Flashback to the fall of 2000: Prior to BJJ I was 5’10” and 195 lbs. All I did was lift heavy weight. I’m not saying I was a meathead, but… I was a meathead. I heard about a guy teaching BJJ about 30 minutes away from my hometown. So I went. I remember seeing this skinny little guy with a 4 stripe blue belt. He was about 5’10” and 155 lbs. soaking wet. (That guy was James Clingerman, now my best friend and Coach.) This was just after he was cleared to train again, after being shot. Link to Coach James’ story: “I could kick this guy’s butt”, I remember saying to myself. Fast-forward to the relentless choke-fest I endured for the next 40 minutes as a result of my inability to let go of my ego, trying to muscle around and smash a guy I outweighed by 40 lbs.
Donald Trump has a great saying: “Show me somebody without an ego and I’ll show you a loser.” I don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of this quote, but I do believe it is essential to have a healthy ego for a strong development of BJJ, MMA, combative sports, or any personal dream: the key word is healthy.
First, let’s examine the actual meaning of both defined by Merriam – Webster:
Ego – (n) The opinion you have of yourself; psychoanalytical theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality.
Pride – (n) – a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people
The words have a similar definition when compared to the view of an individual’s self-worth or self-respect. The distinct difference between the two concepts is ‘opinion’ vs. ‘feeling’. Opinions develop from thoughts generated from personal experiences within a given timeline. Feelings are just the opposite. They come and go, and they are heightened or deflated by immediate or long-term circumstances. Controlling ones emotions are extremely difficult and almost impossible. This is why ‘pride’ is a killer for progress, and ‘ego’ is essential for it. It is important to have just enough ego to stand up for yourself and your skills, as well as having the fortitude to succeed – but not too much. That being said, I am definitely NOT condoning an over abundance of ego (which tends to prompt complete doucebaggery).
“Check your ego at the door.” I have heard many BJJ coaches and experienced grapplers/fighters say this. It is even a rule in most BJJ or MMA gyms. After years of training and coaching I have come to realize having a little ego is essential for personal growth, but this has only come years after I began training, nearly 14 years afterwards. That being said, I do believe there is truth to the phrase “Check your ego at the door”, and this is mostly for those new to BJJ. This is because all of us have a preconceived notion about how tough we are and how we react when we discover how tough we aren’t (my flashback). For beginners, ego is a death sentence. It will hinder the ability to learn and progress effectively. The point is that we all have passed through this phase in our journey. Our ego, in the beginning, is one of our greatest liabilities. Once we understand BJJ, having a healthy ego is an asset.
Like Rocky says: “What’s so crazy about standing toe to toe and saying ‘I AM’?” Ego is what helps us stand our ground, gives us confidence, and supports our mental focus to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. It tells us who we are and our relevance in our world. It gives us the strength and confidence to stand toe to toe and say ‘I AM’. It gives us the power to believe in ourselves and fight against overwhelming odds.
Pride is rooted in emotion. And emotion, as we all know, will perform a devastating clean sweep of all logical thought or ideas. It’s like a black hole where everything around it will be consumed. A prime example would be having an argument with a significant other. During the argument, he or she starts pushing our buttons, because they know just how to do so, and we loose all conscious thought of reality. We then burst into flames and achieve Super Saiyan. The reaction is based on emotion and not cognitive logical thought.
Pride is what gets us into trouble. Pride is what keeps us from accepting the reality of a situation and keeps us holding onto a sinking ship. It does not matter how hard we kick, struggle, or swim, our death grip of pride is what kills us.
‘Pride’ is a pair of cement shoes pulling us underwater. ‘Ego’ is the lifejacket keeping us afloat, and ‘heart’ is what keeps us kicking.
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