Friday, May 2, 2014

Do you get nervous before a test?

I hear it all the time; "I get so nervous before a test." Usually followed by questions like, "Do you think I'm ready to test?" I suppose that many years ago, martial arts were taught very different than today. For instance, the practice of changing belts from white to increasingly darker colors, ending in black is relatively new. Originally a student received a white belt and it simply became darker with age and wear.

I trained for years with both of my children. Eventually my daughter went off to college, but before that I used to get incredibly nervous before a test; not so much for myself but for them. As it turns out, their young brains were able to grasp and retain the material much better than mine. Ah, youth is wasted on the young.

Today, we use testing as a measure of progress and preparedness to learn new material. A White Belt practitioner is tested to demonstrate mastery (a white belt master?) of very basic material and their readiness to learn Yellow Belt material. In a well-run school a student would never be placed in a situation where they could fail the test (note exception below). The instructor should not allow a student to test if they are not prepared.

In a very real sense, therefore, if you are notified that you are going to be tested, then it likely means your instructor has already determined you are ready and you will likely pass. This is assuming, of course, that you are attending a well-run school with an experienced Instructor. Some schools will tell you that it takes 'X' amount of time to become a Black Belt. In my discipline it is approximately four years. Very few people do it faster.

We can give a time frame like this, even though we know everybody learns at a difference pace because we have a highly structured program where the material has been carefully distributed across the various belts so that the student never has much to learn at any one point. Still, if the student does not practice or attend class, the three months between yellow and orange can go by too fast. Sometimes, we have to postpone a test until the practitioner has demonstrated fluency with the material.

Again, if the instructor asks you to test, or puts your name on the test list, then it likely means he or she has observed you and determined you are ready. But be careful with this knowledge. Just because you are ready to test does not mean you cannot fail. Arrogance can lead to a lack of concentration, and during a test, a simple, brief loss of concentration can be anywhere from embarrassing to dangerous.

In the advanced ranks it is absolutely possible to fail a test. I've seen it happen to black belts and even masters. As you progress, more is expected of you. I once saw a test for Kyosa, or certified instructor, where the Grand Master sat everyone down after only five minutes of testing and said, "You all flunk." Turns out they, as a group, failed to demonstrate confidence in their verbal responses to various instructions.

Lastly, as you progress through the ranks, your nerves should subside. Not only will you become more familiar with the testing process, but your martial arts training should enable you to gain more control over your feelings.


  1. It's interesting because I *do* get nervous...but not because I think I'll fail (like you said, our senseis wouldn't put us up for testing if they didn't think we already knew everything we need to know.)

    The reason I get nervous is that I'm afraid I'll faint or get sick or something. From fear. <_< It's a vicious circle. Sometimes I'm afraid I will just get too tired and forget stuff and get embarassed. Haha. This time, I'm nervous because I'll be the only higher belt rank testing. That means it's a solitary test and I'll be center of attention. I have terrible stage fright. >.<

  2. Award winning newscaster, Walter Cronkite, claims to have been nervous before every broadcast. Being nervous is normal; that you have pushed through it is great.

  3. Adding to the " nervous" issue: for the past thirty years of my day job I have been on stage either by myself, with a few people or with a large gathering of over one hundred folks.... never got easier, I simply learned to accept the fluttering butterflies in my stomach, with sweaty palms, combined with blinding stage lights (which do heat up and have known to cause heat strokes),ignorant audience, and an arrogant conductor whom at times I would love to side kick in the face and reminding myself that it will be over in a couple of husband sums it up the best " with it!..."

  4. I've got a green belt test to go to tomorrow evening, and yes, I'm nervous. Even so, my instructor has deemed me ready, and I trust him. I have just polished off my poom'se, tae guek som chong, and my instructor has said that there are very few ways it could be better. I have mastered all of the required one steps for the next belt, and all the basics as well. Still, I am nervous. I have no doubt I will be nervous for the next test, as well as the one after that, and the one after that. There is no way to defeat worry, whether it is worry of failure, worry of embarrassment, or worry of pain or illness. My advice to you is this. The essence of success is not whether you pass or fail. Success is when you try your best and don't give up. So what if you fail? You learned something.

  5. I am testing for my Blue Sash next Tuesday...I know that I know what is necessary and can perform my forms well...It's more knowing that My Tai Sifu, Tai Simo, My Instructors and other Instructors will be sitting at desk right in front of me.... It's that feeling that I know what I have to do and know that I can do and that my Instructors think I am ready to test and have the skills and this is more a formality than anything else....But, or so, I "think" it is more of a stage fright thing and fear that I might goof up simply due to nervousness...(It's really strange, as I am a performer and have had much experience "on stage" and I am very comfortable in that world...

  6. I am also taking a karate test. I am very nervous because I have never failed a test. I am no perfectionist, but passing would be very helpful.


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