Gratitude – sincerely feeling and expressing appreciation – is perhaps one of those things that many of us think we do well, but is in fact something that we overestimate.  From a young age, we’re taught to say ‘thank you’ to people for helping us or doing a good job.  In martial arts, we bow to express gratitude.  The question is, how often do we do these things automatically without truly taking in the full significance?  Also, how many of us genuinely feel and express the emotion behind our gratitude?  Perhaps most importantly, how often do we overlook the support of others in our lives because we take it as a given?  Towards my black belt grading, I reached a moment where I experienced a deeper sense of gratitude. It continues to be very influential to my training and life even now.  It’s incredible how martial arts training can spark self-development in many different ways.  This article explores what I’ve learnt from the experience.

The preamble

The months leading up to my black belt grading were one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had!  I naturally get quite nervous as any form of test approaches, but I certainly didn’t expect it to kick in as early (and as strongly) as it did.  Like other martial artists approaching their black belt test, it marked a key life moment.  It meant a lot for me to reach this point. I started martial arts (and the health and fitness journey) as a young adult, and so having a black belt signified to me that I would finally achieve a level of fitness that the old me didn’t think I’d ever obtain.  That is still a key guide in my Martial Way today: towards a life of improved health and fitness.

A month before my test, I started to think more about my journey and the personal significance behind obtaining my black belt.  At one point during this time, a deeper level of gratitude overcame me. It was a realisation that our martial arts journey is as much about our own personal achievements as it is about the investment and support given by others. 

Deeper reflection

If you take a moment to think about your journey, where you are right now is the result of others who have supported you in many ways.  Your instructor has dedicated years to your Art, and has a passion to pass it on.  Others at your club have assisted in your development at times too. This includes being your partner for drills and giving you feedback.  In addition, your family, partner, and/or friends have supported you in their own way.  It was this reflection from martial arts that sparked a deeper level of gratitude within me.  This is because I finally realised something very important: 

The belt around your waist wouldn’t be there without the collective support of those around you.

Further reflection made me appreciate that this wasn’t specific to martial arts, but also applied to life.  Where we are today is down to our own efforts along with the support and influence from others.

Mindset shift to deeper gratitude

This moment of deeper gratitude from my martial arts journey significantly changed my mindset.  For one, it gave me the extra drive to put in more effort when I trained at the club.  During the journey to class, I would often think how my dad, for example, used his own free time in order to take me to the dojang.  I’d also think about how my mum would make an extra effort to have a late dinner ready for us when we returned home.  It was these things that I had taken as givens.  The deeper sense of gratitude increased my effort because I became more appreciative of the sacrifices and support my parents gave.  Others may support you in different ways, but I encourage you to think about how they do so – especially when you feel less motivated in class.  It certainly works for me. 

Since this experience, I’ve also found myself naturally expressing gratitude more often in daily life.  I feel so thankful for having many opportunities that help me grow through receiving support from others.  This new place has left me wanting to do my part to support others with their goals too. 

Applying gratitude

If I were to say in one word how my mindset about gratitude changed from my martial arts experience, it would be ACTION.  Literally: don’t just think and don’t just say – go above and beyond and act in thoughtful ways.  For example, if someone impresses me with their kindness or support, I’d thank them and explain why.  From experience, it’s helpful to mention why you’re thankful to someone because it shows them it’s not an automatic response.  Now that I do this, I’ve definitely noticed a more genuine reaction.

Sometimes, expression of gratitude can even warrant a small gift.  I find that it can really make someone’s day, or even week.  This ‘give and take’ is similar to skilled sparring in martial arts.  These practitioners will receive energy when defending themselves, before giving back the energy through an offence move.  

Drawing on personal examples, I’d typically make something, write a note, offer my time, or praise someone in front of their senior – like a manager.  Good customer service should always be rewarded.  Although I couldn’t say how much of an impact this leaves on people, I know that I genuinely mean it.  To me, it’s something that the world needs more of. I believe acts like this should be spread from person to person for more positivity in our lives.

That’s my take on gratitude.  I’ve found deeper fulfilment through really appreciating the support of others, and also by spreading positivity through actions. It’s also a great motivator to put in full effort when training!  I hope this article’s left you feeling inspired to think of someone to contact and thank for supporting you.  Let’s spread the positivity!

Sabrina Mistry

As a qualified Personal Trainer and 2nd Dan traditional martial artist, Sabrina combines both to deliver workout programmes, martial arts instruction and fitness classes that are designed with the longer-term health of the body in mind. Get connected on Instagram and Facebook: @beyondthedojang

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