Saturday, February 03, 2007

Egomania


Have you ever trained with somebody who really gets on your nerves? I'm talking about the guy or gal who's so full of themselves that you're tempted to take off your belt and use it to strangle them (not recommended)! If you've been involved in the martial arts for any length of time, by now you realize that the training hall can be rife with all kinds of egocentric behavior. With the modern advent of belts, trophies, and especially titles, it's no wonder. But here's the really interesting part: traits that we're able to observe in others are likely to be a part of us as well. Projection is a term used in psychology that refers to aspects of personality or behavior that we assign to others that we don't dare to admit we actually own.

Admitting to one's own flaws requires introspection and a certain amount of gall. In the martial arts (and especially Zen) awareness is a central topic. Self-awareness is the ultimate goal of this journey that is traditionally approached through a meditation practice (mokuso). Freud once remarked that most neuroses can be traced to the fear of self-knowledge. That's an interesting indictment. Why would we be so afraid to "know ourselves"? I'm not trying to sound rhetorical here, but rather illustrate the idea that many people have trouble confronting their own demons.

Personality disorders such as narcissism are basically veiled coping mechanisms; they're rooted in fear. Fear, as it turns out, is the motivating factor that drives many people to the martial arts. Latent fear expresses itself through the human psyche in many guises, such as anger, greed, violent behavior, and envy. When a student I used to train with received a green belt after only three months of lessons, another member became outraged. "It took me over a year to get my green belt!", he argued. As it turned out, the newly promoted student did not receive any preferential treatment and in fact deserved his rank. Another time there was a student who would never admit defeat in sparring, no matter how lop-sided the match appeared. Healthy competition in the dojo is favorable, but it should never be at the expense of camaraderie. For some, the martial path becomes pathological.

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19 Comments:

Blogger Nathan Teodoro said...

John, you've really got to stop posting about me! :-)

Great posting lately. Keep it up!

12:02 AM  
Blogger Little Cricket said...

I think we are sometimes afraid to know ourselves because it will contradict a self-*image* we have that we base all our actions on. This self-image is often based on a combination of what we think will make us more acceptable to other people, and what we think is ideal or noble. There is a great fear of losing the approval of others and our own self by truly being self-aware.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Dave Shevitz said...

A friend of mine once asked me what he should expect if he tried an aikido class. I answered: "Be ready to find out who you are."

I think that, when you step onto the mat, it is very difficult to hide your faults. This is one of the traits of training that I appreciate most. Off the mat, it is easy for us to try to gloss over aspects of ourselves that we don't like. Technique, however, allows no such illusions. I'll wager most people quit martial arts training not because it is "hard," but rather because it shatters their perceptions of themselves.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

I never had to fight, or even pratice with someone that got on my nerves!
But the last part, about saying defeat, I had somebody I fought with that wouldn't admit I could hurt him! Even if I'm a woman, and kind of short, my cousin wouldn't admit to his brother that I,ve hurt him!! I'm sorry, but when somebody punch you in the ribs, it hurts...
And I hate people who will underestimate the power that we can have, us women...

7:53 PM  
Blogger Colin Wee said...

And I hate people who will underestimate the power that we can have, us women...

Why hate it when you know you can turn it to your advantage?

Female. Short. Small. Too lanky. Uncoordinated. Fat. Slow. Heavyset. Muscular. Male. Handicapped. Back pain. Unfit. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. Martial arts ... does it not teach us to treat ourselves objectively? :-)

I've mixed it up before. One noted TKO I had (meaning I nearly passed out)-- of which I thought was uncalled for ... was by a woman black belt friend. Perhaps like you she was also unimpressed by people underestimating her. So she overcompensated ... and didn't control her strike. Hers was an uppercut driven by a quick turn and full body lift. Admittedly a pretty damn good strike. But ... hey, thanks for the TKO, friend. Know what I mean?

Colin

11:39 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Thanks, Nathan - I'll do my best!
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Little Cricket:
There is a great fear of losing the approval of others...

Quite often a person's self-estimation is built upon what others think. There are those that guard their reputation as if it were their most prized possession.
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Dave:
A friend of mine once asked me what he should expect if he tried an aikido class. I answered: "Be ready to find out who you are."

Well put, Dave. The thing with martial arts training is that it allows us to re-define "who we are" over a period of time. Obviously the trick is to stay with it.
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Jill:
And I hate people who will underestimate the power that we can have, us women...

Some people like to build themselves up by looking down their noses at others. One of the main tenets in the martial arts is to never underestimate anyone, regardless of their gender or size. Thanks for stopping by again.
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Colin:
...unimpressed by people underestimating her. So she overcompensated ...

One of the beautiful things about the martial arts is that it can turn so-called liabilities into strengths. Training not only fixes shortcomings, but as you say, overcompensates. (I'm assuming this woman black belt is still your friend!)

12:05 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

I have been lucky that the ego's I have had in classes as been somewhat subdued(spelt right?).

I have gone through some self-awareness issues even when I started with this current dojo. Matter of fact I still struggle with those types of issues.

Taking a close look within is the hardest task anyone can take and it does take a life time to acknowledge and correct such insights.

I am still giving it my all yet that is part of the path which we all travel in budo.

11:27 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

It's very easy to become obsessive about martial arts. If you like them, I mean. And egoistic.

But... when you realize that no one will call black belts from around the world to solve major crises, things get different.

Fear driven? Fear of just being? Ugh.
I think our own potential scares us. The dark one and the lighter one.

I read somewhere that light is in us and that stopping being scared of it, we can actually embrace it and stop developping the darker parts of our beings. Plus, by doing so, we actually give others the opportunity of doing so themselves. And so on.

Apart from the cheesiness, it kind of relates to the bushido. Or to what budo is, no?

Wheter is does so or not, I like the idea. Know yourself, devellop yourself and shine through. Help others to shine too.

11:53 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

I forgot to say!

What an excellent picture!!!

11:55 AM  
Blogger Silverstar said...

Ha that pictures is so funny!
Yes its really unfortunate to see all the egotism and other negativity that can sometimes permeate the martial arts. But I guess the best anyone can do is to focus on training and not let themselves be suckered into a competition with these people.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

I've found it funny, that even if we never seen ourself, or had the chance to pratice together, we are still helping one and another through our blogs and comments!!
Colin, the same thing happen to my brother-in-law!!One person told him to go easy on that woman, and another one said that they were putting him with her because she was too rough!
John, I'm learning to see the strength of every one I'm sparring with,or doing up and down!!

9:48 PM  
Blogger Gordon White said...

Great post and discussion.

How about Instructor Ego? In the little world of their school, Instructors are a big fish in the small pond. I think its easy to get caught up in that and start thinking the rest of the world should treat you the way you demand your students do.

Its always sad to me, to see an instructor, strutting around like they are really something. Some where along the way, that is what they were taught being an instructor is suppose to act like.

I have always felt lucky to have humble instructors. Being respectful and loyal to someone who deserves it, is much easier then to someone who demands it.

11:31 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Mr. James:
I have been lucky that the egos I have had in classes have been somewhat subdued...

Maybe it's not luck. I remember reading somewhere that students get precisely the teacher they need. I believe the opposite is also true. If you're not getting the really bad types in your dojo, you're probably doing something right.
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Mat:
...no one will call black belts from around the world to solve major crises...

lol!! Oh yeah, that's all we need!

Know yourself, develop yourself and shine through. Help others to shine too.

We have only what we can give. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Mat. (btw, I swiped that silly image about 6 months ago - the whole time wondering what possible topic could go with it!)
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Silverstar:
...the best anyone can do is to focus on training and not let themselves be suckered into a competition with these people.

It's really that simple. The best martial artists tend to be humble - and if they don't start out that way, training will eventually (hopefully) work its magic.
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Jill:
I'm learning to see the strength of every one I'm sparring with...

Good idea, Jill. Always look for the good in others. Alot of people do just the opposite, unfortunately.
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Gordon:
How about Instructor Ego?

Lincoln once said that the best way to determine a person's character is to give them power. Power, especially the need for power, can be so damaging.

Some where along the way, that is what they were taught being an instructor is suppose to act like.

Precisely - it's learned behavior. It's a good bet they had an instructor who exhibited those tendencies.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Colin Wee said...

I've found it funny, that even if we never seen ourself, or had the chance to pratice together, we are still helping one and another through our blogs and comments!!

Too true. Once upon a time, my own martial art training consisted of drills after drills - ultimately producing a 'brain dead' black belt. The support, discussion, and dialog that is available online is one of the best things for my own training.

Of course not all blogs and forums deserve the same attention.

Colin

3:19 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Speaking of instructors/students, what's that saying? "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."

Can we steal that image? It's fabulous...

9:59 AM  
Blogger MrX said...

"If you've been involved in the martial arts for any length of time, by now you realize that the training hall can be rife with all kinds of egocentric behavior."
Since we view the world with our perceptions that are derived from our past encounters, personal experiences and personality, an egocentric person from our point of view can be viewed quite differently from another point of view. Certain actions done by that person, even his/her tone of voice can affect that point of view. People tend to judge to quickly...

self-knowledge
When is confidence is to much confidence? How can someone know himself without looking thru his "point of view filter"? For example, take clones that are identical in all except in there self-confidence. Where one will see only flaws, the other could see only qualities. In humility, how can one see himself being very good at something? And when is this being "full of it"? Is it the difference between knowing and telling what you know (or feel)?

P.S. : This post reminded me of an essay in my college philosophy class. And like always, great post!

Marc

12:42 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Amanda:
Can we steal that image? It's fabulous...

Sure! (I don't own it anyway!)
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Thanks, Mr.X.
Since we view the world with our perceptions that are derived from our past encounters, personal experiences and personality, an egocentric person from our point of view can be viewed quite differently from another point of view.

We all use "perceptual filters" to gauge things in life. Somebody might rave about a movie, the next person could think it's the worse thing they ever saw. When I use a term like egocentric, I do my best to be as clinical as possible; in other words, "detached". Of course when assessing somebody's behavior, you always run the risk of misunderstanding them.

In humility, how can one see himself being very good at something? And when is this being "full of it"? Is it the difference between knowing and telling what you know (or feel)?

I believe humility and perceiving yourself as "being good at something" are not only compatible qualities, but are the hallmarks of sound mental health. These are traits we should strive for in the martial arts.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

I think you can share your knowledge in two differents way, one in a good sharing way, and the other being full of it, like someone said.
I've learn a lot from my mistakes. I'm trying to help people that are lower belt(than me) by sharing commun mistakes that we do.
Being full of it is putting the other down, even for a good reason...

6:15 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Hi, Jill.
I think you can share your knowledge in two different ways, one in a good sharing way, and the other being full of it, like someone said.

It's all a matter of intent. Some like to "share knowledge" because it puts them in a position of power. Others do it to express a genuine gift to teach. What we give to others we ultimately give to ourselves.

12:05 AM  

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