Ego – Friend or Foe?

Martial Arts training is just one vehicle to take us on our journeywhere we learn about who we are and who we want to be. It is within these paths of continued learning that we start to see our patterns and then we start to challenge ourselves to grow.

In the beginning most of us want to learn to fight or defend ourselves from what we feel threatens us. But what is that? Is it really the idea of being attacked by another person or is it deeper that that?

Our personal space is what we often react and worry about. It is a natural feeling to want to be in control of one’s space. People become stressed when they have less space. On the train you can see people will become tense and more aggressive when the train is busy and they have less room. If you are with people you want to be with then we don’t feel stressed in the same way. So it must be to do with the choice of space. Not having the control of our space undermines our feeling of personal choice. Our ego feels dis-empowered and therefore the lack of awareness of our ego causes stress.

“Do not practice just to show off or argue with others. Practice to attain liberation, and if you do, you will have little pain or exhaustion”. – Thich Nhat Hanh

The comfort zone is where many end up in quick-sand. What really is the comfort zone? This is a mental space, which feels comfortable and unchallenged. But it is a place of avoidance of the real world. This is because in the real world there are constantly challenges, which we must engage and overcome. To hide in this world ultimately will bring unhappiness and stress, as we will not have developed the resources to live a fulfilling life. Often I have seen students work very hard to attain a reasonable level and skill and at the point of progressing to the next stage they start to lose direction and, it seems, motivation to drive on. Why would this be? To move on means to leave the comfort zone because as a beginner the expectation is less and the progression is more marked. At the intermediate level the expectation is higher and the progression is slower. It is at this point where the real challenge actually starts and it is at this point the true current nature of a person’s ego is exposed. Fear is an ally of the negative aspects of ego. But fear can also be changed into a fuel that will burn this ego and allow a transformation to take place. This is the time for the Phoenix that lives inside us to be freed! We’ve all heard the saying “fear let’s you know that you’re still alive”, so when your heart is pumping and the pressure is on you can take that feeling and reframe it in your mind to be a feeling of exhilaration and excitement or feeling your life force pumping through your body. I’ve often had students who were originally afraid of sparring and contact but within a short period of time after developing the correct tools in training and slowly pulling them from the quick-sand of the comfort zone they have now embraced fear as their friend.

One of the greatest forces in the lives of warriors is fear, because it spurs them to learn’ – Carlos Castaneda

By repeating forms, drills, exercises and so on, we start to gain a feeling of awareness of our bodies. This pushes our mental limits and forms new ones.

Spiritual awareness comes from the Mind and Body coming together as one. By mastering these two together and you will find many things in life will start to work for you by themselves. They are your Yin and Yang. I believe if you can find this balance then the spiritual path is opened for you. That means that your awareness and mindfulness will seem to become very clear and you will be empowered with life.

Being in the present is one of the most important lessons my Wing Chun teacher Robert Chu Sifu taught me. Not just in the martial arts but just as much in life. This relates to the Buddhist concept of the middle path, which is to avoid the extreme in anything you do. In NLP when we talk about Time line we are also using the same concept. Past, Present, Future.

The battle is not to rid oneself of the ego but to embrace it! What I mean is we must come to understand our own bias and learn to bring balance to our actions in life. The ego in a positive state can be a catalyst for learning. But in a negative state it can be a burning fire of destruction, consuming everything in its path.

A student with untamed ego will always lack consistency. Why? Well, because the will of motivation has to be fed. The hungry emptiness of the ego, will always drive them and without the use of the wisdom mind they can only be reactive to life. They need the right food to feel good they can’t keep it together when times are hard.

Pride can also be linked to our ego in a positive way or in a negative way. Too much pride or what we term as “false pride” is often the problem. Being proud or taking pride in yourself or in what you do is good. This can add to your motivation and give you a strong sense of intention. Also great feelings of pride will overspill and be passed on to others causing positive karmic ripples in our circles of influence. On the other hand false pride which is to be overly attached to self image or perceived image becomes a switch that we do not have control over. This can be used by others who are able to flick our switch as we have no control over the emotional circuits to which we are wired. What builds false pride? False pride is often developed when people attach themselves to concepts or ideas which they do not understand and have followed blindly, therefore in order to justify one’s belief in these ideas they over zealously defend them.

“All our lives, we cling to what we want (or we think we want) and desperately try to avoid what we do not want (or think we do not want)”. – His Holiness The Dalai Lama

The Spartans had the idea of non attachment in war. They trained to look at the opponent as ‘nameless and faceless’. Exactly what does this mean? Well, if one was to consider an opponent to be another human being, with maybe family and an everyday life, then it would be much harder to commit to engagement without emotional attachment. How does this relate to ego? We can take this example, or what we could take negative situation and use it in a positive manner. Attachment, be it to a negative or positive situation, is still attachment, therefore being attached to our own self image will ultimately cause us suffering if we are trying to develop past our current level of mindfulness. An example would be, that you’ve been training in a class for some time slowly developing, then one day a new student joins the class. You start to notice within a short period of time this student has attained the same level that has taken you much longer to attain. At this point a question in your mind is raised or the ego starts to play its games. A more self aware student would question his level of training, his way of training, his input into training and so on. He may even want to train more with this particular student. This would show that the student’s correct motivation to improve is stronger then any negative connotations of why this new student has improved more quickly. Now, on the other hand a student who is less self aware will make excuses to himself and others as to why this new student has surpassed their level in a short period of time.

Lets take another way to look at the Spartans motto. If you are training with your best friend or you’re training with someone who is trying to hurt you, it is the same! You should not have any emotional attachment in training. That is the non attachment from your ego of relational ship transference.

Transference is what you feel from that person be it via their actions or words at a mostly sub conscious level or one could say, due to a lack of mindfulness of the process that it is just not noticed at the conscious level. It is a very power method to use in order to take control of the direction of a situation and it will often have an effect your decisions.

You see when you train or spar with someone you know you have feeling to that person outside that moment of being. Therefore it is hard to separate these. An example would be you have trained a student for a long time. Now they have become quite good, but they have started to often overly press and hurt weaker students in the class. You care about this student, but know you must increase the pressure with them to remind them that more levels exist and they have only started to learn of them, but also it shows them to be pushed out of their current control zone is stressful and requires coaching within the process by a good teacher not a bully. This can be nonverbally taught in sparring. The student can’t feel your intention or feel your personal connection. Therefore the may feel lost and some fear, which is a challenge to their ego and self. After, you may ask them what did they learn? Often they will be confused and say they are not sure. Then you may ask them what do the beginners learn when a senior student in the class pushes them around? The student will often realise that you were showing them what they are doing to others. This will be a mirror to them of themselves. Now, it as a teacher we were not able to become non attacted to our friendships with our students when needed them we would not always be able to guide their path.

I often have to push students for many different reasons and at that time I show no feeling to my task. But after once a lesson is gained them I can return to the role I would rather play in my life. I often say to my students the warriors strength is in this compassion. That means always do things as a choice, not as a reflex to an emotional. Compassion can be soft and compassion can be hard, it depends from which side and at what time you look at it.

Feelings of indifference are often seen in students who are afraid to succeed. This is different from correct mindful non attachment. Often a student will subconsciously aim for a lower level then they are capable of, as this gives them a reason why they did not achieve the level they are capable of. You often hear comments from this type of student like “If I spent more time on this” or “I know I wasn’t at my best but if I was”. Another trait of this indifference syndrome is to leave things to the last minute in terms of preparations. An example would be having ample time to prepare for something but only starting to do so late in the game. This gives the excuse of “If I started earlier I would have been more prepared”. In fact this type of student will never be ready because they will never have enough time because it isn’t time they lack. What they lack is the courage to fail. You see, trying your best is to win, no matter what you achieve and to what level. But when the ego has become fragile then a person will do many things to protect this fragile space. We must learn that the ego must first be broken in order to be free from having anything to protect in the first place.

Why does history repeat itself, why does culture change take so long? Unlike the majority of people who do not question their actions in relation to others, as martial arts practitioners I say we should look carefully at our motivation to act and in this way these issues will start to be addressed.

‘The Basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or as a curse’ – Carlos Castaneda

Bravado (pumped up) Artificially inflated frenzy These are all words to describe the hollowness that ego creates. They are often polarities to the real nature of a person. This type of person will often be the type who acts out the role that they believe will make them be perceived as strong and confident. But in fact, they are often the total opposite of

the figure they project. Many people fall into this deep well, which after a period of time can seem to be either a safer place to be or too deep to climb back out of.

Arrogance or peace?

More that a few times now, new students have come to my classes and when I have corrected them or have shown them that they misunderstand the training they have tried to justify their reasons for a lack of success. Why? Ego, yes it stops them listening and learning. When they find out they have it wrong they want to prove something in order to feel they have not wasted time in their training or that they didn’t get in wrong. I do my best to show them an open way that doesn’t attack their ego. I know it is hard for most, so I will be patience. A few of these times they have wanted to show my why they have been training in the way they have. Then I have tell them I am not interested in what they do. The first thing I hear from them is ‘ Oh, but you don’t have an open mind either!’ Well, to this I always want to laugh. I have travelled the world and train and continue to train with the best teachers I can find. What would make them think I have not already seen their style? I have seen and experienced many styles, that’s why I am sure or the systems I teach. I am also a humble student to the teachers that I go to. If someone visits my school then I am not in that role I am teaching my class. If I have a interest in what someone is teaching I go to their class and watch or if allowed join in and listen to the teacher. After the class if I have questions I will talk with the teacher. I will always thank them for teaching even if I liked the class or not. That’s not important, the important thing is someone is giving time and at that time I respect that.

No Escape!

I remember reading Jack Korfield’s book ‘A Path With Heart’ (I highly recommend this book). There is a great chapter where he talks about running away from his life to become a monk, leaving all his problems behind. But, then when he is sitting in meditation in a cave he realises his problem came with him! You see you can’t run, you must seek to overcome your causes of suffering right now in the life that you live.

I learned that if I am to live a spiritual life, I must be able to embody it in every action: in the way I stand and walk, in the way I breathe, in the care with which I eat.

Jack Korfield

Consistency: Building the mountain of sand. If you want to build a mountain out of sand and you poured a bucket a day it would start to develop, but then you get lazy or something comes up and you think ‘I will do it tomorrow’, when you come back the wind has blown the sand away. So, you start again every day one bucket and sometimes more, but then you become distracted again and forget. When you come back the wind has once again blown the sand away. By now months have passed but still there is no mountain. If only you had poured your sand every day, even a small amount, you would have been on your way to building your mountain.

If a student wishes to reach any level of skill in the martial arts, consistency is the name of the game. I say to all my students even 15 minutes a day will make you improve. This is something one of my early teachers taught me and I listened!

It is a level of consistency that most lack. I see it all the time, I hear the excuses all the time and yet I still carry on pouring my daily bucket of sand and just smile.

Training Tip: You have an area in which you feel weak or lack understanding, then make it you priority to spend 10 minutes a day on the area until you know everything there is to know about it.

One Comment

  1. Ed Martin says:

    Great article, i didn’t realize you were familiar with Carlos Castaneda…
    Have you practiced the passes?
    i begin learning Taiji the same time i began learning about Castaneda and the passes. i find they help me to learn the meridians> Thanks for clarifying the warrior elements in relation to WCK. I’ve been telling people this for years lol!

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