Everyone in jiu-jitsu at some point hears some variation of the advice, “Leave your ego at the door.” What this is getting at is that people shouldn’t come to jiu-jitsu expecting to smash everybody. After all why would you want to participate in a sport where a day one beginner could beat people with years of experience? “Leave your ego at the door,” is also saying that people should come to training humble and ready to learn. This is great advice. Many times though, I think this advice is taken to extremes.
I have heard people say that we should have no ego, like a baby, and just be ready to soak up knowledge like a sponge, that we can learn lessons from anybody and anything. This is true to some extent, but it doesn’t take into account how useful those lessons are, for example I could train aikido for ten years and learn some interesting details about wrist locks. However, I could have spent those ten years rolling, submitting people for real in live training, learning how to do many different submissions including wrist locks. Which was ultimately a better use of time? Also what would it look like for a person to train like a baby, with zero ego? Without ego what would motivate a person to train? What would keep them coming back to the grind day after day? What would keep them from quitting and keep them looking forward to new challenges? I don’t think that big egos are that much of a problem in jiu-jitsu. I think a bigger problem is fragile egos.
A fragile ego is easily tweaked. A person with a fragile, tweaked ego is often very defensive and quick to put others down. This has a negative effect on the training environment. A fragile ego looks for outside validation and is extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically motivated. This means they don’t train for the joy of learning, or for the pleasure of rolling, or for the friendships forged on the mat, but rather for public praise, a belt promotion, or a tournament medal. When a person with a fragile ego is not getting the reward they think they deserve they become more defensive and more entrenched in their way of thinking which makes training progress even more difficult. The daily grind of training becomes unbearable without constant external validation. Ironically at this point they refuse to take risks that could lead to technical improvements or even real validation. For example, they are too afraid to compete because the fragile ego is scared of losing, or they do not want to try a new move because they might fail and tap to a lower ranked training partner.
A person with a strong ego does the opposite. They lose a tournament, and it is no big deal, they will do better next time. They tap to a lower ranked partner and they don’t care, because they learned a valuable lesson. The fragile ego is scared to try new things because they are stressful and difficult. The strong ego does new things until they become easy. The strong ego says, “I am awesome at doing stressful, difficult things.” The strong ego takes risks, fails, and tries again. Don’t leave your ego at the door. Instead, develop your ego through experience and hard work, strengthen it and make it robust and impervious to defeat. Make your ego work for you.
Hi my name is Micah. I have been doing Jiu-Jitsu since 2007, first in Colorado and now in Portland. My favorite thing about Jiu-Jitsu is that it isn't easy. Come roll with me sometime.