Martial arts supposedly help curb the ego. Personally, I don’t often find that to be true. I find it least often true in people who teach or run a dojo. For some reason, instructing in the martial arts seems to inculcate an inability to really admit that you are not the end-all and be-all of your art, your system, or of the arts in general. Looked at objectively, of course it is very unlikely that any of us running a small dojo of like-minded people is going to be the pinnacle of our arts. Of course someone has to be, and I definitely have seen a lot of good teachers and practitioners out there, but is it likely to be you? No. And honestly, I have seen way to many people who seem to believe they are the best, all evidence to the contrary.

Right now many of you are thinking: “Well, not me, I know I’m not the best. (I’m just really good.)” Probably followed by “my teacher is better”. Fine. I would hope so. But that doesn’t count for much, in my opinion. Even if he or she isn’t, you have probably been believing that so long it is gospel anyway. But other than your teachers?

Can you name three people, besides your teachers, who are better than you? Who you know have better skills in at least some aspect of your art, than you do? Try it. If you can’t, I’d suggest you get out more. Chances are you are training with the same few people too often and not seeing what other people are doing and how they are training. That does not mean shooting off to seminars with “big name” teachers- those are usually a waste of time, with lots of people in a big room but little actual learning going on. Instead try visiting other dojo, crossing hands with other skilled people in a small setting, sharing ideas and letting yours get examined and taken apart. It means questioning your practice, pushing your assumptions, and seeing how others you respect practice. (If you don’t respect anyone else’s practice, I don’t think this post is for you.)

Training with just the few familiar faces is great. It is most of my training time, and I love it. But in a small group it is easy to get further and further down the garden path. Techniques work because attacks conform to them, assumptions about how people attack and counter get reinforced and deeply ingrained, as do patterns and responses. Essentially, stylization is a danger. So while it is nice to have your training reinforce your sense of capability, I would again suggest pushing yourself. Put it out there. Find some people you respect, and let them put a critical eye on your practice. If you are really lucky you can find a few who are better than you, and then you will have a chance to learn something. Isn’t that what curbing the ego is about?

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