Let me start this conversation with a well-known saying from William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, "To Thine Own Self Be True.” Keep this in mind as we dive into understanding what helps make us tick.
Everyone has an ego. It's just human nature. We all have aspirations; and the idea that we want well for ourselves.
Many of us work very hard to become better versions of ourselves, in fact. And, in many cases, we use martial arts to help enact that change. But is having an "ego" really that the evil, nefarious, human trait that has been spoken about in the past? I'd argue, having an ego is healthy, and a necessary part of martial arts training - especially in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
We are told countless times in Jiu-Jitsu, that we should leave our ego at the door. Many instructors push the notion that ego is something we strive to kill, and that it should be held in check.
My opinion is pretty straightforward: Not all egos are created equally.
Let me explain where this is coming from… When we wake up in the morning, we look in the mirror, and we examine ourselves. Do we look good? Do we like what we see? This ego is healthy. It's the ego of self-esteem and how we view ourselves.
When we compete, we want to be the best; we wish to win. Some even do whatever it takes to win, even to the detriment of others. This is the id.
Think of the id as Mr. Hyde and ego as Dr. Jekyll.
Now, I know some of you may think I'm taking the analogy too far. However, when you stop and think about it, we all have wants, needs and desires. To go after these is noble, and worthy. This is the endeavor of someone who is driven, and is considered healthy. On the mats, you are studying, you are working hard and drilling. When you spar, you are working towards, in Judo, what we call 'jita-kyoei' - mutual benefit to all parties.
We know what works in our game, and what doesn't. From there, we focus on bettering the weak areas in our game. Not to do so would certainly be a fool's errand.
Now, when we focus on winning at all costs, focusing on doing whatever "it takes to win" that sparring round, - even if it puts our training partner at risk to be injured - because at the end of the day, who cares? We want to win. We need to win.
We can't let that white belt beat us.
Then… someone gets hurt. Many times, it's us, because in our heads we think, “I can't tap to this armbar, I can get out.” Or, “this choke isn't THAT tight, I can squeeze out...”
This is the battlefield every day for all of us. From professors down to coaches to Day 1 white belts, we all have this internal battle, waging war inside.
To deny it is to lie to ourselves.
That said, your ego is needed to compete, but our competition should be with ourselves. When we place our need to be better than someone else over safety, then id wins. Our training is no longer an example of mutual benefit. Our struggle is against ourselves, and what we need to do to be better. Our training partners are simply a mirror for us to hold ourselves up to, to see where our skills are, and what we need to work on.
You know that 20-year-old wrestler that passes our open guard like butter? He's helping us see what needs to be fixed in our guard retention. He shouldn't be avoided to make us feel better, he should be embraced because he's helping us learn more about ourselves.
To understand our ego, is essentially to understand ourselves.
It is my belief that if we look at each roll as a miniature war and need to win - to have to win - we are missing the bigger, more important point to our training.
That is – we are striving to become better versions of ourselves.
If we look at training in this view, then we would all seek out the harder rolls, the folks who make us work harder, who smash us, and who make us not feel so great today. Why? Because these efforts will make us stronger and make us feel better about ourselves tomorrow.
Stay training, but don't leave your ego at the door, just keep your ego in the right light.
Writing credited to: John Byrne