"Punches and kicks are tools to kill the ego."
I love this Bruce Lee quote so much I had it printed as a sign and it hangs on the main door of our dojo.
Growing up in karate (I started training at 13, am now 34), it was always clear to me that karate was a path to conquering myself. Ironically, when I opened my own dojo four years ago, one of my biggest challenges was managing my students egos. Whether it was expressed as someone compelled to show off, draw negative attention to themselves, go too hard in sparring, overreact to being hit while sparring, get overly frustrated with struggling to learn a technique, creating drama in the community, etc it seemed like a lot of our issues came back to people struggling to separate their insecurities or what they believe about themselves from the reality of the training experience.
My instructor was great at managing egos and there is something about the belt system and the continued progression of difficult tests that puts people in a position to decide if they are going to grow or walk away. As a teacher I really struggled with it for the first few years of having my dojo open. He and I are a little different personality-wise (he's a cop, I'm an artist). It's also important to note that his school is in Pennsylvania and mine is in Seattle. When he opened he had a dozen black belts (his teacher had closed his dojo, so everyone went to train at my instructors new dojo) as senior students. When I opened I had zero senior students (well, zero students at all). So, within my dojo, it was not until this year (my fourth) that I'd developed senior students who could effecitvely model behavior and attitude for the other students. And even then, they take their cues from me, they themselves don't actually have other senior students to model their behavior after.
I made some changes this year in posting our "community values" and "code of conduct" on the wall for all to see. And reinforced some of the traditional concepts and explained why we bow, etc and that helped a lot.
The reason I share this with all of you fellow martial artists of this great community is I'm curious about the following two things:
1. I'm curious to know, in your dojos or in your own personal training, what are the most effective methods for keeping student's egos in check? How did you overcome your own challenges with ego limiting your growth as a martial artist?
2. Has this always been a part of karate or was this an ad hoc character development thing that came in later? For me it feels very natural: if you're going to teach someone how to beat someone up, you should also teach them how to control themselves. Me personally, I won't teach anyone to fight unless they are a member of my belt program, and only then once they've hit green belt.
*Also, just for the sake of simplifying the discussion, I define ego more in Buddhist terms as: "the self-identity we cling to / the stories we tell ourselves about who we are (i.e. I'm an athlete, I'm great at martial arts, I'm clumsy, etc)" as opposed to the general expression of arrogance/self-interest/confidence. We all have an ego and it's not always a bad thing. In some of my students (mostly my teens and many of my female students, I actively cultivate ego and encourage it).