Transforming the Mind, Embracing the Belt: 10 Valuable Lessons from My Blackbelt Journey

Jul 19, 2023 | Random stuff | 2 comments


Since my first day in your dojo.

That was my answer to Sensei’s question when he asked me how long had I been training for my blackbelt.

That first day was back in January 2019. And to be honest, I didn’t really believe that I would ever get my blackbelt. Not because I didn’t think I could be good enough. But more because it was so far in the future.

And here I am in 2023, still pinching myself. I still can’t quite believe that I am a blackbelt.

Getting to this point has taken a lot of effort and commitment, which all ramped up in March of this year when Sensei confirmed that I would be grading in June.

I had no idea I would be grading that soon. In my head, I thought it would be more like December. So to say I was shocked is an understatement. I assumed I wasn’t ready yet.

For 4 months, I trained hard. Some days were better than others. Some days I knew I could do better and it felt like I was just going through the motions instead of focusing on training and being present. But I also had days where I felt amazing.

I learnt quite a bit about myself and what I am capable of. I also relearnt stuff that I already knew but had conveniently forgotten.

Here are just some of the lessons I learnt whilst training for my blackbelt.


My mind was my biggest obstacle

No surprise really. I know this intellectually but I seriously underestimated how sneaky the mind is. I knew from previous gradings that I needed to ensure that the thought of the grading didn’t scare me so I used visualization daily to see, hear and feel how amazing the grading would be.

The thing I didn’t do was work on my mental agility for the training period! Your mind will conspire to show you the easy option in order to keep you safe. But the easy option is not always helpful.

Mastering your mindset is a continuous practice. It’s not just about the challenge you are facing but also the journey that leads to that moment.

Focusing on enjoying the journey didn’t always help

I know it’s all about enjoying the journey but there were times, especially towards the end, when the journey sucked. The more I tried to focus on the journey, the more I hated it. And the more I focused on hating it, the worse it felt.

Looking back now, I should have taken the time to understand what was going on for me. What was stopping me from enjoying it? Instead of trying to push through it and feeling worse.

I needed to build in more breaks

I was driving myself pretty hard during training and because I’d made a commitment to myself, and to my accountability group, to complete my weekly training schedule there was no way I was going to not do it. To let them down and let myself down. The problem is, when your mind and body are exhausted there is no point in pushing because it does more harm than good.

I was focused on the physical doing whereas I should have given my body time to recover so that I was at my best during training times.

If something is not working, it’s okay to try something different

When I was at my lowest it was because it felt like things were not working. And when things were not working it was because I was at my lowest. A vicious circle. Instead of feeling empowered to try something different, I kept going. I was in the mindset of ‘nothing is going to stop me’.

Fortunately, Sensei could see what was going on and thanks to his intervention I didn’t keep going as he adjusted what I needed to do. The message here is I waited for someone else to say ‘stop, it’s okay’ instead of feeling the freedom to do it for myself.

My support network played a key role in my success

I had a fantastic accountability group around me that kept inspiring me to keep going. They were cheering me on from the beginning until the moment my grading finished. I don’t think they realise how much of an impact their support had on me. 

Never underestimate the power of your supporters. 

I know I talk about being your own cheerleader, however, this is amplified when you have great and genuine people around you. They will lift you up when you are unable and give you the biggest cheer when you reach the summit.

I needed to show myself more compassion

Yes, I am my own worst critic and Vera, my inner critic, was given permission on many occasions to have verbal diarrhoea. However, that was not helpful.

When things are not going how you expect you need to show yourself some compassion and speak to yourself in the same way you’d speak to your best friend. With kindness, love and in service of what is best at that moment.

Even when I was feeling s**t I still did my best

The body is capable of so much more and you don’t really test it unless you have to. Throughout my training, the one thing that seemed to be consistent was the lack of sleep, which was mainly due to my children disrupting me. Yet I kept on training and pushing myself.

However, the big test came during the grading weekend. Day 1 was long but not as hard as Day 2 which was shorter but more intense.

I remember all my gradings and how I felt. Some I dreaded so much that I didn’t sleep the night before and I couldn’t even eat on the day. However, I really had no idea what my capability would be with the right training and mindset.  

I cannot put into words what I went through but I did my best and it was good enough. 

I want to be happy

It’s okay to be vulnerable

I didn’t like expressing myself when things were not going well and I was not achieving what I wanted to achieve. To me, it felt like I was just making excuses instead of just gritting my teeth and getting on with it.

But it’s okay to open up and admit when things are hard. When I did open up, this small act of sharing how I was feeling really helped because I could let go of any anxiety and stress that I was holding onto. I felt relief.

When it counted, I performed

I know that all that training paid off because on the day I was able to perform. Even when I was feeling tired and I thought I would collapse, I still managed to find the energy I needed to do what was necessary.

The body is able to achieve amazing things when it needs to. It takes focus, determination and the want to succeed. We all have it inside us. 

I need another challenge!

So what is next? Well, I need to wait for 2 years until I grade for my next blackbelt. But I feel I need to do something in the meantime. At this moment in time, I have no idea what it is but I’m sure I will take on something.

What has challenged you recently?


You might also like to read, Meet Your Inner Critic: The Uninvited Roommate Who Never Cleans Up

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