Ego in Jiu Jitsu
In many BJJ gyms there hangs a sign that reads “Leave Your Ego At The Door". It sounds like really great advice, but if you're like me, you'll realize it's easier said than done. So how does one set aside their ego? In my experience, it takes practice. Just like getting good at any new venture takes dedication and practice, so too does the ability to set your ego aside.
Back in 2009 I walked into my first BJJ school. I was 30 years old at the time and already had a black belt in martial arts, won both a tough man contest and a cage fight and was into power lifting at that time. So it'd be fair to say my ego was a bit bloated at the time. I distinctly remember the huge sign that read "Nothing Given, Only Earned", and I thought to myself how I would earn my blue belt in about six months or less...
If you've ever been to a BJJ school you'll already know what happened to my ego at my very first class. To say I was humbled is putting it way to mildly. I was destroyed and humiliated by every person in the gym. I didn't even know how to put up a fight. I was being played and toyed with by the blue belts and above and crushed by all the current white belts. I remember starting with the big guys with colored belts then moving to the smaller guys with colored belts and finally moving on the the smaller white belts. None of it mattered. I sized up everybody when I waked in to my detriment. The last person I rolled with was a young lady who was a blue belt at the time and she made me feel like I was winning up until she kept tapping me out with what I could only equate to sorcery at the time.
At the end of your first class is that pivotal point where people decide if they like that feeling and want to learn how to do it, or hate it and never go back. I decided to start from square one and learn myself a new martial art. Now I needed to learn how to set my ego aside and learn, but I still loved winning. For me and many others, agreeing with setting aside ones ego and doing so are two different things.
For one reason or another people just feel they have to roll at 100% every time because they can't stand the thought of tapping out. I think part of it might just be your fight or flight emotions kicking in during a live roll. You literally can't help your bodies natural response to a physical altercation. I believe that training yourself to resist your own fight or flight response is the key to getting better at jiu jitsu. It took me years to develop this skill, but once I did my game has been improving much more dramatically.
The primary way I worked on eliminating this primal urge to win every roll was to dialogue with my training partners before each roll on what it was I was trying to accomplish. This way if your partner is usually inclined to go hard, causing you to panic, you will now have a bit more of a flow roll where it is more mutually beneficial.
The other way I've learned how to stay calm is by focusing on my breathing during my rolls. If I start getting out of breath I know I'm using too much strength and not focusing on my technique. I've found that if I consciously use as little muscle as possible, I don't run out of breath as fast. This helps me stay calm and in control. A side benefit at first is that I end up not being afraid to tap and consequently my defense gets better faster. You'll rely on proper framing rather than brute strength while being put in inferior positions.
To start try and think of it as working on your defense. It's another mind game you can play with yourself to get over the fear of tapping out. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after all was invented to not lose a fight more than it was in how to win a fight after all.