The Ego – Part 1

January 29, 2007

When it comes to martial arts discussions, the ego will rear its ugly head 75% of the time. That’s why this particular entry is subtitled as a first part. How many parts to this ego entry are there in total? If not countably infinite, then near close to it. So long as there’s a a metric, there’ll be two idiots trying to see who’s superior. The way I see it, there two outcomes to having an ego. Either it impedes our progress by walling off that which hurts our ego, or it is what ultimately drives us martial artists to continuously be better. I think the former is self-explanatory, but for the exceptionally dense, I will say that perfection is just a pretty way of saying stagnation. The latter requires a slightly more verbose explanation. Our egos tend to overestimate ourselves, resulting in our having to dig our way out of the shithole we’d thought we were able to transverse. This digging, in turn, propels us to heights greater than we probably would have otherwise been unable to achieve. Usually, this happens with a partner, who’s standing on the firm ground at the opposite end, watching, pointing, and most likely laughing. We can be either the one watching or acting, but either way, we’d both be dripping with dung from yet another hole.

I’ve been rather surprised that there has not really been much of an ego problem among us regulars at the three schools I attend. It isn’t so much that there are no egos, but that we firmly keep it in check, and we know that if we don’t, there’ll be someone else to check it for us. I think we’re all smart, in that rather than pick the hard way, we’ve chosen the easy way to learn our lesson.

That isn’t to say that egos don’t rear their ugly heads sometimes.

I’ll say it bluntly: I don’t like being pushed. I’m not talking about the physical act of being propelled across a space by the force emitted by another person, though that applies in this particular case too. I’m talking about being compelled to act in a way that I do not want to. This is rarely a problem, as I’m usually easily convinced. That’s probably because I have no opinion on the matter for most things, and the act of attempting to convince me is merely a small token of consideration. But that’s an academic matter; I’m quite influential with myself to say the least, and if no one else can bother with convincing me, I’d be more than happy to take such a responsibility into my own hands. However, there are things that I feel strongly for or against. I have very good reasons for such sentiments, though my ability to articular such reasons on the spot varies with the phase of the moon, the time of the day, atmospheric conditions, or whatnot. That is to say, when I don’t care, I really don’t care. When I do care, I really do care.

Now, I tend to touch with Hung a lot. I also tend to lose to him a lot. This isn’t because I’m an inferior martial artist, but because the purpose of the game I play is slightly different from the purpose of the game he plays. He plays to experience a real fight, to win. I play to improve my listening ging. Which is to say, I’m moving my listening ging from the realm of automation and experience, to the conscious mind. My goal is to be able to control myself, regardless of what gets thrown at me. Or, to put it another way, it is to never lose control of the situation and have to rely on automated processes of instinct and training to stay alive. Quite recently, Hung seems to have taken exception to the way I play. His attitude has been impatient and curt. And worse yet, he’s become quite aggressive, taking advantage of my more stately pace of experimentation and discovery and overwhelming my designs of reaching higher levels of listening ging with his experience. Essentially, the simple act of winning matches became insufficient. He attempted to put me down by going above and beyond what was necessary to secure victory. And then he gloated about it by insisting that I was weak for not playing his game, by pointing out the so-called errors when these I have continued to state were intentional.

Needless to say, I refused to take such an insult. It is worse that I considered him a friend, even if I also thought of him as something of a rival. He was a confidant, though the word “confidant” applies largely to matters of kung fu. I shared with him the many things I thought of, as he did with me, because I want him to be better. So he might propel me to greater heights. But this act of forcing me to play his game when I had previously made clear that my intentions were otherwise I simply could not take. He wanted to see me play his game, so I did. And so with my training and experience, I proceeded to beat him at it. Time and again. And again. And again. He made the same mistakes he had just moments before accused me of making. It shut him up good. And he’s been even more of an ass ever since. Not unexpectedly though, as I’ve always played the part of the lesser, the inferior. And I was satisfied with that. After all, I’ve always believed that everyone at least one thing with which I might be able to better myself after learning, and that even attempting to assert my superiority would be an indication of otherwise.

I’ve paid my own price for this streak of arrogance and pride. My body isn’t as it once was when I was young. While I’m able to capable of making full use of the floor-to-finger connection, I’m well aware that using too much of my power at any time would damage several weaker parts of my body. If I pushed myself too hard, the damage could be irreversible. It would be as if I was walking across an abyss on a tightrope. The rope holds for the whole time while I’m on it. However, the moment I get to the other side and step off, it snaps in two. While I am able to cross that maw at any time, I’d rather not snap the rope until there is a need. I’ve explained this to Hung before. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t play his game even just to humor him. The pleasure I get from defeating someone as good as him in this game isn’t worth the pain afterwards. I guess that point is moot now, as I have done what I did not really want to do, and I sit paying the price of the small victory.

Regardless, he seems to be rather spiteful of me now, and his actions have not yet showed me otherwise. He’s been working harder than ever trying to glean ways to surpass me. He appears to be using all of his resources, all of his contacts and connections, in trying to find ways to win. I’m not worried, not because I don’t think he’ll surpass me, but because it doesn’t concern me anymore. I will grow at my own pace. I just hope he doesn’t push himself too hard trying to catch up, as that was how I received my current debilitation in the first place.

Ah well. Could I have walked away the moment I felt things were getting out of hand? Sure. Could I have just taken the insults and the physical attacks and called it a bad day? Sure. But I had felt his impatience growing for some time already. I had felt the growing agitation from his inability to get me to play his game, regardless of how I explained myself. Sometimes, it is better to answer the outstanding questions unambiguously. At the very least, I won’t be jealously accused of holding him back.

Now, if only Pug was motivated by the same things… But as I said in the beginning, the ego can hinder as well as it can advance.