top of page

Lessons in Humble Gratitude

By Lynn Barendsen

    It’s 3 am, and I’m painfully aware that the 75 lbs of black lab snuggling up against my legs has once again pushed my back into a creaky, uncomfortable position.  I roll over, determined NOT to see the clock, knowing that I’ll need to be up by 5:30 to stretch, warm up, and be ready for the 7 am run.  I actively push back against Pep, carving out some space for myself, silently apologizing to John when she gets up and takes over what’s left of his side of the bed.


    It wasn’t like this when I went up for my first black belt test in 2009, or my second, or even my third. My body simply can’t do everything the way I’d like it to this time around. A great deal of this particular black belt journey has been about recognizing what limitations are real, and what limitations I can safely push past.  I’ve never been one to accept “no” for myself so this hasn’t been easy, and I don’t know that I’ve fully digested this particular lesson. Within reason, stubborn determination can be a valuable tool - and I have my mom’s example as a guide.  (Was she wise for fighting her way up two flights of stairs, on her first day home after having knee replacement surgery?  Maybe, maybe not - but she was awfully happy to, as she put it, “Sleep in my own damn bed!”)  Trying to maintain perseverance without pushing too hard is a tricky balance, and I have a feeling I’ll be working on this particular practice for a very long time to come.

    I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to attempt another black belt test.  As always, I welcomed the challenge, but questioned what, in particular, I was trying to prove.  And as much as the physical challenges have certainly been genuine, the emotional challenges have been bigger for me this time around.  I didn’t want to spend these months of training frustrated, angry or negative.  I wanted to bring a positive attitude to boot camp, set a good example, and come through these weeks of training at peace with myself and with our shared practice.


    My outlook has fundamentally shifted since the pandemic. During those dark months, I found myself frequently saying to colleagues and friends, “I don’t have anything to complain about,” “we’re lucky, we’re all healthy”.  All of which was (and is) true.  Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that the time wasn’t challenging, and that those I love didn’t suffer losses of one kind or another.  There was a time when I was often sleepless, lying awake worrying about everything from how our kids’ generation was going to survive its mental health crisis, to when (or if) I’d be able to see my mom again, to how we might have the financial security to retire, and more.  At some point, I decided to press the reset button and found a sleep ritual that included a gratitude journal.  Two years ago I started writing every night about three things - some small, some not so small - about which I’m grateful.  This practice has deeply informed how I see the world.  It’s not just a matter of “seeing the bright spot”.  Ending every day by thinking through the - many - positive elements within it, means that I now regularly recognize, make note of and celebrate these moments, whereas previously I often missed them.


    Part of my calculus on committing to boot camp was whether or not I’d be able to authentically maintain my gratitude during this journey. Would I be constantly, quietly questioning, or could I accept all challenges and trust the process?  Ultimately, I simply decided to accept that I wasn’t sure, and move forward anyway.


    Revisiting my writing over the past few months, I’ve uncovered a lot about boot camp and about our dojo community.  A few samples below.



  • For the training kickboxing and karate have given and demanded of me, even when I didn’t want it

  • That this body of mine is able to do boot camp - the run, the pushups, sparring and more - and seemingly, do it fairly well

  • For the energy to push through today’s stretches even while my back’s been acting up

  • For all that the dojo and the Buhls have given all of us, and all we’ve learned from each other

  • For the strength and conviction to hold ourselves to higher standards and not just settle, give up or be willing to accept that this is how things are now

  • For the responsibility of teaching and care that gets me up and out even when I don’t feel like it, and for the awesome people who always meet me there, who are so very appreciative and hard working

  • For lessons learned over time: how to throw my all into everything, keep my game face on amidst multiple, varied challenges

  • For sore muscles

  • For well-earned bruises


    Training for a black belt at any level is, and should be, a challenge. To push through that challenge authentically, to give my all and be grateful for that privilege, has made this particular journey especially demanding for me.  I know that I haven’t met every challenge as well as I could have, but I’m genuinely appreciative that I’ve been able to try.  I’m especially grateful for all of my incredible instructors who have recognized my many challenges, given me a hug, a kick, a yell or a quiet understanding look when I needed it.  I love you guys.

bottom of page