A common fallacy that we hear in jiu jitsu is that egos are harmful.
However, ego is very important!
When most people start training, they are told that they should check their egos at the door. They are told that they need to abandon their ego in order to transcend their current lack of understanding, that abandonment of the ego is crucial to development on the mat. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Ego is what drives us. Your desire to improve is your ego. Your disgust with yourself on bad days, or your feeling of accomplishment on good ones is your ego’s manifestation. The key to ego is management rather than abandonment.
One big way that egos manifest themselves on the mat is in avoidance of failure in the training room. Many of us are so desperate to be successful during training that we may ignore positions in which we are weak and spend our time and energy in training trying to get to our comfort zone. We may be so desperate to not get submitted that we try to power out of submissions which may even work sometimes, but isn’t a good way to grow.
Instead, the goal on the mat should be to explore areas where one is weak. It’s okay to want to succeed, but short term success translates to long term failure.
Ego should, instead, drive us to seek long term success. I work on the areas in which I am weak because of my ego, not in spite of it. I want to be good at jiu-jitsu, so rather than strictly work in the limited areas in which I am comfortable, I seek out those areas where I am not comfortable and try to develop comfort therein.
A big aspect of ego that needs to be curbed is anger at an individual for their success in the training room. If you’re a higher belt and a white belt manages to submit you, don’t allow your ego to make you angry at them or to increase your aggression toward them. Instead it should direct you to use the exact same energy level and try to solve the problem with which you were just presented.
Jiu-jitsu is like a puzzle for the body: lack of emotional control will drive you to try to put pieces together that don’t go together. Instead, you should focus on trying to put the puzzle together efficiently and intelligently.
In competition, ego is the difference between winning and losing, but it can also be the difference between getting injured and training the next day. No gold medalist has ever done so by not having an active ego. In fact, if you follow many of the best black belts in the world, their egos are some of the most active. But they also have put in the work necessary to get to that point.
So should you get rid of your ego? No. Embrace it. Use it. But don’t let it blind you to your goals. But don’t let it become your undoing.