For the Love of My Ego: A True Tale of Martial Naughtiness

I have no idea if he said this, but it’s good stuff anyway.

I’ve been struggling for a couple weeks to write something meaningful for my 2nd post of the week. Then Jackie Bradbury of The Stick Chick Blog writes about ego in her That Guy post on a kind of martial artist she calls Ranky McGee. In essence, Ranky McGee is the kind of person who attaches too much meaning to his rank in the dojo which either grows an already outsized ego, or develops a new one based on previous neuroses founded largely on the need for approval. She then asked us if WE (the dear readers) have ever been THAT GUY. As I considered the likeliness of me having somewhat of an ego problem I felt the rattan stick of truth hit me in the eyeball.

Yeah, I’ve been that guy.

Have you ever felt it? The annoying knock to your ego in a spate of unfairness? I sure have. I have judged others according to my own way of doing things and felt superior to these other folks. I have felt annoyed at other people for getting something I felt didn’t they deserved. How I treated others changed as their own successes hurt my own ego. Sometimes in teaching I have felt the desire to lord my knowledge over someone, or wield the measly amount of rank privilege I happened to have. I’ve said stupid things without thinking according to my ego at times. What is ego and why is such a problem? Especially when things like rank in a group is present?

According to the Oxford Dictionary ego is “A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” Everyone has an ego, some people’s sense of self-esteem is lower than other’s, some are normal, and some are inflated. People with a normal sense of self likely had reasonably minded parents who balanced the truth of their child’s worth with their weaknesses. People with low self-esteem generally didn’t develop a normal self-view because of things that happened in childhood. Perhaps their parents were antagonistic, or absent and weren’t given enough feedback on their worth. People with an inflated sense of self-worth were more likely lied to about their worth by their parents, given the idea that they were more important than others because of birth status, wealth status, or some other sense of entitlement.

The second two categories are the problematic forms of ego. If one’s ego is too weak, the person will do things that are self-defeating or self-destructive because they believe they don’t deserve anything good or right. Conversely, an over-inflated sense of worth is other-defeating and other-destructive because the person believes they are entitled to certain “benefits” merely because they are breathing.

In the dojo this can play out when rank is assigned to people as they progress. The feelings of power that come to the weaker ego is overwhelming and can lead to a sudden sense of superiority. With the strongest ego, it’s just adding fuel to the already raging fire inside. Ranky McGee goes from merely annoying to all out butthead. For normal people, this can lead to disenfranchisement with the art itself, especially if this goes on under the Sensei’s nose without correction, or the Sensei himself promotes ego-driven martial arts practice. In his most unadulterated form, Ranky McGee can become so enamored with himself he starts believing his own lies and becomes the “guru” to beat all gurus. His way is the best, his style is the most useful, and ad nauseum. It can get intensely disgusting.

Surely this a problem anywhere there are power dynamics at play. Ego problems have no place in life. The weakest and strongest egos need to come to more reasonable terms with their own worth. Martial arts training CAN fix both of these problems, I write about that in another post about humility. The martial arts will either knock you off your high horse (unless big egos are a dojo dynamic) or it will help you get on a reasonably heightened horse.

I have thought and felt all of the things I confessed to in the beginning of this post. I have acted on them sometimes (then apologized), but mostly I try really hard to be self-aware and keep my ego under control. I want the benefits of my training and too much ego will get me a stern reprimand or kicked out. Mostly, I just want to be a good and kind person.

If you have felt or thought things about yourself that are too much or too little, I suggest taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Keep a plausible and balanced view of yourself handy at all times. Admitting to weakness is not a failure, it’s actually the best thing for anyone.

If that’s too much for you, I suggest a therapist.

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