Ego and investing in loss

Investing in loss is a phrase my teacher Alan would throw at me all the time. It means to attack your weaknesses, to deliberately put yourself in negative or unfamiliar situations in order to find the solutions. A lot of the time we’d have few sparring partners, limited space, no cage, so we’d create ways to give ourselves handicaps, banning our ‘A-game’ techniques in favour of contriving difficult scenarios. 

Working around injuries requires investing in loss to allow us to stay on the mat when we’re less than 100%. We owe the development of the half guard position for example, to the willingness of Gordo to find solutions to a knee injury that made utilising a full guard impossible for him. Doubtless he struggled terribly initially to apply a new set of mechanics and strategies, but now left us with an enormously expanded lexicon of techniques to draw on.

The maxim ‘leave your ego at the door’ is displayed in Jiu-Jitsu academies across the world. Fundamentally this is an instruction to invest in loss, but fails to address the complexities of the matter. In casual conversation, to describe someone as having ‘an ego’ suggests an ego problem, an overly inflated ego, which is a handicap to an athlete. A diminished ego would likewise be a handicap to an athlete, especially a fighter. The rewards in Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and MMA are rarely financial, with most of us making a loss on fights in the hope of hitting the big time at some point in the future. What drives us to suffer day in day out, to strive to be the best we can be if we entirely unshackle ourselves entirely from our ego? It might work for a Buddhist monk, but it’ll sure as hell mess up your MMA.

Fundamentally, the truth is that the gym is the place to improve, as a group. Attacking your weaknesses and exposing the secrets of your most successful attacks to teammates, in order that they might share that success, and that you yourself are then obliged to continually improve and evolve as those around you get wise to your game.

The place to win is in the ring, cage or on the tournament mats. Nothing else constitutes real victory other than real combat. It’s not strictly that we need to leave our ego at the door; we need to properly manage our ego, sideline it at times and protect it at times and at other times exploit it to push ourselves toward competitive excellence. The trick is knowing how and when to do each of these things, and understanding the alchemy of balancing and mixing those requirements. Like all things in our game, it’s part science, part art.

Pete Irving


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