Ego and the Mats, By Joshua Peters

“Leave your ego at the door,” “There is no ego on the mats,” and countless other sayings. As martial artists, we’ve all heard these sayings again and again, but do we really understand them? While training recently, I heard someone say “well, it was just a face crank, I wasn’t going to give it to them.” Another partner said that they were being smothered and that teammates should be a bit more considerate of these things.

The sentiment that ego has no place in martial arts is utterly contrary to training in martial arts. Martial arts are very much about ego. In any contest or sport where there are winners and losers, ego will always play a part. Let us examine how we can use ego and not let ego use us.

In grappling, we work hard to develop mental and physical toughness. It is often said that one of the gifts of JiuJitsu is learning to be comfortable when you are not comfortable, being able to keep your cool when someone is putting you in a compromised situation and work on escaping. When I teach, I will always tell my students to “attack the problem, not the person.” I got this from listening to an interview with Commander Chris Hadfield on science Friday on npr. (

During Commander Hadfield’s time on the I.S.S (international space station) he was on an EVA (space walk) and sweat from his face got onto his helmet, picking up a bit of the anti glare chemical. The little droplets separated from his helmet and got into his eye, blinding him. So, there he was, in space where there is no up or down and taking off his helmet certainly was not an option. He described closing his eyes and then very methodically doing a “system check” on himself. He moved one arm, then another, one leg, then another, etc. He described taking a lot of small steps until he got his bearings and then [with the help of his crew mates] making his way back to the space station. He described how he used his training at CSA (Canadian Space Agency) to attack the problem. He effectively separated himself from the situation so he could attack it effectively. He also realized that this was not a problem he could solve by himself, so he immediately asked for help. He removed his ego from the problem.

But Josh, you just said ego is healthy and it can be good. Ego is great in fighting; it can be what gets you through a tough spot. In a competition, it can be what drives you to win. Ego can also seriously mess you up. It’s what gets you hurt when you refuse to tap, even if is just a pain hold. It is what holds you back from making progress when you refuse to ask for help or accept the help that is being offered.

Not making progress? Ask questions and listen and contemplate the answers. In a tough training session but your partner is cranking on your face. If they ask why you tapped, tell them it was a crank and. If they were trying for a choke, try and figure out how you can convert the crank to a choke. Attack the problem, not the person. Often times people may THINK they have a strangle or a joint lock when they really don’t. Most of your training partners want to get better and that can only happen when you allow yourselves to free your ego up a bit and communicate.

Attack the problem, not the person. By learning to harness your ego when you need it but not being beholden to it, you free yourself up to progress and be as safe as possible in process

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