In spring of this year, I was allowed to take the last elementary school exam and join the ranks of the aspirants for the first Dan. Since then I have been preparing for the black belt exam. Now, as the end of a section approaches, I feel a certain nervousness and struggle with doubts, anticipation and a lot of work.
Nervousness and doubt
Even if I deal with my nervousness pragmatically on an objective level – I have already passed several exams in my life – this feeling is no less important. In my estimation, it is doubt that makes me nervous. Can I do enough? Do I have the stamina, the knowledge, the strength, the skill? Have I reached the level required with my applications and forms? Unlike in a mathematics test, in my understanding there is no right in this test, but ‘only’ a sufficient, although this is not a pejorative thought. On my way in Kung Fu, I am at the very beginning and first work on the basics in order to then build on them.
So not only the required performance is to a certain extent an unknown, but also the ‘afterwards’. When I have actually passed the exam, I will be allowed to attend black belt classes. There is a certain comfort in being a more advanced primary student in the beginners’ class. If I change to black belt, I’ll be at the bottom of the chain again.
On the other hand, I’m already really looking forward to it. In my first year as a student, I described my status as privileged – beginners are supposed to practice with advanced students, which means that as a white and yellow belt I could learn a lot from each of my practice partners. This is something that will probably come back with the step to the next level.
So, despite all the nervousness, I’m already looking forward to moving on. And, objectively speaking, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t succeed if I just stubbornly do what I’ve been doing so far: Learn, think, practise, get feedback, learn, think, practise.
In principle, the black belt examination consists of two parts. On the one hand, I write a black belt paper that documents my theoretical knowledge. The history of kung fu and of course in particular of the Hung Gar style belongs in there as well as my personal development, my thoughts, my points of view. This part is easy for me and it was not least in preparation for this that I originally started keeping this blog here. Nevertheless, it is interesting to scrutinise my personal aspect in particular and to write it down in such a way that others can understand my thoughts and motivations.
The other part is the presentation of my developed skills. I demonstrate the complete basic school as part of the examination, from warm-up programme to the basic school forms, their applications, light acrobatics, fall school, the Sewer Defence System (formerly the three-point self-defence system) and Gung Gee Fok Fu Kuen. Unlike in writing, I find it very difficult to assess how good or bad my performance is here.
One of the challenges of the exam is to build the programme. Of course, the broad framework is set and it is clear what all must occur. The exact programme, however, is up to the examinee. For me personally, two things are important. Since I have to know the entire content by heart, I pay attention to a clear system. For example, I sort the courses according to the positional work and within that according to the forms or complexity. The energy balance is also important to me. So I alternate physically strenuous parts with more technical elements as far as possible, so that I always have a kind of break.
In the development of the programme, noting down the order puzzled me for the first time. Sihing Roman, who made himself available to me as an examination partner, teasingly calls what came out of it hieroglyphics. (I think it’s very clear what it says…) In any case, in a mixture of stick figures and keywords, I noted down all the courses and put them in order. The process is not uninteresting, as I have to think carefully about what the essential things are.
It was not only the course sequence that took a lot of time to plan, but also the compilation of all the applications. There are about eighty of them spread over three forms, which have to be learnt by heart, not only by me, but also by Roman, who (mainly) acts as the attacker.
The whole structure did not come about in one go. I have rebuilt it several times and even now it is not finished, although now only fine corrections are made and no more fundamental changes occur, if I can help it.
To cushion the above-mentioned problem of not being able to assess one’s own abilities, I was already allowed to do a first test run for my exam. Mind you, this is not a privilege, but a normal procedure. In near-exam conditions, I rehearsed a first run-through under the eyes of Sifu Peter Gasser. This gave me the opportunity to see if I really know the programme by heart, to practise the formalities and also to check my fitness.
Some gaps have appeared that I still have to fill, courses that need to be replaced (too exotic, that doesn’t really work, variations not clear enough), fine-tuning of positions, details of forms, comments on my applications. The detailed feedback now in turn flows into my preparation and my programme.
The feedback has not only shown me where I still need to work on, but also to a large extent what would have been sufficient – and that is a very motivating fact. Suddenly the intermediate goal of the exam, which seems so vague despite all the preparations, has become tangible and I am entering the final spurt with new energy and momentum.