The Best is the Enemy of the “Good”

Voltaire, the famed French philosopher is generally credited with quoting an old Italian proverb which states, “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Regardless of your chosen field of study and your level of expertise in said field, no one is perfect. Speaking specifically of the martial arts, everyone who has achieved mastery in a system has studied for nearly 20+ years and they usually hold an instructor rank of 5th level/degree or higher. With a couple of decades of training and thousands of repetitions under their belts, they move with speed, power, fluidity, and adeptness. Undoubtedly, their students see them as flawless executors of each and every technique.

But as masters, we know this is not entirely true. Each of us having mastered the style/system/art is still not perfect. We are humans, not machines…and we make mistakes. The difference between us and the novice is that our mistakes are so slight, only we or another master perceive them. Though we may execute a move which is highly effective and looks flawless on the surface, we alone realize at that moment that perhaps we were slightly off balance, or we weren’t operating at 100%, or didn’t perform as “perfectly” as we should.

So whether we are beginners or advanced, novices or masters, there is always room for improvement. While one may be good at something, very few are the best at it. As Voltaire alluded to: being satisfied that you are “good” at a skill works against you ever wanting to become the “best.” Here we are not talking about best among everyone, rather the best that YOU are capable of achieving.

But where to begin? Well, self-improvement starts with the realization that we need to improve and then choosing to do something about it. Our next steps are:

  • Self-Assessment – consider the things you personally know need improvement. For example, if you’re skilled at applying techniques with your dominant side (left or right) and just so-so on your weak side, there is room for improvement. Put it on the list!
  • Consult an Expert – ask your teacher, master, Sifu or Sensei what they think you need to work on. As a teacher, I can tell you that we love having students take a sincere interest in working hard to improve their skills.
  • Make a List and a Plan – okay you’ve got some ideas of what you need to work on, now put together a training plan. Perhaps it is practicing only your weak side one day, or picking one technique per week to put in extra reps each day, or it may be gradually increasing how much time you devote to practice each week. Be sure to set some short-term and long-term goals. Goal-setting is crucial and you need to put them in writing.
  • Self-Discipline – this is the hard part. You know what you need to work on, you have a plan to do so, now execute. Start right away and stick to it. Experts say it takes 30 consecutive days to change any habit or behavior.

Satisfied with the good, or are you ready to be the best?

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