photo of Ben Thompson USKF member Ohio …teaching a martial arts class by example

by GM Jeff Helaney

I have known a number of otherwise very good martial artists over the years that have let their egos get in the way of their teaching, their learning, and their personal growth. They become lost in a self-image that is tied to an unrealistic need to be better and/or more knowledgeable than everyone else around them. They insure the superiority of their position through the deprecation of others or through self aggrandization. Although the pattern sometimes varies, the net result is the same. The opportunity to learn, to teach, and to grow is lost.

I have spent over 43 years studying various martial arts styles. Although it sounds like a long time, I still consider myself a novice. I know there is always more to learn and that I certainly don’t have all the answers. Perhaps I feel this way because I was fortunate enough to study with some amazing individuals and to encounter life lessons in unlikely places. In my journey so far I have had the opportunity to put on a white belt more often than most which has taught me that I am at my best when I let go of my preconceptions and I put my ego away in a box.

Don’t get me wrong, ego in and of itself doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We need to have confidence in our abilities and in the techniques we practice. A healthy self-image is a good thing. It is when we allow ourselves the hubris of believing that our particular style, our individual techniques, or we ourselves are superior to everyone else that we cross an invisible line. When we close off possibilities because they don’t fit into our box we remove ourselves from growth.

The message of this note is simple … check your ego at the door. Don’t buy into the hype that my martial art style is better than yours. Don’t lose yourself to a specific group or teacher; no matter how wonderful they may be. Take the time to listen to yourself critically. Are you the type of person that you would like to hang out with? In the end we have to define ourselves by what we do, how we act, and how we treat others. If your conversations or your social media posts revolve around a central theme (—you —) what image are you projecting to others? If we let our egos get in the way of the person we are meant to be then we cheat ourselves out of a wonderful journey of growth and discovery.

I will finish with a quote from John Wooden that helps put everything in perspective. “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

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