I am not sure if every martial arts instructor asks this exact same question to a prospective or new student, but, in some form, I think "What is your goal for taking martial arts?" comes up often in the first couple of conversations. Most students struggle with many issues to bring them to participate in martial arts. Some want to be physically fit, others want to be able to protect themselves, and some are just curious. But, a large percentage state the following answer, "I want to be the best."
So, what does that mean? I think that everyone has a desire to succeed. To be better is a noble goal. However, is it healthy to want to be the best? I think that clarification needs to be obtained before deciding how to counsel a student on this answer.
I believe strongly that "better" and "best" are vastly different in terms of a mental/philosophical approach to life. I guess a lot of the difference stems from the idea of growth. Do you believe that you can improve or that you have a certain amount of talent/ability and cannot rise above it?
I encourage anyone to read the book Mindset: The new psychology of success by Carol Dweck. This book approaches the idea of people believing in a division between perspective in individuals when approaching a challenge or endeavor. The book phrases individuals who believe they can grow and improve as having a "growth" mindset while those that believe that can only achieve due a set amount of talent or ability as having a "fixed" mindset (Dweck, 2006). So, another way to grasp the concept of the book is the question is simply, "Can an individual grow and improve in a skill or pursuit?"
Based on the previous paragraph, let's revisit "better" and "best." If we believe that improvement is possible for ourselves, then it would stand to reason that we could imagine that others can increase their abilities as well. So, progress in any group could be viewed as fluid, or maybe we could say that potentially say that everyone working toward a desired result has the opportunity to get "better." If we look at any skill as changing arena, ability and result could always be moving forward. In comparison, let's think about "best" as a position. If ability or potential is set, then "best" could be calculated. But, on what criteria? Also, does this unchanging spot mean that if you say that "I want to be the best" then you are not the best? In essence, if a position is set and you want to be it, then you are not in that position and cannot rise to that place. In essence, "best" becomes an unattainable goal and ultimately can establish an individual on a road to certain failure.
The amazing nature of martial arts is change. We change rank and belts. We change roles from new student to seasoned instructor. We change from absence of knowledge to gained experience. We tend to grow and develop into something more. We teach a culture that says you can be "better."
A criticism could be easily made that "better" could be as dangerous as "best." The danger that could be proposed would come from an individual looking only show an advantage over a peer or peers. Competition can make a noble passion into a dangerous activity to perpetuate ego at the expense of other students' growth. So, it is paramount, to set the truest measure of "better" to avoid this subtle pitfall.
A student should be reminded that only accurate assessment of better is based on the student's self. If a student excels at a particular technique compared to peers, but he or she does not refine the technique, then have not gotten "better" in regard to his or her starting point. "Better" should be used as a tool for self-introspection. That switch in perspective leads a student to engage in addressing flaws, goals and setting forth to overcome any perceived obstacles in themselves and moves toward becoming a "better" version of himself or herself. Not only does it "grow" a skill, but it "grows" a person. It helps to develop character.
An interesting byproduct, when an individual looks inside to be " better" often he or she will have more compassion for the journey that others take to progress. In essence, by looking in for "better", he or she looks out to encourage others to be "better" as well. He or she adds value outside of himself or herself and yields it to all around. Before long, a student moves closer to the realization or fulfillment of one's abilities or what could be called "self-actualization." By shifting the focus from "best" to "better", it is possible for an individual to find true achievement.
The M.A.D. Dad
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
About the author
I call myself the M.A.D. Dad. M.A.D. stands for Martial Arts Direction. I want to help others battle the forces that threaten our peace with lessons that I have been blessed to discover through my experiences in both Martial Arts and Life.