In the quest of excellence where do we begin? How do we define excellence? Excellence is sometimes measured by other people’s standards. However, the best place to find excellence is in our own self evaluation. The definition of excellence is how what you have achieved has improved you as a person. That improvement can only be determined by your own measurement. As Martial Artists we all strive for excellence. We each have traveled different life paths and many of us have traveled a different Martial Arts path. Our instructors, teachers, and fellow students will all have their own standard and in any reputable Martial Arts organization this standard is really just a personal starting point. Giving your own personal best is really at the heart of excellence and only you can know what that is. While achieving and working towards something only the person working towards that goal knows inside if they are pushing themselves to that level of self excellence. In any endeavor if we only do the minimum to reach a certain level we have not achieved anything if that level did not push us past our present capacity. Pushing yourself beyond the point you thought possible is the only way to grow. In setting our goals we need to determine if reaching that point will stretch us beyond where we are in that area of fitness, art, works, or life skill. Without growth there is no reason to pursue any goal. The purpose of setting goals and/or having dreams is to grow as a person in some area of life. Stretching and growing as a person, student, husband, wife, son, daughter and, so on is what makes life worthwhile. If we are not growing we are not living we are only existing.
Excellence and growth then are one in the same. To excel we must grow, to grow we must excel. That is why Martial Artists have an advantage. We strive to learn and grow in our art. It is a never ending road but it is not an aimless wandering road. Martial Arts give us a way to map our growth. We set our Martial Arts goals and this learning will almost automatically cross over into the other areas of life. There is an endless amount of learning that can be followed in the Martial Arts just like life. While moving forward in the Arts we also move forward in life. We see new opportunities in the Arts, which will lead us to also realize we can open new doors in our lives. The story of my own personal experience is a perfect example. The day before my 1st Degree Black Belt test, over twenty-one years ago, I lost my job. I was a young man who had never before faced the dilemma of losing a position. The confidence I gained on the road to Black Belt not only gave me courage to face my upcoming test regardless of my personal challenge, the training and knowledge gathered on that road gave me the tools needed to charge ahead and find new employment. In two weeks I found a new job and worked with that company for eleven years.
Our perspective of the Arts is different while we are white belts just as our perspective in life is different from when we were children. Our perspective of the Arts is also different as a newly christened Black Belt from that of a seasoned Black Belt. New Black Belts are energized and ready for the next step. When we begin in the Martial Arts we start with a “clean slate”. Our minds are open to the new adventure we have decided to undertake. This is similar to the open minds of children, who are ready and willing to learn. To stay energized and motivated in the Martial Arts we must keep the open mind of a white belt and the energy of someone who has just crossed that threshold to Black Belt. That willingness to start on a new journey and the willingness to stretch beyond our current success will keep you fresh. The crossover to life skills in keeping an open mind can only lead to life success. Keep your mind fresh like a child’s mind. Be willing to accept new ideas and explore new ways of approaching challenge. Regardless if that challenge is in your career, family or spiritual points on your wheel of life, keeping an open mind and keeping energized is the key to being successful and climbing the walls life will always place before you.
An open mind then, is essential for excellence. If we are not open to new ideas and ways of doing things we begin to stand still and fail to move forward. To grow we must continue to press on and move forward. Without forward momentum life’s challenges will ultimately start pushing us backwards. Since excellence and growth go hand in hand so is open mindedness an essential component in excellence. Also to move forward we need to stay energized since the forward momentum needed for excellence takes motivation and motivation takes energy.
Here then are keys to excellence: open mindedness, motivation, energy. The measurement of excellence is the improvement to your own level of success. An example of this can be seen in competitive running. If at 50 years old I would not expect my run times to be the same as when I was eighteen it is not realistic. However if I measure my progress against how well I do in my age class during a race then that is where I can see my progress. If I were to finish in the top 10% in one race and then improve to the top 5% then I have made progress and can say I have achieved excellence. In Martial Arts I can approach progress in a similar way. At 50 years old I can’t expect to achieve the same height in my flying side kick that I did when I tested for my Black Belt when I was 28 years old. I can expect to continue to improve my form and to keep fit enough to still be able to do a flying side kick. That then becomes my measurement for excellence and success.
Keeping on a journey of excellence will never be easy. It takes work. It takes an open mind, it takes energy and motivation. To maintain an open mind, energy and motivation it is essential to know how to measure excellence in ourselves. The only one who can measure excellence in yourself is you. Take a look at your strengths and improve on them. Take a look at your weakness and work to lessen their effect on your performance. Measure progress against what is realistic for you. If we keep these things in mind it will help a person succeed and achieve excellence that is necessary for a meaningful and fulfilling life. The Martial Arts gives people the tools to achieve excellence. It is often times referred to as Black Belt excellence. If you are not involved in the Martial Arts, consider it. If you have been in the Martial arts but wandered away come back. Excellence is waiting for you.
My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts