Ego is natural and normal, and a healthy ego is very helpful in training.
Very often I hear people talk about ego as though it’s a bad thing, and indeed an unhealthy ego is in fact a bad thing. Ego is kind of like mental food. Your mind needs it to push it forward and keep you moving, desiring improvement and success. But if you have too much of it, or have the wrong kind of ego, it can be very harmful. A bloated ego is dangerous to both egoists and those around them.
When you try hard in training or in competition, why are you trying? Why are you putting forth the effort? Because you want to win, or you want to improve. It’s really that simple. And the motivation for that is a self image that you are trying to achieve.
Well-respected black belt instructor Dave Camarillo made this post on his Facebook page:
Ego is an amazing tool. It is like a weapon. Controlled it can be used for good. It can be used in defense of freedom, life and goodness. It has amazing potential. It increases your ability to create, destroy and grow. It can generate skill, increase thresholds and desensitize you to chaos. It can also ruin you. It can be the demon that controls your misery. It can harm what you love. It is the light side and dark side of the human experience. It is both good and bad. And has the potential to diminish, develop and admonish. We do not live in a black and white world. We live amongst Grey areas. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Control your ego and avoid disaster – avoid mediocrity.
When people say “check your ego at the door” they are implying that you should leave it at the door, like a coat check. I like to think of it more as checking it, like checking to make sure your belt is tied right. When you hit the mats, make sure you are ready for both success and failure, and that you don’t project either on other people. Nothing’s worse than a training partner who gets mad at others when they get submitted.
If you find yourself getting overly emotional about being submitted in training, it’s time to take a close look as to why. Is it because you are placing unrealistic expectations on yourself due to your ego setting a bar that you cannot reach for whatever reason? Or is it because you’ve mentally set the bar too low for your training partners and they’ve vastly exceeded your expectations and made you feel “less than”?
Emotions are powerful motivators. When you succeed, the high from them is powerful; but when you fail, the resulting “low” can be just as powerful. Always take a moment to truly check your ego, make sure it is healthy, and make sure you aren’t letting it be destructive. If you have too much ego, you’ll miss out on a lot of the jiu-jitsu experience and might hurt yourself or others. If you have too little ego, you will never really accomplish your potential. A healthy balance is needed.