It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect

I’ve heard it my whole life. My mom and dad were probably the first to say it. I remember my brother and sister and lots of other kids saying it to me when we played or worked together on projects. Probably every teacher and boss that I ever had said it to me at one time or another. My wife has said it to me, and even my kids.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

I’ve never understood the phrase. Why start something unless your intention is to do it perfectly? What are we here for, if not to edge our way towards perfection?

People will tell you that to strive for perfection is an exercise in futility. Perfection is impossible; they will say. It is very popular now to bash “perfection” and those who strive for it. People will tell you that the quest for perfection, whether it is professional or personal, leads us to dark places and is ultimately futile. They will say that striving for perfection is a kind of cop-out, a way to avoid finishing a task or project.

I think pop-culture contributes to these ideas. Have you seen the television show AngelsSupernatural? I like the show, but it portrays most angels (supposedly perfect beings) as stuck-up, power-hungry, insufferable know-it-alls. I’ve known lots of people who are proud to say how much they hate the elves from The Lord of the Rings, probably for the same reason.

Clowns and criminals are elevated to positions of worship while “do-gooders” are scorned for naiveté and “squareness”.

Our culture seems to be in a race toward mediocrity. Our schools are engineered so that each successive generation is dumber than the last. Television, especially commercials, is telling us that we need to feed ourselves with junk and medicate ourselves into oblivion.

I think we need a little more perfection in our lives. We are reluctant to take the time to master anything. Maybe part of it is time. We rush from one activity to the next and in between check email and Facebook. We don’t slow down long enough to be alone with our thoughts, let alone to actively think about anything.

I used to work in a factory where my job was packaging plate-glass for shipping. There were several things I had to consider before taking a crate to the shipping department. First, the glass had to arrive at the destination unbroken. Second, the containers needed to be as light as possible, which meant that we used the least amount of packaging materials as possible. Finally, they didn’t want to pay us too much, so everything had to be done as quickly as possible.

Whenever I packed a crate, I used to stop and look at it. I would imagine it perfect and ready to ship. What would the perfect packaging look like? What supports should I add to the crate? How was it padded? Where were the metal bands positioned?

My bosses hated seeing me standing, looking at a crate and thinking. Some of them were more patient than others but more than one would cross the factory floor to tell me to hurry up and how it “didn’t have to be perfect”.

I liked the puzzle aspect of that job, but not working with people with such limited thinking.

Perfection takes on a new depth of meaning when applied to martial art training. There are so many ways we can look at it that it boggles the mind. There can be perfect forms, perfect techniques, perfect drills, perfect exercises, and perfect schools.

Of course, we can’t have perfect forms without strength, mobility, and attention to detail, both on the student’s part and the instructor’s. We have to practice and apply the teaching of our instructors. We have to listen to our bodies and allow them to tell us when we are balanced or not.

Perfect techniques require a lot of the same things, strength, mobility, coordination, etc. We also need to be perfectly attuned to our partners (whether willing or not). Perfect martial art techniques require an understanding of nonverbal communication, balance, kinesiology, physiology, physics, and geometry. We have to be sensitive not only to our own balance but our partner’s and how the two systems are interrelated.

We also need the perfect instruction for the individual student. Since people learn differently and have different personalities, the perfect instructor will have to take a different approach with each student. The perfect instructor will understand that each student changes from day-to-day and vary their approach to match.

The perfect student will not only practice at home but will be focused and work hard during class. They will take notes and review them in their daily practice. They will explore their martial art and make it their own. When we seek perfection, we shouldn’t be discouraged by failure or setbacks. They are simply signposts telling us where we are and how to correct our course.

Am I the perfect martial artist? Student? Instructor? Hardly. The study of Kuk Sool is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the easiest. I listen, watch, study, and practice. Perfection, when I was a White Belt, looked different from as a Black Belt. Not only do the standards change, but the environment changes, the people around me change, my body changes. To paraphrase Richard Bach, Perfection is not stagnation.

Perfection, whether in our personal life, professional, or anything else, is in the process. If perfection is your goal, you can’t see it as an ending, but as a way of life. It occurs in the doing of a thing, not the completion of it. Perfection is constant movement, constant questioning and reevaluation. Perfection is not limitation, but freedom.

Please don’t tell me that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I know better.





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