13.10.11

Ego and BJJ: What is the Ego? How does this apply to BJJ?


When we enter a BJJ academy we are always told to leave the ego at the door or to kill the ego or buy him a beer or what not. We also often hear (and talk) about how some (completely arbitrary!) measure of ego is necessary to drive us in BJJ but too much (anything more than 17 ounces, I think) ego is bad. The word is thrown around way too much for my liking, both on and off the BJJ mat and don't even get me started on traditional martial arts!

 
What I don't like about all that is that:

 
  1. It is assumed that all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners carry one and the same definition of this "ego" (or another favourite of mine "self") and that we all agree on this definition. People often talk about what it's like to "have an ego" or "train without ego", but no one sits down and defines it
  2. It is measured. Badly. As a statistician by schooling and analyst by profession, this bugs me and, as a Buddhist, attaching a value such as guilt to miss-measurement really gets under my skin

 
What I aim to do in these posts is address these two issues. I will first give you my definition of the ego or self or mind or voices or whatever you crazy kids want to call it and how it relates to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, grappling and combat sports in general. In another post I will suggest to you that rather than leaving an arbitrary percentage of it off the mat you should instead bring it along and keep it under constant examination.

 
So what is the ego*? The first time I read a definition that made sense and helped me was in " The Power of Now" (click here for the Amazon.com version “The Power of Now”), a book by Eckhart Tolle. Already within the first page, Eckhart describes a suicidal period in his life where he was constantly thinking

"I can't live with myself any longer". His breakthrough came when he examined that thought. "Am I one or two people?", Eckhart continues, "if I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: I and the self I cannot live with and, maybe, only one of them is real".

 
It's a fantastic book but that paragraph from the first page was very powerful. All my life I had heard about the ego and Eckhart just wrote it so simply and succinctly.

 
The ego is the collection of all the illusions that we accumulate thru-out life. The real “I” is the essence, what we are when we are born and that true self has no boundaries. The same particles that make it are the ones that make the stars and the oceans. In the words of Anchorman: "it's science".

 
I grab the arm, pivot and go for the armbar, without judgement. The armbar just is. The ego whispers it was too soon /late / hard / soft / sloppy...etc.

 
I open my guard and go for the sweep.

 
The ego tells me I should’ve kept it safe and played from closed guard.

 
I feel their elbow-knee escape from mount working so I swivel to knee on belly or even side control.

 
The ego shouts I should’ve maintained mount stronger instead of risking it.

 
I train

 
The ego whispers to me that I suck and should train more or call it a day

 
The true self doesn't judge or want. The ego, on the other hand, is scared and thinks we are constantly under threat and therefore whispers all kinds of shit into our ears, all the time. The ego is the nattering voice that keeps saying we're not perfect as we are. The true self just smiles at the folly of the ego.

 

  

 
*this is of course my definition or rather the definition I have found myself agreeing with the most. I understand if you don't share it, and would love to hear what yours is

 

 

 
Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi ----Did You Like This Article?--- Click here to add The Part Time Grappler to your Favourites / Bookmarks

6 comments:

A.D. McClish said...

So, you are saying that the ego is an imaginary/arbitrary set of judgement that people place on themselves that should be disregarded?

I look at it this way: Everyone is naturally inclined to look out for themselves. Call it survival. Call it selfishness. Whatever. What they need or desire will drive their thoughts and behaviors.

Some of those needs/desires come from wanting the ego--or the sense of self or whatever you want to call it--to be defined. How it is defined and by what means differs from person to person.

If someone comes into bjj with a desire for recognition, or a desire to be respected, or feared or admired, that is going to affect how they behave towards their teammates.

So, I guess I can say that you can't leave those desires at the door or shut them off like a light switch. But you do have to deal with them or else be a douchebag to your teammates and impede your growth in BJJ. At some point, you have to stop making bjj only about you and realize that selfishness on the mat translates to poor training and soured friendships.

I think what people mean when they say "leave your ego at the door" is really "don't come in here trying to prove that you're awesome".

What do you think? Am I misunderstanding you?

jdawg said...

Ego for me means not minding if the other person succeeds. This type of training can't be done with every person-ie-some trainers want to hurt you and will do anything for the submission.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Excellent words Allie. I was really hoping you'd find the post interesting and weigh in on it.

I am indeed claiming that the ego is arbitrary and, at best, loosely connected set of thoughts and emotions based on these thoughts (or judgements as you put it) that people place on themselves but I do NOT claim they should be disregarded...simply because they WON'T go away that easily. You can't just disregard it, or enlightenment would be a one afternoon training course :)

"Everyone is naturally inclined to look out for themselves. Call it survival. Call it selfishness. Whatever. What they need or desire will drive their thoughts and behaviors."

I agree with the gist of what you are saying but would like to suggest that these inclinations are not natural but learned and that they are based on fears which in turn are based on an illusion. The illusion is that we are separate entities from one another, and the fears are that the other "person" or "animal" or "natural disaster" is out to get us or at least take away what we need and, consequently, we develop inclinations to protect what we have adopted as ours such as material possessions, personal relationships and even ideologies becuase we think we need them to define us.

This constant need to define means we end up mistaking the "word" for the "thing". When we walk around constantly defining ourselves and shouting at the world with our clothes, actions, tattoos, vocab, career choices...etc as if we want to REMIND the world that we are fighters, poets, latino, punk, educated...etc. And the sad thing is, your mama (ie the people who know you and are close to you) don't care! They still loved you!

One of the many reasons I don't want beginners to free-spar during the fundamentals session is not their lack of technical skill but us not knowing how they will handle a slap to the ego. Having a complete stranger quickly shatter your ego by hugging you down from side control can make you do stupid things and stupidity leads to injury!

"So, I guess I can say that you can't leave those desires at the door or shut them off like a light switch. But you do have to deal with them or else be a douchebag to your teammates and impede your growth in BJJ. At some point, you have to stop making bjj only about you and realize that selfishness on the mat translates to poor training and soured friendships"

Yup. Now that the ego is defined, we can look at what to do with it. Post 2

You are practically right on the money Allie. If you and I were centipedes, we'd be shaking 99 of our hands on this ;)

The Part Time Grappler said...

thank you jdawg and welcome to the Part Time Grappler blog :)

What you describe is one of the many potential effects of training without paying enough attention to how one's ego can affect one's actions. That's a strong motivation to keep this "ego" under observation :o)

Jim said...

If I read this properly, rather than the classic id/ego/superego definition, yours seems to be along the lines of, "the internalization of our perception of the way others may view us, filtered through our own fears and doubts." Let me know if this initial assumption is off-base.

I like this way of looking at things. Correct me if I am wrong, as I don't have a lot of information on Buddhism, but isn't there a tenet that roughly states that breaking down a whole into different parts invalidates the whole? Thus, one cannot leave the ego at the door, as that would invalidate you as a person; the most you can do is to ignore it, which does not allow you to grow as a person and get past the limitations your ego places upon you.

My thoughts are not even half-formed on this subject at this point; I fear you're getting, at best, that point in dissecting a problem where I bounce back and forth being my own devil's advocate.

Self-actualization is always a term I've liked. Seems that, were you to leave a part of you outside, you cannot work on the self.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Well said Jim. I agree with what you are saying, up to a point.

I agree that you can't work on your self if you leve part of it at the door. However, the goal (for me) is not to internalise the ego, but to realise that it is nothing but an illusion and hence allow it to disapear and disintegrate.

Imagine you are a true core. a naked self. As you were born. From that point onwards, layers will be added: values, morals, judgements, perception, fashion, preferences...etc. all based on the illusion that we are separate from each other and the "others" are out to get what is "ours".

I bring the ego with me on the mat and keep it under close observation. Why do I resist with muscle sometimes? What would happen if I did, and if I didn't? is it because I don't want to be seen tapping? why? how is my value as a person affected when I tap, not tap, tap others, not tap others...etc.? Training becomes a joy and very very interesting. :)