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  • D. Branchaud

Letting Go

Updated: Feb 27

In the realm of martial arts, the journey toward mastery is not just about physical prowess but also about mental and emotional discipline. One of the crucial lessons often overlooked is the importance of shedding self-consciousness and ego. These two barriers, if left unchecked, can severely hinder progress. While it is common for us to feel that our physical limitations are what hold us back that is seldom the case. I have never seen a student whose body could not be trained to perform. Sure, some have been more athletic than others, and some have had serious physical challenges, but it has always been the mind that first limits potential. In fact, ego and self-consciousness are the greatest challenge to most martial arts students. Have you thought seriously about this?

Self-consciousness manifests as a nagging awareness of oneself, leading to doubt, hesitation, and fear of judgment. In a martial arts setting, this can translate into reluctance to fully commit to technique or holding back out of fear of looking foolish or making mistakes. But we must take chances in our learning and we must make mistakes. There is no way around it. Think of your development as an artist chipping away at a sculpture, removing everything that does not belong until what is left is only what matters. We need to chip away at all that doesn’t belong; crossing ones feet, undisciplined eyes, incorrect breathing, use of excess muscle, becoming tight during ukemi, and countless other things that have no place in our art. Every one of us must address these things. No person can avoid this process and expect to improve. Hesitating, fear of making mistakes, fear of looking bad, or resistance to correction will freeze you at the level of your choosing. Gaining skill, in part, is a process of losing. We have to be honest with ourselves and willing to show what we can do and can’t do.

The irony is that everyone begins as a novice, and every master was once a beginner. Embracing this reality is fundamental to growth. Discomfort with being corrected or fear of doing poorly can be a massive stumbling block. How open a person is to receiving feedback can greatly influence how quickly they learn. Some people freely ask for feedback and accept it well, some ask for it but react negatively when hearing it, some express frustration with themselves and feel uncomfortable receiving feedback, others defend themselves with ‘reasons’ for why they do things the way they do. I cannot stress enough that your personality has a greater bearing on your progress than your physical aptitude.

'You must train seriously because it is actually your personality that you are developing.'

-Seikichi Uehara, late grandmaster of Motobu Udundi

Self-consciousness also detracts from mindfulness—the state of being fully present in the moment. Martial arts require acute awareness of body, breath, surroundings and more. When self-consciousness intrudes, it disrupts this by shifting attention to oneself in a way that can push relevant information into the background. By letting go of self-consciousness, practitioners can immerse themselves fully in the training, experiencing each moment without reservation.

Ego, on the other hand, presents a different challenge. It inflates one's sense of self-importance, leading to arrogance, impatience, and resistance to feedback. In martial arts, ego-driven individuals may be indifferent to certain training partners, seeking to dominate rather than learn or assist. They may also dismiss constructive criticism, believing they already know what they need to know. They may believe that they have more experience or a higher rank and therefore a person of lesser rank should listen to them without question. But we have to be able to see that a beginner can sometimes understand certain things or even do things as well or better than someone with more experience. Ego not only stifles personal development but also damages the integrity of the Dojo community. Even if it is small, it isn’t invisible. It is there for all to see.

True mastery in martial arts demands humility—the willingness to acknowledge limitations, learn from mistakes, and embrace feedback with an open mind. The path to excellence is paved with countless setbacks and failures, each offering valuable lessons for those humble enough to receive them. By relinquishing ego, practitioners create space for growth, cultivating a mindset of continuous improvement.

Moreover, humility fosters a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect within the Dojo community. We should all approach others as partners in a shared journey. We must celebrate each other's successes and support each other through challenges, recognizing that everyone has something to teach and something to learn.

In our Dojo we wear uniforms. One purpose of the uniform is to remove some of our individual status. In our world outside the Dojo one may wear the attire of a teacher, firefighter, police officer, or parent. But in the Dojo we do not have to live up to expectations signaled by our outside attire. We can be free to know nothing and to accept correction and instruction without shame. Our uniform signals that we are students wether we are wearing a black belt or white. As students we work at the edge of our knowledge and abilities. That is where we make mistakes and learn from them.

The importance of shedding self-consciousness and ego in martial arts cannot be overstated. It isn’t easy and it is never complete. But by embracing humility and mindfulness, practitioners may unlock their true potential, transcending physical limitations to achieve self mastery.

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