Generally when we speak of someone having a large ego we are speaking of someone who thinks very highly of themselves and is perhaps unlikely to care much for the sensitivities of others. This is perhaps the most common cultural interpretation of ego. But from another perspective this person would be considered to have a weak ego.

In psychology the mental processes of a person are sometimes classified as three separate entities. The Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. These are not physical parts of the brain, but are instead theoretical rationalizations and concepts regarding how the thought processes in humans work. So, it can be argued they have little in the way of scientific basis.

However, these ideas, initially espoused by Sigmund Freud, provide a viable model for considering how and why we behave in the way we do. They are worth considering because they may help explain some of your behavior patterns and may help you determine how best to deal with a friend or a potential foe.

In this model the Id is considered to be the center for all unorganized thought. It is what suggests to us that we could steal something or that we could obtain some other form of immediate gratification if we simply acted immediately on impulse. The Id is envisioned as spontaneous, random, and often conflicting thoughts that seek to ensure our survival and achieve a pleasurable experience. It is not us, but rather the center for our instinctual behavior.

The Super Ego is that part of our thought processes that suggests there are rules, morals, and proper behaviors. It uses guilt to punish us if we do something that is contrary to one or more of these rules or idealized behavior patterns.

The Ego sits between the Id, the Super Ego, and real world influences to try to guide us through our daily activities. It seeks to derive a balance from these various inputs so that we can moderate our instinctual needs and desires with our behavioral models so that we can properly navigate in the real world. The Ego represents our reasoning and our view of common sense. The ways in which we do these things helps define our personality. In many ways the Ego defines us as individuals.

Whether you believe in such models or not is somewhat irrelevant. The model is simply a model. But we can use the model to help guide us a bit. Here is some discussion using this fairly common model.

If we have a strong Id and a weak Super Ego then we are more likely to violate societal norms. We may feel good while we are doing it, but our behavior may catch up with us at some point.

In contrast, if we have a very strong Super Ego, we may be unwilling to do anything that will seem even the least bit risky or outside of what we would consider to be normal behavior. We may never get in trouble, but we may have limited fun and a sense of excitement as well.

What we want as a martial artist is a very strong Ego. One that can tell when the Id is a bit too influential and seek to reduce its stimulus. We also want an Ego that can curtail but not necessarily ignore the Super Ego when its influence is less relevant to the current situation. In other words, we seek to have good mental balance.

I see some martial artists who walk around literally with their chests pumped up and a menacing glare in their eyes. In some cases these individual are all too eager to demonstrate their martial arts prowess to some unsuspecting short-term acquaintance.

In contrast, some marital artists are quite hesitant to try various martial arts activities because these activities violate preconceived notions about propriety and normal social behavior. If you are unable or unwilling to practice these skills in the safety of a Dojo it is a virtual certainty you will be incapable of using them in a situation in which they could save your life.

So, it is all about balance. Keep the Id in check and keep the Super Ego in check. Strive to develop a strong Ego that can help you feel confident without appearing to be overbearing or indifferent to others.

Exercising Judgment

Exercising judgement is of course related to having a balanced Ego. If you are out on the beach with a group of friends throwing a football around then you may simply be having a good time. But if you are continually kicking sand onto nearby sunbathers then you are not exercising good judgment (nor good awareness). If you persist in your actions then verbal conflict is likely to arise. If the conflict causes your Id to kick into high gear then you have encountered a second level of poor judgement. The situation is unlikely to improve from this point forward.

When you find yourself in an emotional situation and you hear the Super Ego screaming at you in the background you need to listen. Escape, walk away, or go someplace where you can have a chance to regroup and think more rationally. Everyone gets to go home without injury. That’s employing good judgement.

But good judgement needs to occur much earlier in the process. So there are levels and layers of good judgement. There is good judgement in knowing that you are kicking sand on others at the beach and moving so this does not occur, and there is good judgement in deescalating a potential conflict. But there is also good judgement in knowing that tossing a football around on a crowded beach is likely to cause problems with others nearby. So you would be exercising good judgement to move to an unoccupied area of the beach or wait until the beach has become less crowded before you begin throwing the football around.

So good judgement involves not only assessing what you are doing, but what you are planning to do. If you do something completely impulsively then there could be unintended consequences. If you think about potential problems with your plan and potential contingency plans then you may prevent potential problems down the road.

An example I often cite is what would you do if you encounter a group of potential attackers in a dark alley downtown at 2:00 AM? Should you run? Should you yell for someone to assist you? Should you take out the first person who comes near? Should you go for the biggest attacker first? Should you determine which attacker you will use to shield yourself from the others? Should you locate a trash can lid, stick, or some broken glass that you might use as a weapon? These are all examples of rational judgement in your current situation. It is difficult to know which one is the correct choice since there are so many variables to be considered. The primary judgement question, however, is what are you doing in a dark alley downtown at 2:00 AM?

People who get into serious and life threatening situations have gone through a series of poor judgments. Someone lost in the wilderness did not simply make a wrong turn somewhere. Perhaps they failed to acquire a trail map. Perhaps they deliberately veered off of the established trails. Perhaps they failed to bring along sufficient water or food in the event they became lost. Perhaps they failed to hike with a partner. Perhaps they did not bring a compass. Perhaps they did not bring clothing or footwear suitable for an overnight stay.

It is not possible to prepare for every possible contingency, especially for what would be considered a fairly typical outing of some sort. But you would be wise to consider not only what will go well, but what could potentially go wrong. A little bit of early sound judgement could save you untold future difficulties.

I recall a long hike to a spectacular scenic location at a national park in the desert. A large crowd hiked along the often nondescript trail and sometimes narrow ridges to get to the spot in anticipation of what turned out to be a fabulous sunset. Now everyone needed to hike back along the same long trail dark without the aid of moonlight. Few had flashlights. Many were wearing flip flops. Many had no water on a hot summer’s evening in the desert. This is not exercising good judgement.

As a martial artist you need to be keep self-preservation in the forefront of your consciousness. This requires the use of good judgement whenever you will place yourself in unusual circumstances. Think things through beforehand. Practice exercising good judgement.  It is not difficult, but it does require some practice.

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