The Role of Ego in Jiu Jitsu – and Elsewhere

“Leave your ego at the door” – as you cross the threshold into the grappling academy or gym, tap into your humility really fast. You can learn a vital truth from anyone – if you are willing to do so.

Most people who have been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and submission grappling for any length of time have probably heard the phrase, “Leave your ego at the door.” It is usually associated with the Gracie family, who are credited with bringing BJJ to popular awareness through the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“Leave your ego at the door” is a typical admonishment for newcomers to the sport; as you cross the threshold into the grappling academy, tap into your humility really fast. Understand you know even less than you think you do about how this sport works, and if you think you know a lot because you have been inventing your own moves in your friend’s matted garage or strengthening your neck muscles to become impervious to chokes, that means you know less than anybody.

The phrase encompasses the idea that you cannot get better at BJJ unless you are first willing to be terrible at it – and then to work your keister off. It also speaks to the fact our teachers appear in unlikely forms: your best instructor might be someone who weighs half what you do, is much younger or much older than you, or otherwise does not fit your preconceived notion of “teacher.” You can learn a vital home truth about BJJ from a rank beginner as well as from the most seasoned expert – if you are willing to do so. People you don’t think should be able to “school” you will “school” you on a regular basis. Thus, the phrase also reminds us that we have autonomy; more of what happens to us on the mat is within our control than we may realize or want to take responsibility for.

As I have persisted in the sport, my orientation to this phrase has changed somewhat. I’m still quick to shout from the mountaintops that I know very little about BJJ and will never learn in the rest of my life even a fraction of what there is to know. That being said, however, I do believe at this stage of my development, I must be willing to accurately assess my strengths and weaknesses. This means I must be able to identify what I’m good at as well as what I need to work on. Thus, I still leave my ego at the door, but I make sure it is watching and taking notes.

As with most things related to BJJ, I see many parallels between what I need to do on the mat and what I need to do in life. So it turns out I leave my ego at most doors, regardless of whether they lead into my grappling academy, into an interaction with a friend or family member, or into a work situation. At least, I try to do this.