A sense of gratitude
A couple weekends ago, I had the privilege of hearing a sermon that really spoke to me, especially concerning a particular truth. It’s this: Everything that we do – everything – should be done in a spirit of gratitude. We should never lose our appreciation or thankfulness. Of course, this ultimately refers to our praise of God and our never-failing thankfulness for Christ’s sacrifice, no matter what our circumstances. But for non-believers, this concept concerning gratitude still applies.
This goes against the grain of the general sense of entitlement and self-centeredness that people tend to carry in this world. Many behave as if they have a right to anything that they want, and then they whine and moan if they don’t always get their way. Life would be a lot better – nay, people would be a lot better – if we could remember our numerous blessings, learn to appreciate them, and maintain an attitude of thankfulness. It’s not always easy when difficult circumstances come up against us, and sometimes we fail. But it is something to strive for, so we should all get into the habit of putting this into practice.
In what ways can a sense of gratitude help us? It helps to develop humility (different from shame), confidence (different from cockiness), contentment (different from complacency), and respectfulness (different from being a doormat). Now, what does all this have to do specifically with the martial artist, mixed martial artist, or athlete in general? Well, as I was listening to this preaching, it made me reflect upon a lot of things. But one thought that stood out to me was, “Am I exercising this as well as I should in every area of my life, whether in the cage, the dojo, the workplace, the home, the church, and so on?”
A lot of people who only know me from MMA think of me as fairly humble and respectful. I’m pretty successful at maintaining that behavior in the workplace as well. I wish I could say that I am just as successful in every other setting, but I must confess that I am still working on that. Treating my opponents with respect (not fear), win or lose, is one thing that I have gotten right: I’ve always shown up to weigh-ins on time, made weight, and gave my opponents props regardless of the outcome of the fights.
It never made sense to me that some fighters trash talk, get upset with their opponents when they struggle to make weight, or feel animosity toward their opponents in general. These things defy logic. A) You agree to fight at a certain weight – nobody forces you to; therefore, do not get angry at your opponent because you are hungry, tired, and thirsty the day of a fight from trying to make weight. B) Without an opponent, you would have no opportunity to get in the cage and do what you love to do. Really, you should be grateful to your opponents for stepping up (or at least when they show up, make weight, and don’t sucker-punch you when you touch gloves). And the more skilled you are, the less you have to rely on anger to win fights. You don’t see the Megumi Fujii’s or Jose Aldo’s of the world having to get all worked up in order to fight…very well…and win. You, too, will make a much better impression if you treat your opponents graciously and respectfully. It adds a whole new dimension to “Love your enemies,” huh?
I have personally even gone so far as to chat with my opponents before our fights, still fight my heart out, and leave the cage as friends. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. This all depends on the person whom you’re fighting as well. But I can always show good sportsmanship because, ultimately, I am grateful for the chance to test my abilities, discovering my strengths and weaknesses. As I said earlier, I wish I were more consistently that way. Perhaps the true test of character is away from the cage, back home or in the gym.
On a couple occasions, I must admit, bitterness over loss set in and affected my attitude in adverse ways. Disappointed and angry at myself, I began to take it out on family, friends, and even fellow students in my dojo. My husband had to point out on those occasions how unfair and ungracious I was behaving. The Holy Spirit further pointed out that I was dwelling in shame about my past mistakes rather than learning from them and moving forward like “a champ does,” as Brock Lesnar said after his recent loss of the UFC heavyweight title belt. Not that I have ever held a championship belt, but I definitely won’t ever come close if I do not focus on improving and never giving up.
Most importantly, I learned during that time that I had forgotten my sense of gratitude. I am blessed to have a God who loves me, win or lose. I am blessed to get to train under a wonderful teacher and supportive husband. I am blessed to get to compete and improve my fighting skills. I am blessed in many more ways than I have space to list. I’m still working on always having a genuine sense of gratefulness. I truly believe this attribute can make us better people and better fighters.