Here’s a question I saw on a martial arts forum recently: If you were invited to do a belt test and you didn’t feel ready, would it be disrespectful to decline the invitation? So, hypothetically, your Sensei invites you to a belt test and you say no. You’re not ready. You don’t think you’re worthy.

What are your thoughts on this? Is this disrespectful to your Sensei?

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I Accept

Most people I’ve talked to feel nervous before a belt test. They don’t feel ready. They’re worried about messing up. They have doubts about their readiness to test.

And most of the time, this is just nerves. I’ve experienced this. Every time I’ve been invited to a belt test, I’ve experienced two very distinct feelings: excitement and nervousness. I’ve always felt really excited to test, and excited about that prospect of moving up in rank, and incredibly flattered that someone thought I was good enough for that. And at the same time, because it was so important to me, I felt nervous about making mistakes, and nervous about the potential for failure.

And going into each test, I had doubts over my worth. “I’m not good enough for this!” “I’m not worthy of that new rank!” These were always the thoughts going through my head leading up to that test. But once I was there actually testing, those concerns fell away and I just focused all of my efforts on performing my best at that test. And after every test, it took a good month before I finally accepted that new rank and felt worthy and that I’d actually earned it.

So for me, I’ve always had doubts as to my worth along the way. But that was always based in  nerves and fear. And once I faced those fears, those doubts disappeared. I realized that my concerns had no basis in fact. Being invited to test meant that someone knew I was worthy, even if I didn’t initially think so.

And my experience seems to be pretty normal. Most people seem to feel nervous before a test, but still excited once they achieve that new rank. And in these cases, we all just needed to face our fears and do that test.

But what about people who honestly think they’re not worthy, and it’s not just a case of nerves? They really believe they are not ready to test, and that their Sensei is wrong to invite them.

My view: this person is being far too hard on themselves, and should just do the test. Their performance will likely never meet their own standards, and this perfectionism likely comes up in other parts of their lives. And refusing to test—or the Sensei allowing them to refuse—is just feeding the perfectionism. And chances are, no matter what rank they achieve, they will likely never feel good enough, so putting off that test will not solve the problem. They will still be too hard on themselves whether they test or not. So they should just test.

And that question of disrespect: my view is that it is absolutely disrespectful to that Sensei to flat out refuse to test. It says that this person believes they know better than someone who is (hopefully) far more experienced in martial arts. They know better than the person who trained them and will be testing them. They think they know better. They think they’re not good enough. They think their Sensei’s judgement is wrong.

This person thinks they know better than their Sensei, and in this case they should either be taken down a notch, or they should find another dojo. Don’t like that invitation? Fine. Go elsewhere. Find a tougher Sensei. But they shouldn’t train under someone, only to refuse the honour of a belt test invitation when it comes their way.

To that person I say, be grateful for your leader’s confidence in your worth. Because if you refuse that honour there’s a very real possibility that you might convince your Sensei that you’re right. That you’re probably not worthy of a higher rank at all. If you refuse that invitation, you might get your wish, and not get invited to test again for a very long time.

So that’s my thought on it. What’s yours? Have you ever refused a belt test invitation?

Podcast Show Notes

We don’t always feel ready to perform at a belt test, but often this is just nerves. But what if you honestly don’t think you’re ready to test? Would it be disrespectful to your Sensei to decline that belt test invitation? Join me in this latest episode in a discussion of belt test readiness, nerves, and respect.

Thank you for joining me on my martial arts journey, and in the exploration of all the ways we can perform better in life and martial arts.

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You’re reading When You Don’t Feel Ready For Your Belt Test by Sabrina Bliem, originally posted on The Karate Shrimp. If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to follow The Karate Shrimp on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!