At least once per day I get anxiety about the fact that I'll eventually test for shodan (black belt). I worry about how the test will look, what will need to be adapted, and what Higaonna-Sensei would say about my performance. I tear up thinking about it because I cycle among different ways of looking at it:
- Everything I adapt will be to something that would work in the street. If it wouldn't work in the street, it's not an adaptation and needs more work, which takes more time.
- The day my Sensei decided he would take me all the way to black he told me he was going to hold me to the same expectations as everyone else. I trust my Sensei, and he won't let me slide. To let me slide would be to give me a false sense of security, which would put me in real danger.
- While I can't test to the level that able-bodied people can test, very few people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome ever approach martial arts at all, and I don't know many able-bodied friends who would practice karate if they had the challenges I have.
- A shodan is just the mark of the most basic self-defense techniques being loosely known. It takes a lifetime for them to be truly undertstood and applied.
- The real job of the obi (belt) is to hold your gi closed and that's it, so the test shouldn't matter.
Things that make me nervous: I have a terrible time remembering bunkai, and I'm slow on the uptake to learn new techniques, especially complex ones like joint locks or grappling. Class moves fast in the dojo and I don't have opportunities to practice outside of the dojo. Being pretty much deaf on the floor, I'm recently becoming aware of how much incidental learning I miss, and it makes me panic because there aren't many opportunities to follow up. Exhaustion is also a factor that hurts my memory and follow-up. It would be different if I were taking notes, or working with subtitles or an interpreter.
I'm so focused on staying conscious in the dojo, and on managing joint pain and dislocations, that it's hard to concentrate on anything but the next move I have to make. That makes it good for me in that I have to stay in the moment, in tune with my body and with my partner. It's great exercise for my body and a paramount stress buster. But it also keeps me from higher thinking about applications, similarities to other moves, connections with kata, and so on.
It's time to deal with these matters but I'm not sure how to proceed, besides talking to my Sensei about it. Such puzzles aren't new, they've been present since I started karate. But they hit me harder now that I've finally returned to the dojo after a long absence and I am fighting a whole new battle to stay functional, a long war against failing health.