Testing for a new rank. To the prospective candidate this may make them very excited; a chance to get out on the floor and blow everyone away and show them that not only do you deserve that promotion, but you should have been promoted a long time ago. The candidate is en fuego - as my old roommate used to say -- rock solid stances, faster, louder and more precise than their peers. Their boards break from the sheer intimidation of their steely gaze.
Other people may think "Oh, it's time to test? I'm going to go crawl under this rock until it's over." They don't like being under a microscope. They do this for themselves and their students and really don't care what a bunch of strangers think of their techniques, their instructor, politics, etc. They would prefer the days of secret karate where one day their instructor just told them "you're ready."
In the last two weeks, I've watched a Dan test and a Gup test. So that makes me an expert, right? ;) In those tests, I've seen both personalities come out, and it has made me question my biases for what makes a good candidate.
At both tests, I saw performances that frankly surprised me, and not so much in a good way.
It seems to me that very rarely does someone rise to the occasion, so to speak. If they are a borderline student, testing does not magically make them better. More often than not, it seems like the testing process creates more pressure for them to succeed and they lock up. They get confused on a combination, lose their place in a hyung or forget a one-step. Sometimes they recover, sometimes all the errors just add up into an avalanche of disaster ending in "sorry, maybe next time."
Does pressure at testing simulate pressure "in real life?" Maybe, maybe not. I know people who use their Tang Soo Do in a professional environment (security, law enforcement, etc) who test poorly. Perhaps they train in a school that reminds them daily in 200 point Arial Bold "MY GOAL IS BLACK BELT." And here they are, testing for that elite status that will make them Superman, Mr. Miyagi and Arnold Schwarzeneggar all wrapped into one. Surely there's no pressure. :)
These are the people I want to find a way to help. Do they really forget that one-step, or can I prepare them in a different way to deal with the pressure of performing in public? How do I help this person that I KNOW is a great student show it to others?
There's another type of candidate that drives me up a wall. Someone who just expects to get through the test and get their promotion. They know what they are doing, but watching them has all of the excitement of watching water in a pan boil. Except that the burner was never switched on, so you keep waiting for the bubbles. Waiting. waiting. w a i t i n g . . . What the hell? Why are they here??? You consider withholding their rank, but you're not sure they'd really care.
Now really, I think this person tends to be a very small minority in the percentage of testing candidates. And I don't think there's anything to do with them except fail them until they care. Or leave. Whatever. In fact, just get out of my way because I keep having to alter my form to keep from cracking you in the back of the head.
My more pressing concern is how to take care of the student who is mistaken for being part of the latter group. The quiet people who may be overlooked despite their skill, or the very nervous people who simply don't perform well. They want to be a black belt, they want to do well, they've put in the time and know what they are doing. I have students like this. Kids who in class constantly impress me with their ability, but I put them in front of people and they are like Michigan J. Frog. That's right, put them in front of a panel and "ribbit." Actually, these people are so nervous that if I asked them to ribbit it would probably come out as "moo."
I wonder if the people I bring in for my tests look at these kids and just say "whiskey, tango, foxtrot. over?" Maybe, but I know they have kids who have the same problem. :)