BJJ / Grappling and the Ego. Inspired by Julia Johansen.

Jiu Jiu recently wrote an intriguing post about the ego's role in the roll (that's right, I said it!). I, and the whole world, replied to it but it got me thinking. Is it possible to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or anything for that matter, without an ego? Or as my good friend Don put it: "how does one roll without a head anyway?"

To my eyes, the whole problem rests on a misunderstanding. If we examine why we do things in life / on the mat, the root cause is one of two things:

1. Doing them makes us feel truly happy
2. Doing them influences our perception of our self-worth.

These two are not always mutually exclusive, but the happiness in the grey area never struck me as genuine.

When I allow only the first to guide my life, views, actions and relationships all is well, but only always. If I allow only the latter, however, then I enter a rabbit hole from which I may never escape, where the ego whispers nonsense and white noise.

How does this relate to the ego and learning BJJ? Long time ago I asked myself why I wanted to get better at BJJ / grappling, and I realized that I associated performance with self-value. I thought if I did well, people would love / admire / respect / look up to me.

I also thought that if I didn't perform then they would cease to love / admire / respect / look up to me. I wanted the former and didn't want the latter and that made my life on the mats a misery. For a long time, I saw every roll as a challenge to my self-worth. I didn't mind tapping, as long as I had in my mind a good enough excuse. I was polite enough never to accuse anyone of "tapping me coz they're stronger!" but I do admit, sometimes I thought that as a mechanism to deal with "losing".

Then the "happiest day of my life" came and it changed everything. It opened my eyes and they won't shut ever again. I will never let it happen.

Now, every time I step on the cold mat, I'm overwhelmed by how lucky I am to have that opportunity to play in the first place. Every roll is a challenge, not to me or my skills, but to the laws of physics, bio-mechanics and gamesmanship.

I no longer aim to get better at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu / Grappling. I only aim to have a richer experience (not just knowledge) and become more aware of what's happening to me and whomever I am rolling with:

How are we moving?
What openings are presented (by me or my partner)?
How do we react / flow?
What emotions surface at different moments during the roll?

and many other questions intrigue me.

The people I tug cloth with on the mat are some of the finest people I've ever met. What a privilege. I work with a some nice people and all that, but the people I meet at the gym are amazing and none of that is performance related. When the gym is built on principles such as mutual development and growth thru real, personal experience and aliveness, you can't really help BUT develop your performance, so why fret?

See you all at the Labs @ Fighting Fit. You'll love it there.

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Anonymous said...

I am honored that you linked this to me and that it sparked something in you to write this. It's exactly what I'd imagined/hoped for in a blogging community--one where we take an idea and run with it in a different way, showing the various sides to an issue. This was beautifully written and I appreciate laying yourself out that way.

When I was younger, I felt like I needed to do well in school and if I didn't I would somehow lose respect. I needed to be the gal who was overloaded with work, who was the hard worker. I didn't realize that on some level I cared so deeply about what others thought about me.

I do think that even in my short time in BJJ I HAVE done some things specifically because of others--that desire to please. Sometimes the amount of time I go, sometimes realizing that if I am joking too much people might think I'm not serious, getting upset because the other girls weren't serious enough and they were possibly making be look bad because I also had boobs and the guys would transfer those feelings onto me.

I realized straight away that I was not going to be the best at BJJ and every day has been a struggle for me physically, but I love it. It makes me feel truly happy. I think the fact that I'm so physically UNABLE leaves me less room for ego to get in the way! :D and leaves me with the knowledge that I'm motivated by JOY and not by the RESULTS (because I don't have a lot of the results!)

Though as I'm planning my trip to America and trying to figure out which BJJ academies to visit a small part is worried that I'll reflect poorly on my teacher. I'm hoping I quickly leave those worries behind.

Awesome post. Thanks again for writing this! I love blog posts that make me think.

A.D. McClish said...

Great reminder. I have a near constant struggle in this area. Don't know why. Changing the way you think can be difficult, but it is worth it. I know in the times when I have had a healthy mind set going into class, I enjoy it no matter what kind of rolling I experience. Conversely, when I am worried about what everyone else thinks, every grapple is full of pressure. Great post.

Megan said...

I think the ego gets a bad CAN be your worst enemy, but it takes some sort of base level ego to start...and to keep coming back.Yes, when I started I was (more) fluffy around the middle, slower, ignorant of ALL martial arts and had never played a sport.


I've learned complex skills before and I knew I could learn BJJ. I knew I had a decent level of coordination. I knew I was smart and most importantly, I knew that I wouldn't quit if I really wanted it. That last part is the most important, and I feel even that involves the ego to a degree.

Megan said...

and I gotta ask...what was this happiest day? Did something special happen or did things just click?

The Part Time Grappler said...

@Julia, the pleasure was all mine. Enjoy your trip :)

The Part Time Grappler said...

@Allie.. Changing the way we think is the only thing in the world worth doing. Thank you for your kind words.

The Part Time Grappler said...

@Megan. Beautiful words. The ego is a big subject. I divided motive into two categories in my post and it sounds like you were/are following your bliss (reason number one) when doing jiu jitsu. You kept at it coz you really want it. That's all excellent and wonderful.

Imagine a scenario where you'd have kept training not because you really wanted it, but rather to please (insert name here) or to prove something to (insert name here, including yourself!) or any other reason to influence your perception of your self-worth. That's bad. Very bad. That's literally suicide as you are choosing not to live.

The Part Time Grappler said...

@Megan. The Happiest Day of My Life THDoML is my little phrase which actually stands for a number of events over a number of days but since I believe that time is an illusion, I take the poetic liberty to call it that :)