"Perfection is unattainable.
But if we chase perfection,
We can catch excellence."
I thought, heading into Super Bowl week, that a quote from the legendary coach for whom the championship trophy is named would be in order. As a meditation for the martial artist, this thought works on two levels, and speaks a lot about the dilemma I often see facing anyone who takes the martial arts path.
People who step onto the martial arts path tend to do so with high goals. They recognize in themselves a potential to reach new heights physical, mentally and spiritually—and they keep their eyes fixed on those goals. That ambition and determination is the fuel that carries them to their destinations.
Far too often, though, I see students (and instructors) who beat themselves up when they don't immediately reach the heights to which they aspire. I can't even tell you how many martial artists I know who will execute four out of five techniques with impeccable timing, power and precision.... only to berate themselves over the one thing they did wrong. Suddenly, their high standard is no longer helping them focus their energy, but rather waste it on an unattainable idea of perfection.
Vince Lombardi is an example of both someone who’s high standards both carried him and buried him. I recently read his account, as told to sportswriter W.C. Heinz, of the night after his Packers beat the Bears 49-0. Instead of "sleeping the satisfied sleep of the contented," Lombardi says, he found himself wide awake in bed, obsessing over the game his team would play the next weekend. When he finally rose from bed in the morning, it was with a familiar ache in his gums from hours of grinding his teeth. He was, in his later words, chasing an unattainable perfection.
Can we be successful, and still keep from wearing down the chompers? I would argue that we have to, because true success lies in appreciating all the blessings in our lives—the big ones and small ones, the ones we earn through hard work and the ones that seemingly fall from the sky. And seeing what we have requires not being blinded by the things that we don’t.
So by all means, let us all use "perfection" as a way to guide our path through the martial arts and every other endeavor. But let's set that course the way a mariner uses the starts for navigation, chasing that star without the expectation of reaching it. That way, we truly make the most of our journey.