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What the Martial Arts Teaches Us About Gratitude

2020 and What the Martial Arts Teaches Us About Gratitude

“Great class everyone, be sure to thank your training partner!”

It’s the reminder we hear at the end of every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class.

And it’s one that is echoed in our Karate classes for kids and adults, too.

Imagine winning a game and thanking the other person for helping you. Imagine losing a game and thanking the person you’re playing with. Not just saying a half-hearted “good game”…but a sincere “thank you.”

It’s all about gratitude.

I see it all the time in our Karate classes and BJJ classes. But the most valuable part of martial arts training is how we take the things we do on the mat and apply them at work, home, school, or wherever else we go.

Let’s Address the Elephant in the Room…

In many ways, 2020 has been a pretty challenging year. A global pandemic, political tensions, economic ups-and-downs, murder hornets, hurricanes, shut-downs. It’s been hard.

So, how do we wrap up this year and say, “Thank You”? How can Karate or Jiu-Jitsu teach us to do that?

Let’s Start with Gratitude – and Why It’s Important

Studies have shown something very important:

It’s not that happy people are grateful, it’s that grateful people are happy.

It’s easy to think that gratitude comes from being happy. Think of every birthday party – a gift is given, there’s a feeling of happiness and excitement, and thanks are given. So, if I’m happy, I’ll be thankful because I’ll have something to be thankful about, right? Well…

Really, when we are able to find something for which we are grateful and we make a habit of recognizing those things, it becomes easier to find more things to be grateful for. And as we reflect on all the things we are grateful for, we suddenly realize how happy we are.

So What Do the Martial Arts Teach Us About Gratitude?

I think there is a lot to unpack about our feelings toward the year 2020. And maybe that’s the subject of another post on another blog for another time. But let’s say that the year 2020 is our “opponent” – like a training or sparring partner in class. After all, a lot of people seem to blame 2020 for these problems.

Often I ask students, “Who is the most important person in class?”

A lot of my kids will say “You, because you’re the teacher.” But that’s not the answer.

“Your training partner is the most important person in the room because they are helping you get better,” I tell them.

Our training partner in class, our “opponent,” teaches us so much. They show us our weak points and they help us get better; they show us our strong points and what we can help others with.

If we take it one step further, we realize that there’s more to it than our own skill. Just simply having others to practice with is worthy of gratitude.

What in 2020 do we have to be grateful for?

This is a great opportunity to take a moment to think about what you’re grateful for. I’ll share with you some of my thoughts.

I consider myself lucky. During the shutdown, with the uncertainty that we all faced (including the uncertainty of when or how we would reopen), I was very grateful. I got to spend more time with my family. My wife and I got to see each other more; we got to spend time together with the kids; we took walks together every day (a practice that we still get to do most days).

Even on the most difficult days, I had my family and I am grateful for them.

When we re-opened, we had (and continue to have) certain COVID related restrictions in place. But I was thrilled and grateful we could be open and train again.

The shutdown gave me time to evaluate the direction I wanted to go with our school, figure out what was working and what needed to be improved. And I’m grateful for that.

The shutdown gave me an opportunity to see who really aspired to Black Belt. And I’m grateful for all the committed students and families that are a part of our martial arts family.

Just like in martial arts classes, the toughest opponent gives us the most opportunity to grow. 2020 is a training partner for us all. And as we say in class, “…be sure to thank your training partner”.


What the Martial Arts Teaches Us About GratitudeMatt Pattillo is the owner of Master Pattillo Martial Arts in Winder, GA and Jiu-Jitsu Winder. A 6th Degree Black Belt in Karate, and head instructor since 2001, Master Pattillo has taught thousands of kids and adults in Barrow County, GA