Don't get me wrong - I don't have a thirst to grade. I find it stressful to some degree (pun intended) but I have been thinking about the nature of grading and it is an important stress. Before every grading, our Sensei starts focusing on us - our techniques, basics, applications, forms, partner drills, fitness. And this is an opportunity to revisit everything that has built up since the last grading and put it under the microscope.
What I mean is that in the time between gradings, we are stewing and try to absorb different methods of power generation, different forms, stances, strikes, techniques and generally come to a different and more advanced level of body awareness. Sometimes we develop distancing, another timing, and still others the more intangible aspects like go no sen just from watching someone's eyes. But it is all just a matter of keeping the water boiling, adding ingredients to the pot, and seeing what comes of it. You gain a certain level of comfort with what you have learned, tweaking it to suit, and developing some confidence.
Grading time is the painful process of realizing how little you know, how much more there is to learn, and admitting that you have bad habits that you need to break through sheer will. Been doing the kata with a certain emphasis the whole time, and now you find out it has to change. You need to correct yourself everytime you do it, and you don't want to slow down again, but you need to force yourself to do it. Face your secret shame, defeat your ego, and start again.
You begin the process of breaking down everything you know down to an instinctual level, and re-build it in a new form, incorporating the new and the old into something greater than what it was. I see it like a building, with additions and wings and balconies added on hodge-podge. Now you take apart all the materials and build anew, with a different design in mind and incorporating all of the additions you will need.
To strain another metaphor, preparing is like forging a blade. You take the raw materials and create a rough shape, constantly refining until it is where you want it. Then the final period before it is finished, you are put under great pressure, heat and it must be done in a short time frame. The blade serves well, but over time gathers nicks and changes that must be totally undone through reforging again.
Opportunity knocks. I must answer. But the couch is comfie. ;)