I had a workout with Sensei at his house yesterday. It was really nice to get a chance to just work on my own kata. These days, most of my time in the dojo is spent teaching, though Sensei has made a real effort to give me instruction time as well. I've just finished learning Urashi Bo, which means I've actually learned all the stuff I need to know for my 2nd dan. I can't test until August 2011, though, so I have the unbridled luxury of a year-plus to tease apart all my forms and really work on the details.
When I headed home after the workout, Sensei sent me off with a DVD of two promotion tests. The first is Sensei L's shodan test - Sensei L was Sensei's first promotion to black, and an awesome karateka. The second test was my own brown belt test. I remember both of these tests vividly, and seeing them on video was interesting.
Sensei L's test was from three years ago, back when I was still a 3rd kyu. I remember that at the time his kata just looked awesome and unapproachably perfect. I was quite intimidated, because I was certain I would never reach that level of awesome with my own kata.
That test looks really remarkably different, three years later, and nearly a year after my own black belt test. Sensei L's kata still look awesome, don't get me wrong. He has an intensity and focus that is just mesmerizing. But - he doesn't look unapproachably perfect any more. I can see where he's nervous and tight, where he's rushing too much and sometimes scanting on the technique because of it. All these things that I didn't see at the time. There are plenty of things in his kata that are marvelous, and I would be a happy woman if I could develop half of his kime. But at the same time, I can see places where my technique actually comes closer to that elusive ideal. It made me feel less like I'm not holding up the standard for Sensei's black belts.
My own brown belt test was similarly enlightening. Given that I was front and center in the audience at Sensei L's test (and participated at a couple points), between the two videos I had almost two hours worth of seeing myself on video, where I don't think I've ever seen myself for more than a couple of minutes before. I think I begin to understand why a lot of people seem to automatically assume competence from me. I remember being nervous enough for my test that I had to use every trick I have ever learned to keep from freezing up altogether, or possibly hyperventilating. My knees were shaking, my hands were sweating, the whole nine yards - but I didn't look it at all on the video, just focused. In both tests, I was always watching what was happening, responded immediately to anything said or done that involved me, and just generally looked a lot more clueful than I felt in either situation. I also looked more like a big, strong woman than the merely fat one I generally feel like.
That interesting observation aside, I do hope that my kata have improved significantly since brown (I think they have). My techniques were generally good, but I didn't have enough kime, and my speed and flow were lacking. Where Sensei L was rushing and skimping technique, I was getting in the technique properly, but the kata looked - chunky - for lack of a better term. My straight punches and side kicks were awkward looking enough for it to seem a little surprising when I went straight through the breaks with no trouble at all. The difference, for example, between how awkward I look punching vs. how I look with a hammer fist is striking (sorry!). It looked natural that I should hammer fist straight through the concrete, but surprising that I could punch through wood or put out a candle.
That video is going to give me a lot to chew on as I try to notch my karate up to a higher standard. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or grateful that the video camera ate the file of my black belt test.