“Good” really is the enemy of “great”.
The martial artist is supposed to be a perfectionist, but for some reason we convince ourselves that perfection is impossible and being ambitious is unbecoming of the martial artist. How foolish.
The Ultimate in combat is taking another man’s life, and it’s inverse is stopping a man determined to take your life. We cannot be complacent when in pursuit of the ultimate, unless your training does not have this goal in mind. It appears to me that most martial artists are in fact searching for mediocrity while ignoring–no: shunning–the Ultimate. We speak of preferring to focus on “real” combat, whatever that is, over sport/practice/simulated combat, yet we never engage in “real” combat in practice. After all, if we claim to be training for fighting to the finish yet never actually “fight to the finish”–isn’t what you do simulated anyway? We talk of testing our skill, yet we never allow ourselves to be tested by doubters. In fact, we claim to dislike our doubters and avoid them like a rabid dog; who is “testing” your skill? You? Classmates? Friends? Could an 11th grader honestly test his own Algebra skills? Can a football team ever prove their superiority as a team without a rival or opposing team? Why do we insist on isolating ourselves to friends and friendly martial artists, when the first part of what we call ourselves refer to enemies? Why look down on those who seek to achieve greatness and think it’s okay to just be “good” in the arts?
When a martial artist does not engage in “martial” activities, he is guilty of being just an “artist”. An artist, my friends, is not a warrior but a guy who simulates reality. Fighting, war, killing–these things are about as real as it gets. Artists? I think of painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers. Artists are people who imitate life and reality, while the warrior either preserves or destroys reality.
And in life, what can be more “real” than living or dying? Living and dying, my friends are the first and last things a man does. Everything in between are less important than those two things. The martial artist engages in an activity that will determine when and if those two things will happen. We control nothing in our lives more important than whether we live or die. The only factor more in control of our life and death is the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. So if we are to be a deciding factor in life and death, should we treat our skill that depends greatly on whether we can defend our lives as a hobby? Should we treat it lightly and just believe that we actually can defend ourselves without actually checking? Are you the kind of guy who checks your car’s fluids regularly, or do you just hop in and drive all the time?
If we are martial artists who are serious about keeping ourselves alive should a conflict occur, doesn’t it make sense to keep our blade sharp, keep ourselves armed and ready at all time? One would think so, but too many martial artists approach this subject too lightly. They train casually, they treat martial arts training as social events, and they almost never allow a doubter to test them. They leave dojos if the learning stage is too slow, the training is too hard, or the fees too high. Rather than search for the best school to learn to fight, they look for gyms that are comfortable and welcoming. They look for big names and smiling faces. They cruise Facebook and MyFMA.net looking for new friends and neat video clips and seminars to go to and hold hands some more. And when they think of their martial arts skill, they think of themselves as “good” (or even refuse to admit that they think they are good) and then put down the guys who “think they are better than everyone else”.
Um, you’re a warrior. If you don’t think you’re the best in the business, you must be in the wrong business. Men who fight for their lives don’t cloak themselves in modesty. They aren’t afraid to be seen as “arrogant” or a braggart. They aren’t bothered by some guy saying he’s better than you or some dude walking around with his chest swelled up. Warriors have prepared themselves for the Ultimate and aren’t afraid to show you how well-prepared they are. This isn’t to say that warriors go around fighting to the finish at the drop of a dime. What I am saying is that warrior will show you, simulated or real, that he thinks he’s better and will welcome the chance to check his skill every now and again.
And when he has proven himself to be “pretty good”, he doesn’t rush out and start posting his shingle all over the internet hoping to hawk some videos and seminar attendance fees. He wants to prove it again and again, until he finds a weakness in his armor so that he can strenthen it again. He is not satisfied with being pretty strong, pretty quick, learning new and complicated tricks. His life is a constant battle to improve and testing himself and his skill. He does not fear defeat, as the only defeat that matters is the one when he dies–if he is ever fatefully destined to be tested in the Ultimate test. Until that day, he will test and train and modify, test and train and modify, and so forth, until he truly feels like he can lick any man in the room.
And when he feels that way… wash, rinse, repeat. Greatness is objective. It is only abstract in the minds of men who do not pursue it. If you are not endeavoring for greatness–for the ultimate level of skill and ability in the art–you are not a martial artist, but a hobbyist, who is at most striving to be “good”. Thus, you will never achieve the Ultimate in the warrior arts.
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