The big EGO

“Ego is the enemy…… and the much needed companion”

We have all heard or come across the saying “Leave your ego at the door”, especially in Martial Art gyms.



What is EGO? How can I have individuality as a human being if I do not have an ego? And without that individuality, how am I suppose to feel anything, let alone strive towards improvement or growth in the many areas of my life? Even monks have ego. That is why they are still monks. Monks are those who have decided to abstain from worldly stuff to train themselves to one day be free of ego and individuality and perhaps by doing so, to gain enlightenment. But at the moment, they still have ego. They need their ego to be willing to be on that path. They need their ego to have made the conscious decision to be on that path.

Ego, like many other things in life, has to be moderated. That is the real challenge. You cannot be void of ego and expect to be anything. The fact that you know you need a shower, or the fact that you know you’re hungry, you have ego. You have a name. You are an individual. You have ‘Self’. And with that, comes self-preservation, self-improvement, self-help, self-this and self-that. All these, stem from having ego. Living things all have an ego. The only difference between the species is how much of it, each of us exercise and how much of it we know we have.

Ego, I feel, is deeply entwined with intelligence. The more intelligence we have, the more ego ensues. So it comes with no surprise that humans with our ever growing intelligence, and over reaching egos, are both the masters of invention and progress and also the masters of our own destruction. But let’s leave this paragraph to the Sages, Professors and the Dalai Lama. For the purpose of this post, let’s just talk about ego and Martial Arts.


To want to pick up a skill or learn something, that is a want, to improve one’s life and one’s meaning in life. Whether it is from a negative 10 to 0 or from 0 to a positive 10, it is the need spurred by one’s individuality to move away from stagnation or death by non-motion. This individuality is a part of our consciousness to make sense or find sense in the life we are living here on earth. This individuality is also sometimes known as EGO. We often hear or see the phrase “Leave your ego at the door” especially in Martial Art gyms because someone, sometime long ago, decided to blame ego for all the other attributes that make a person somewhat unfriendly or unsavory. You see, ego has many sub-components. Anything that has a ‘Self’ is but a sub-component of ego. Curiosity is part of having an ego. Stupidity is part of having an ego that may not be agreeable with common sense, ‘common’ being the operative word here. Strength is based on a ‘Self’. Hence, Strength is ego. Thoughts are fueled, provoked and influenced through one’s own ego. One’s own agenda/ego. Pride is ego. Bravery is ego. Courage is ego. Cunningness is ego. Smartness is ego. GROWTH is EGO. You need to have EGO to have GROWTH.

So what is it that made EGO something disgusted and scorned upon rather than celebrated and expected? I would say, it is the execution of a particular decision as well as the outcome of a particular decision. Back to Martial Arts….

I train hard and hardly talk to anyone. I take great pride in my having a clean and neatly ironed out uniform. I take pride in being part of the community. I always strive to be better and go harder than I was or did yesterday. I get very serious when executing techniques. I go hard every time because there is also a phrase that is seen everywhere nowadays, that rings through my head, that is to “Go hard or go home”! So I put my heart and soul into my training and tap everyone else out or knock everyone else down in a bid to be a better version of myself then I was yesterday or last week. But somehow, I get branded or viewed as having ‘too much ego’, ‘too much pride’ or ‘training with ego’. Isn’t Martial Arts about growth and attainment of some degree of wisdom through hard work? Where in the doctrines of Martial Arts did or does it say to ‘be nice’?? To be courteous yes, but to be nice? To be  nice is to never knock you down even though you tried to tear my head apart, but to be courteous simply means that I bow to you in respect and honor before I knock the shit out of you!


But that is the problem isn’t it? We as a society are so brain washed to be nice to everybody around us even when we don’t share the same goals or values, that we end up worrying too much about how others might view us. That being nasty or honest is just against living in and scorned upon as a society. We are taught that courtesy should always come from us first and to give the other cheek if you get slapped on one (sorry not on my watch).  Having said that, we cannot deny that there are some who are just out to bully or show-off. How many times have we seen the douche who goes hard on the less skillful and smaller sparring partners but never fails to tell someone their own size or better skilled than them to “Go soft and play technical only”. Too many indeed. Contrary to believe, it is not that these people have a big ego. Neither is it because they used too much ego in their play. These are merely cowards who need something or someway to bloat or feel good about their tiny egos. You see, if I have a big enough ego, I will know where I stand, and in the constant journey to improve myself, I will know to have different objectives with different partners. How to assess my strengths and weaknesses and work on them. The only time I would be having “too much ego” will perhaps be if I think I can take on the Black belts now that I have achieved my Blue belt. As in BJJ. Now that is the moment when you might have an over-inflated ego and will probably need to be put into place.


So you see, it is NOT about having ego that is wrong, it is more about having the wrong attitude that should be corrected. We SHOULD train with ego. Don’t leave it outside the Dojo or gym. Bring it in and work it. What SHOULD be left outside is your sense of entitlement and that ‘spoilt brat’ attitude that is so prevalent nowadays. Come train not just your skill but also your temperament and character. That is what Martial Arts and sports overall should be about.


Published by

Terence Cheah

I am an avid Martial Artist who has been teaching Muay Thai for more then 20 years and have recently earned my Black belt in Shinkyokushin Karate. I run a Martial Arts gym called Transcendence Martial Arts where most of my students are everyday people who want to get better, both physically and psychologically. I also love reading, motorbikes and scuba diving quite earnestly. And not forgetting my ever supportive loving wife and 2 daughters who always make me grateful for my life and energy .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s