I Got Dumped. Jiu Jitsu Showed Me Why.
I was sitting in my car in a random parking lot. I had been on my way to Jiu Jitsu class and had to pull over. A lady came by to tell me that it was a private lot and I wasn't allowed to park there, but left when she saw my watery eyes and red face. I didn't move my car, because I couldn't move anything. I held my phone, shaking, with my boyfriend on the other end of the line, saying that he blamed the demise of our relationship on me because I refused to listen and had too big of an ego. "You have too much pride that is easily hurt in regular conversation", he said. I told him I thought he was wrong. Because I always thought he was wrong. That was how it ended.
I couldn't eat for two days afterward, until a Jiu Jitsu friend took me out for post-training ramen and some consoling. When he asked the reason for the breakup, I said that my now-ex had thought that I had too much ego. My friend didn't say a word, but his half-smile and spirited, focused eyes showed that he didn't disagree with the statement. I wondered, did everybody realize I had a big ego, except for myself?
I hadn't been looking forward to that first class after the breakup, because my boyfriend had been the one to introduce me to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I worried I would get upset on the mats. I worried about being rejected on the mats like I was rejected off the mats; if I'm dumped because he thinks I have an ego, does anyone even want to train with me, or is my ego repelling people in class as well, and I don't even know it? Am I, somehow, going to be dumped on the mats, too?
I used to think it sounded pretentious when BJJ practitioners would talk about ego (which is pretty much all the time, if you haven't noticed yet). Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is said to be an ego killer. The rhetoric around ego in the BJJ community tends to be about the necessity of stripping oneself of ego, otherwise the practice won't be particularly accessible to you. As they say, no one limits you more than yourself. Practicing Jiu Jitsu is about continuous learning, and ego stunts authentic learning. I realize the irony in the fact that this blog is named "Learning BJJ". If only I had known what that would entail. Sometimes you get exactly what you need, even without planning it. Even if it comes in a really painful package, which, often, these things do.
My boyfriend had been training for years, but I didn't care. I wanted to drill things my way when we would practice together. I didn't want him to show me other options. Every single time we tried to do jiu jitsu together we would end up fighting. I like to think I have no problem when a coach at my academy corrects what I am doing; in fact, I'm typically that student who is asking a billion questions and is seeking to be moulded and guided. But it was different with my boyfriend. My ego told me that being a partner meant that he needed to give me every kind of approval that I could ever want. My ego wanted him to tell me that I was perfect and I could do no wrong. When he would make me drill a move that I hated over and over, or showed me progressions that I hadn't asked to see, I would get upset because I wanted to do things my way, which meant that there was a very small box within which I wanted him to fit. I didn't want to learn and adapt; my ego wanted to be affirmed and perpetuated.
I'm not the Buddha, but I've been doing some thinking. What is it about the ego that makes it so problematic, not just in jiu jitsu, but in life? On what grounds can that statement be made? And if it's worth breaking up with someone over their ego, then why?
The ego is what we think of as "me". As Osho writes, the ego is the "false centre" because it is an impression of the self that is based entirely on the opinion of others. It is said to be the part of the self that lies between the surrounding environment (i.e. society) and the true centre, the true self.
When we're little kids, the ego develops out of necessity because we are dependent on others. What others think of us and how they relate to us is vitally important. For instance, what your mother thinks of you is crucial; when you're a dependent child, the self must be concerned with the opinion of others as a matter of survival. Without others to feed us, clothe us, house us, etc., we would die. We start growing and life becomes gradually more and more complex, resulting in our ego becoming more and more complex as the labels we put on everything, including ourselves, are continuously reinforced throughout our days as we navigate the system.
The ego is a problem because it is the root of pain. Even if my idea of my self is one of spirituality, generosity, and humility, then the ego is constantly in search of supporting evidence. If I start a blog to attempt to help women who are scared to start their BJJ journey, and I get several thank you letters, my ego responds with a smile and says, "See, look how much good I'm doing. How great am I. I am much more significant than others who don't seek to uplift those around them." The anxiety of needing to continuously fulfill this idea of myself is squelched temporarily, until the ego decides that we need another hit. Another affirmation. It's an addiction. The ego is addicted to labels and definitions.
I began asking myself:
Is not the fear of weakness, weakness itself?
Is not the fear of inferiority, inferiority itself?
Is not the fear of loneliness, loneliness itself?
Is not the fear of pain, pain itself?
When we would train together, I knew, deep down, that I was being hard-headed and narcissistic. I just hoped that it would be tolerated so that I could continue living in an illusion where I was the author and everyone did what I wanted. I wanted control because when you have control, no one can hurt you. If you play God, you are untouchable. I wanted to be untouchable. When you practice Jiu Jitsu, it becomes exceedingly clear that you are not untouchable. You will be defeated and defeated and defeated. When you're partnered up with somebody and you're both trying to get whatever it is you're seeking, whether it's a sweep, a pass, or a choke, especially as a white belt, much of the time it's not going to work. This forces you to face reality. When you're defeated in Jiu Jitsu, you don't have to come back. You can leave, hang up the gi, and decide it's not for you. But there's also the hope that comes from realizing that, no matter how sloppily you do it, you can always work on a move, you can always try again, you can always decide that today is not the day that you are going to stop fighting for a more authentic life.
Training with my boyfriend forced my ego to be in confrontation with reality, and it echoed off the mats in our relationship. How you do anything is how you do everything. I wasn't only resistant to the truth when we trained, I was resistant to the truth no matter where we were or what we were doing. The ego isn't a real thing, it's an illusion that we perpetuate. We get defensive when someone points out our ego because we don't want to believe that it is ego. We want ego to be truth, but it's not. Our labels aren't the truth, they're just labels. They're how we desire to make meaning in the world. I didn't realize that his comments didn't have to hurt me, because the ego I was carrying wasn't even real. I didn't realize that the identity that I was trying to protect wasn't even serving me. I didn't realize that I wasn't who I thought I was. I didn't realize I wasn't my ego. I didn't want to face the fact that I had lost my centre, and perhaps never actually known it. I was afraid of the truth because I hadn't known it, and we fear what we don't know.
And then he forced me to face my fear. Nine months after we started dating, we were finished. I love the symbolism of nine months, the amount of time it takes to grow a new human being. It took nine months for me to go through a gradual transformation, much like a child in utero, the outcome of which is new life. I feel like I have that new life.
I feel hopeful, and I feel new. I feel gratitude for the relationship that was, as it resulted in a change that I didn't even know needed to happen. I feel thankful that he loved me enough to let me go, because he realized that somewhere along the line, he had stopped dating me, and was dating my ego. And I am happy that I understand now what people are talking about when they call Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the ego-killer. It takes a lot of courage to do something different, to venture into unknown territory, but we have to know that authenticity is inevitably worth the struggle that we endure to get there. Out of every demise comes a new rising; out of every death comes new life. I've endured the chaos, and for all I know there may be more to come. Yet, I know that I want to be free from ego more than anything. I refuse to be a slave to it for one more day.