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The Perfect Trap

In the past, I've said to students that we must train to be perfect, even though we know we never will be.  I hear a lot of people say that type of thing as coaches, particularly martial arts teachers.  From the standpoint of a person who enjoys doing things to a high level, I still appreciate the spirit of that phrase.  However, as a coach I have decided that I no longer want to deliver that message.  I don't think it's necessarily conducive to good training or, ultimately, a worthwhile life.

We all know that “perfect” doesn't exist.  Making our goal in life an impossible task, then, becomes a whole new version of “chasing the dragon,” so to speak.  In an illustrative story of impossible tasks from Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who was punished by the gods in the afterlife: he was given a large boulder that he must roll up a hill only for it to roll back down when he approaches the top, ad infinitum, for eternity.  This task is tragic, impossible, useless, and punitive: four things that I don't want training to be for myself or my students.

The other problem with training to be perfect is that “perfect” exists somewhere that you are not.  It's out there, in the future, in a time and place we cannot reach.  Our training becomes, to be frank, an onanistic fantasy.  You are infinitely more likely to become a billionaire, because at least that is possible, however unlikely.  Martial artists like to say that we train for realistic situations, so why cast our work within the parameters of a fairytale?

As a teacher, what I'm more interested in is what you're committed to right now.  If you're committed to receiving a black belt (or whatever) that's fine, but I'd challenge you to dig deeper.  A new rank represents a result, but let's make a commitment that will help to improve our process.  What are you committed to doing today, right now?  How can you take one little step forward?

We are not Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and dreaming impossible dreams.  And we are not Sisyphus, doomed to face the tyranny of effort without purpose or hope.  Don't try to be perfect, but love what you do and be better today than you were yesterday.  That's the best way I've found to learn and grow.  Training is about living a life of meaning, not a life of despair and unrealized promise.


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