Sunday, April 14, 2013

Martial Arts and the Destruction of the Ego

One of the more interesting human interactions I have had the pleasure of witnessing is the humbling of a martial arts student. This occurs when a person is forced to recognize that their martial proficiency is lower than they thought it was. Most often, the result is most dramatic in young men.

In American society, young men are taught that they must be strong, dominant and powerful. The way that young men initially attempt to embody these ideals is with a show of bravado. Their first proving grounds are usually on the street, and not in a gym. Outside of a gym, most altercations come down to posturing (talking shit), shoving, and sucker-punches. This form of aggression serves to build up young men's ego's, but does little to improve their actual martial proficiency. So when a young man enters a grappling gym for the first time, he enters with a false understanding of his own physical abilities.

The humbling comes when the student faces their first hard opponent. At my BJJ academy, the grappling rounds usually last five minutes. That doesn't seem like a long time, but when you are being mauled by a super strong man (or, god forbid, woman) it seems like an eternity. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. You know you can't beat your opponent and that for the entire five minutes you are going to be shown how little you know. This is how easily you could be broken. This is how easily you could be killed.

This is a sobering encounter and leads to one of two reactions. The student either accepts that they are ineffectual and have years of hard work ahead of them, or the student attempts to preserve their ego. Preserving the ego usually means leaving the gym and seeking out a new path in martial arts, one where reality checks are less common. For those that stay, this humbling of the ego will happen many times. The only way to improve is by constant hard work, self evaluation, and remaining unattached to everything you think you know.

This mindset can be applied to all aspects of life. Success is built upon a bedrock of failure. In martial arts, I have failed countless times. I've been tapped out, beaten, and dominated. When you step into a ring, that is a test for what you are at that point in time. But when you leave the ring, what you are doesn't matter anymore. What matters, is what you can become. If you can forget your ego, failure will show you the paths that leads to success. 

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