Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ready Or Not, Here I Come

Last night — coldly, calmly — I aggressively and deliberately attacked a woman with a very, very sharp knife.

My student Jess (unbeknownst to her) was testing for sanykyu, first stage brown belt, in the dojo. And in the hours before I came at her with the knife, I'd been picking at her form in the dojo all night, and challenging her to perform other self-defense techniques under pressure when I knew she hadn't practiced them in months. I picked at her stance, her body dynamics, her breathing, and her timing. I even broke up the class and asked Jess to teach a small group on her own, and then checked in on her from time to time to "kindly" point out all of her minor flaws so that she wouldn't pass them on to the junior students she was teaching.

So by the time the knife came out, I'm pretty sure I'd already made Jess a "little bit uncomfortable." The look that appeared on her face when I opened the blade to attack her was a familiar one.


But despite her fear, Jess held her ground and faced the challenge before her. I knew she was nervous. (Perhaps "terrified" would be a better word.) But I also knew — even if she did not — that she was ready for the attacks. (At least as ready as one could be, anyway.) For we had, over the past several months, rehearsed the defensive techniques in detail dozens and dozens of times in excruciating detail. We started off slowly with a soft rubber knife, then moved on to a wooden one, then a hard plastic one. And at each stage of the progression, I had increased the force and speed of my attacks. So the full-force live blade test was actually the last step in a very logical training process.

I cannot say that Jess performed the techniques flawlessly. I don't think that would even be possible under the circumstances. But controlling her fear, working outside of her comfort zone, and dealing with a genuinely dangerous situation? That was the biggest part of the test. (Oh, and not getting cut, either.) Overall, I'd say Jess performed her knife defenses fairly well: she even inadvertently delivered a pretty strong blow to my head and nearly broke my arm while vigorously defending herself. (Good for her. Not great for me. But sometimes, that is the way of our people.)

After the live blade portion of the test was finished, I had Jess perform a few solo kata in front of a panel of Black Belts, just for good measure. The lesson there? Whatever just happened is in the past. You survived. Now, focus on the present and move forward. (And oh, yes — deal with that nasty, debilitating, adrenaline fueled chemical cocktail that's rushing through your veins, too.)

So today I'm nursing a few bruises, and I'm happy to report that Jess passed the physical portion of her sankyu examination. It was a tough test. But beyond all of these things, I'm more proud of what Jess has done off the dojo floor for to earn her new rank. To demonstrate their leadership ability, compassion, and communication skills, I require all of my students attempting sankyu to conceive of, plan, and lead a community service project. No one gets a Brown Belt from me without showing me their character. Their humanity.

For the third year in a row, Jess is leading a team of dojo members during Boston's VisionWalk to benefit the Foundation Fighting Blindness. So far this year, Jess' efforts have raised more than $1,200, far surpassing last year's accomplishment. She's set the bar pretty high for those who will follow!

1 comment:

Brenda, The Training Academy said...

Great Job to both of you! It's great to see women achieving rank, so many have been discouraged over the years and walked away from the arts.