Tests for Comfort.
Early on, the biggest impediment to test prep is the language. Since we use the traditional Japanese terms for techniques (think: Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura from 5th kyu), this can often be the most daunting aspect of testing for many.
The key is in the repetition. No one expects you to sit at home in your down time with flash cards, memorizing the Aikido terms. It's unnecessary. Simply take every opportunity to repeat the terms as you prepare for your exam.
You should have taken dozens of practice tests before your actual exam, which means you'll have said the names of the techniques dozens of times. This means that you're literally teaching yourself the terms and thus, better memorizing and internalizing the words.
Remember, more important than the exam, once you begin kyu testing, you begin your journey to being other student's sempai, or seniors. This responsibility means that you want to do everything you can to be a resource for them, which means doing your best to know Aikido terminology as well.
Coordinate with You Uke.
Lastly, one of the most frustrating situations for anyone testing is when they are called up to test without an uke. Coordinate with someone you trust and believe will support you the most on your test. Make sure you are coming to as many of the same classes and kyu preps as possible. Take all or most of your practice tests together and get used to each other's timing and distance.
In the end, kyu testing should be a "formality". You should already be practicing at the level you are testing for. Kyu testing is an opportunity to demonstrate all you've learned and share that with the rest of the dojo. As you test, you become more and more integral to the growth of the dojo as you become senior to others who will look up to you for guidance and advice.
Gambatte (Good Luck!)
Sensei Reuven Lirov, Fukushidoin
Chief Instructor & Owner
Pinellas County Aikikai