In martial arts, we often hear that we need to leave our egos at the door. We can gather the general message: don’t be a dick, treat everyone with kindness, don’t lead with the urge to destroy.
But what does this mean? If we look at it through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, the ego represents the portion of the human personality which gives us a sense of self. It experiences contact with the external world through perception. So, don’t we need our egos to survive?
In the most basic sense, yes. Our ego helps us grasp the concept of our identity, helps us know when and where to act out of self-preservation. It works overtime to keep us safe – flashing shields of sarcasm, walls of defensiveness.
However, sometimes it does the opposite of help. It can place our focus so much on survival that it blocks out anything else – compassion and humility included.
According to Frued’s psychoanalytic theory, whereas the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind, and the superego represents our moral conscience, the ego plays the realist that mediates between the two aspects.
We can also refer to the superego as the “higher self.” Rather than fearful, protective and defensive like the ego, the higher self operates from love.
Why we leave our egos off the mat
We’ve all seen it – the seasoned black belt who could crush you with one sweep of his paw but instead stays calm and kind. Rather than dominate you, he helps you learn.
When we bring our egos into the training room, a session of camaraderie can become a vicious battle of brawn. It makes you think you have something to prove, that you must fight for survival. Even if you’re a skilled practitioner, people will resent you for your attitude and you’ll have trouble finding training partners.
In general, the black belt has mastered his need to prove, to win, to destroy. She respects the power of the martial art as being the real authority – not herself. She is a vessel and a teacher.
Contrast that to the white belt former wrestler who still has the primal need to prove himself. He wants to conquer and dominate everyone in his path, and he muscles through the moves instead of using technique.
The first understands the mat as a learning space, a process of practice for everyone; the latter sees only themselves. How did this make you feel? Maybe at times, this has been you.
When we leave our defensive mask at the door, we allow for something else to come through: quiet and humble, barely a whisper. But it’s the part of ourselves that receives, absorbs, learns.
The confident black belt may have started her journey very similar to the white belt, but shed her ego as she grew into the art. Shedding our ego leaves space for us to grow into our full power.
Shifting the direction
The lens through which we view life has a huge impact on how we show up in the world. Just as our ego protects us on a primal level from death and threat, it also hinders us from viewing anyone else’s needs outside of ours.
When we move from ego, we actively try to impress our view upon the world, to transmute and co-create life to fit what we want, what we think we need.
Don’t get us wrong – this doesn’t sound all that bad on the surface, especially when things seem to fall into place and everything you will comes into being.
However, that doesn’t always pan out for the best. What we need and what we think we need do not always compute. Sometimes, the things we draw in can do more harm than good.
When we cease operating from that ego space, we open up to something much larger to charge through. One way to shift from an ego-centric perspective is as simple as asking yourself what energy you’re bringing to the mat that day.
Are you annoyed and angry? Will you unintentionally unleash this onto an unsuspecting training partner? Are you glum and detached? Can you remain present to give your partner a solid session?
Thinking about our place within the bigger picture can help us navigate the external world while dealing with our internal feelings. Take it a step further; ask yourself what you will bring to the mats that will improve everyone’s training that day.
This is why we drop our ego when we come together and tap into the vital energy surging through the academy. To focus on growth, on strengthening each other, we must shift our angle of operation, and move from fear to love.
While the ego will only keep us guarded, perhaps its release allows us to access the collective consciousness that blooms endlessly and abundantly on the mats and elsewhere.