Crises of Confidence

Tonight I was promoted to Sankyu, or 3rd-degree brown belt, in Shuri-ryu karate. That’s not something I’d ever thought I’d be able to say in my lifetime, but man does it feel good.

Not that it was an easy review or test, mind.

While I practiced my butt off for it, I have a bad habit of getting nervous and choking during the actual review process. I could (and should) have made it all the way through the review process on Tuesday, but in working through a set of techniques called ippon kumite kata #10, I kept stepping back with the wrong leg at the end. I did it wrong the first time, then did it right, but second-guessed myself and ran it wrong yet again because the people around me were making my same mistake. By that time I was completely thrown off and got sent off to work on it.

I was extremely upset with myself because I knew better, and though my muscle memory was trying to tell me I was doing it wrong, I let my brain dump a big load of doubt on me and that was all she wrote. Fortunately I was able to take another crack at it and passed, and I was able to finish the rest of the review process and earn my belt tonight.

I have the same crisis of confidence with other things. Call it performance anxiety, stagefright, or whatever, it’s generally when I’m on the spot that I start getting uncomfortable. I have no problem doing panels at conventions these days, and I still enjoy standing behind a busy table. Yet I start second-guessing myself if I’m the center of attention in other situations.

In fact, I’ve been more worried about performing my kata, Empi Sho, tomorrow night than I was about earning the belt in the first place. I get out to Peoria dojo about once a month, so I don’t run my kata in front of the other instructors and students very often. Not only do I have to look like I earned my belt, I have to make my Sensei look good as both a martial arts instructor and an employee of the school. Not to mention all the parents, siblings, friends, etc., of other students will be there watching. No pressure, right?

Honestly, there shouldn’t be any. I’ve been running the kata for 18 weeks now, and while that’s not total mastery by any stretch, it’s enough that I have the movements down and can get through it without getting shredded by other karateka. Ill even admit I’ve kind of been hoping I’d have a family conflict rise up so I could get out of it.

But brown belt’s a big deal. I should be there to receive my belt, and I should be there to support the other students from my dojo who were promoted. So I’m going to call it an exercise in self-discipline and just suck it up and head over there. The Wife is going to come along to take pictures, so I’m calling it a photo op as well. Believe it or not it helps, and tomorrow I plan to share some photos here on the blog and on Flickr.

Watch this space.

As for the future, if yellow belt was the first big milestone in the belt progression, I consider Sankyu the second. There are two more levels of brown belt between here and black belt, and Ikkyu, or first degree brown belt, is the next major milestone. My goal is to make Ikkyu by the end of this year, but I’m going to have to bust my ass to do it. Once I make Ikkyu, it’s a working and waiting game until Shihan Joseph Walker decides I’m ready to test for black belt.

It’s a long way off, but it looks a hell of a lot closer now than it did when I first put on a white belt two years ago next week.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Karen McKillip says:

    Congrats Mike!!! I also absolutely dread reviews, I always tend to choke (and not in a good judo way!)on something I’ve practiced over and over.., Enjoy your time in the spotlight at graduation tonight, you certainly deserve it!

  2. Noah L says:

    Feels good doesn’t it? Haha, the reviews suddenly get harder at brown belt–it took me two tries to get my first stripe because my low block on two of my ippons was about an inch off. Congratulations and don’t be nervous about the promotion night! Definitely take lots of pictures, though!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks, man! The Wife’s going to click away with the camera, so we’ll see how the pics turn out. I just have to make sure the camera’s set up for her.