Leave your ego at the door VS. Keep your ego besides

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‘Leave your ego at the door’ has, somehow, become the unofficial slogan of BJJ.

But the fact is, that ego maintains the boundary between us and the outer world, in this case, the opponent that is. Without ego or with a weak ego, we’re very exploitable in conflict situation. During training, we use our body to help our sparring partner to grow and to practice allowing them to cause us bruises and pain. It’s really something most of us wouldn’t let anyone else do that to us, not even our significant other. It’s part and parcel of training specifically.

But not all training buddies will get how big of a thing this is. Some take it for granted, some will abuse you, some just there to smash no matter what. I passionately promote training but part of the truth is that the club is not a rose garden. If you want to be able to train long enough to reach success, you should not leave your ego out, as it will keep you intact when in vulnerable situation. Don’t get me wrong, the ego can run amok, but in most cases it will help you to stop others treating you like a disposable dummy.

One potential reason behind the popularity of this ‘leave your ego at the door’ slogan, and the quite harmful demonisation of ego, is that when coaches see emotions from their trainees, they are usually followed by people getting angry and leave or fight breaking out. Without understanding the full context of the conflict or the nature of the emotions involved, they tend to blindly label them as an issue of the ego. They usually however, boundary intrusions, for example, one fighter goes too hard despite an earlier verbal agreement, using street techniques or derogative comments etc. Responding to them with emotional charge is not an ego issue but a reasonable self-preservation act.

The other very common reason of conflict is the disappointment over loosing, which brings up a lot of self-questioning causing great disturbance a fighter has to deal with on the spot. This is a big challenge, holding a lot of trainee back. When coaches fail to see the struggle their trainees face with in these situations, they also miss the opportunity to help them to manage it better. Instead, in a lot of cases, misinterpretation of the perceived emotions leads to coaches shaming their fighters for their ego.  

Clubs are diverse communities of people with different life principles. Conflict is inevitable. Labelling them as ego issues misses the point and helps no one to resolve them. All trainee has to deal with clashes and the social masks are off within the first 30 seconds of sparring. 30 seconds is all it takes for the person behind the social avatar to become visible. That is the magic of grappling arts, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 30 seconds and you know whether you can trust this guy or whether you should avoid them like the plague.

But whatever you see, you still will have to spar with them even if you know that they likely will keep neglecting your safety, and you have nothing to protect you but your ego – that is until you become technically superior so you can submit them as fast as possible. But until then, keep your ego besides you!

About the author

M. Leblanc

Trainer, martial artist (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), avid self-improver