How to Prepare Mentally

Testing. Just seeing the word in print makes my stomach tighten. We spend our academic lives in fear of the experience. I am a professional student, and have spent most of my life in one class or another. I can’t remember a single time that I said to myself, “I’m just dying to take that big exam next week.” “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to demonstrate my mastery of this subject.”

The practice and teaching of taekwondo approaches learning and testing from a different place. A “testing” is viewed as an opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills, and for instructors to review the products of their teaching. There are good reasons for having these “tests”. For the student, it is very difficult to perform self-analysis during class. The student comes to practice to develop the techniques that their instructor has demonstrated and is now asking them to perform. There are many times that I miss those nights of hard practice where I came and mentally “gave myself” to my instructors for that brief period in my day. As an instructor, I can tell you that it is difficult to adequately evaluate student performance in the course of day-to-day teaching. An instructor is working with a very dynamic group, and each student is progressing at a different rate. There are goals inherent to our practice, created both by the organization and the instructor in order to insure some level of acceptable progression. An instructor works to maintain enthusiasm and intensity, while remembering that students have lives much like their own, and come to class carrying the weight of their respective worlds. In an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts, both as teachers and students, we have “tests”.

The real work when testing is mental, and in approaching that hurdle I was fortunate to have the support of my instructors and the many friends that I have made during my years of practice. I was able to see, once again, that my instructors teach taekwondo because they believe that this practice gives us something special. The thoughts that I share with you in this article are not my own, they are a reflection of many talks and letters that were shared with my taekwondo family over the last year.
I would encourage testing candidates to remember that this is an opportunity to demonstrate those skills that you have developed over months and even years of work. Change the word in your mind, and don’t think about this as a test, but as a ‘demonstration’. The point is to remember that the experience is not intended to be a ‘test’ of skill. The practice of taekwondo is just that—practice. We do it for many reasons: as a way to prepare us for that moment when we must defend ourselves against the assault of an attacker; as a fitness regimen; as a way to develop self-confidence and self-control, and others. You cannot ‘test’ the value of your practice by standing in front of judges and performing your forms, fighting and breaking. The ‘test’ has already happened, and you passed every time you picked up your uniform and made your way to the gym to see what new and diabolical ways your instructor had to torture your body. You passed each and every time you refused to listen to your body when it said, “you want me to do WHAT”!? And you passed each and every time that you were presented with a choice of whether or not to go to class, and you made the personal sacrifice required and went. The fact that your instructors have invited you to demonstrate your technique at this time is an honor, and they would not offer it any other vein.
I encourage you to work hard during these next few months to get the most out of this opportunity. Finally, take advantage of the resources that you have to prepare: go to class; get out there and work on your sparring and gain confidence in your ability to demonstrate your technique, both offensively and defensively; review your poomsae both mentally and physically, and ‘see’ that person that each move is designed to strike; talk to your fellow students and instructors about your fears and concerns.

 Good luck in your Taekwondo practice.

 Written by Master Bill Spivey of Sitka, Alaska, Chung Do Kwan