“This is only a test. If you want to cry, go to the bathroom and cry by yourself.
If you want to celebrate, go to the bathroom and celebrate by yourself.”
EDIT (scroll to bottom)
Few people will talk about their failures. There is the fear that the failures will damage their egos or reputations. Everyone fails at some point, and as long as you don’t dwell on it, you can overcome it and keep going.
Long before I decided to apply for the 5YP, my biggest goal in martial arts was to earn a red stripe in Shaolin (6th in the YMAA curriculum). While it looks nice on your pants, it wasn’t for the stripe, but for what it represents in terms of knowledge and skill. It was for me and no one else. I didn’t care if no one knew about it. In fact, I feel a bit uncomfortable wearing my stripes because not everyone with the same rank has the same experience and skill level and I feel like I don’t compare with others.
The red stripe always seemed unattainable for me. I felt I started martial arts too late (15 years of age is not too late) and my bad knee and ankles would prevent me from being able to perform at a high level. After a 7 year break from martial arts (I went to university and was afraid to come back for some time), I started training again at age 25. I was a different person from my high school years and decided to go for my red stripe.
My timeline was pushed back when at age 28, I over trained my knee in preparation for a test and had a second knee operation to clip off a piece of meniscus that got stuck between my joints. The recovery is relatively quick with modern technology. (I wrote about my knee operations in a previous post: “Reprogramming”).
My timeline was cut short when I decided to apply for the 5YP. We don’t have stripes at the Center because there is no reason. I now had until August 17th, 2013 to pass 3 requirements to earn my red stripe.
This wasn’t just any test. It was the most important one up until that time. Few people knew what this test meant. Some realized that if I passed, I would be the first female student in YMAA to earn her 6th stripe. Someone pointed out that I would be the first assistant instructor to be admitted to the 5YP. Neither of those mattered to me for reasons I stated earlier. I don’t know if anyone truly understood what the test meant to me.
At the YMAA International Camp, we had the whole week to prepare for the test. I was going to test Beng Bu (barehand sequence), Sha Shou Jian (Short Rods), and Gun Dui Jian (Staff vs. Short Rods sequence made up by the student). I thought Beng Bu was the strongest because I liked it, practiced it the most, and barehand sequences are easier than weapons sequences. However, by the end of the week, my muscles were always sore and tight and my form got worse and worse.
Short Rods are very difficult to get right. By the end of the week, I had 4 slightly different versions of the sequence in my head because I had gone over it with different people. The differences weren’t a big deal. For this sequence, it’s not about a particular “right” form, but the right understanding of the essence of the weapon. I could have passed with any of the versions as long as I could demonstrate knowing how to use my body to handle the weapon. However, it didn’t feel good and I had more hope rather than confidence in passing my form. I figured I should try it anyway.
Staff vs. Short Rods actually felt okay because several instructors complimented Jon and I while we practiced throughout the week. They gave us tips on how to make it better. Short Rods are a defensive weapon and I had to make the counter attacks more aggressive, so I added more inward steps and seals to give him trouble.
I had never been tested by anyone other than the Andover and Boston instructors and Dr. Yang. I heard the European instructors were the toughest and that certainly didn’t calm my nerves. First up was Beng Bu. I was nervous so I rushed. It didn’t feel great but it didn’t feel bad. I walked up to the panel and boom… the critiques came in and while they always do, as they kept talking, I knew I failed.
They said I had power, but it was dispersed and my moves were incomplete. Most importantly, they said I wasn’t getting the symmetry power. I thought I had it when I practiced. Maybe I did have it when I wasn’t nervous. Or, was I doing it wrong for the past 8 months? That’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Realizing that you could’ve practiced 500 more times and still failed. Hearing them say that the power I had was okay for 2nd or 3rd stripe but not enough for assistant instructor level (6th stripe) made me feel like ripping a few stripes off.
After I sat down, I lost it. I don’t cry at tests or tournaments. It sucks to fail or not win, but it’s not the end of the world and you carry on and keep trying to improve. But this was different because I failed to meet my biggest goal. I thought if anything was going to keep me from reaching my goal, it would be Short Rods. Nope, it was all over on the first try. The one I had the most confidence in.
People tried to comfort me and said it didn’t matter. I know they were trying to make me feel better, but they didn’t know that it wasn’t just a test. They didn’t know what it meant to me. When I was called up to test Short Rods, I told them I wasn’t going to test it because it was even worse than Beng Bu. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Some time later, I was called up to be a Short Defense partner and I welcomed the temporary distraction. When I went back to my panel, I was the last student to go and they were waiting on me to test Staff vs. Short Rods.
Shaken from the epic fail and from and being thrown to the ground some 25 times, I got into the zone and got ready to test with Jon. I got a little too into the zone and hit Jon’s cheek with the pointy end of a rod. It was more of a scrape than a hard impact hit. I heard it in addition to feeling it and I quickly apologized, but Jon shook it off and we kept going. A few seconds later, I saw 3 streaks of blood dripping down his face and collecting at his jawline and the horrible sight made me gasp. I hate injuring my training partners and I hate injuring my friends. He is the most important person in my life and I hurt him. He reassured me that he was fine, so we finished the sequence. I was partially in shock and basically going through the motions but we finished it.
Afterwards, a few people ran up to Jon to check the damage. I stood a few feet away, watching, still in shock and catching my breath. I wasn’t sure if the testing panel was going to say anything to me. I wouldn’t have been much help to Jon anyway. Luckily, some of the students had medical backgrounds and told us he needed stitches. With our connections, we were able to go to the hospital and get treated relatively quickly.
Before we left, many people came up to me and offered me water and told me, “It’s ok, he’s ok, it happens during training.” I know it does. He’s not the first partner who had to get stitches because of me. Accidents happen, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m too out of control.
The only red stripes that night were the ones streaking down Jon’s face. (Sorry, Mrs. Chang). I sometimes wondered if I had to fail because I wanted it too much. Is it hubris?
Before the test, I knew the results wouldn’t matter, but I still wanted it. I knew if I failed, it would take me a few days to get over it. None of it matters now. Especially since I’m training at the Retreat Center and back to square one. It was just a test.
(I passed Staff vs Short Rods with a relatively good score compared to my other scores.)
Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. It means a great deal to me to have a community of mutual support that transcends beyond martial arts. You help keep me going and I’m there for you too.
When you fail to meet a goal, I will tell you: It’s okay to feel down for a little while. Don’t force yourself to be happy or pretend it didn’t matter as much as it did. Feel it, learn from it, and then move on. I like to write as an outlet and started this post a while ago and I’ve moved on.
One more photo to make this entry complete: