There's a quote that has been attributed to different people, but I believe it was first said by a Roman philosopher:
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."
When we study and practice martial arts, we work hard to be perfect. We want to have the perfect stance, throw the perfect punch, move with perfect body mechanics.
Sometimes we get so hung up on trying to be perfect that we forget to have fun, and we forget that being good just might be good enough.
I'm frequently stunned when I look at videos of some great Chen tai chi masters such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and others. And when I see them in person, the difference in quality is surprising.
I've been told that some Tai Chi students who travel to the Chen Village in China come back to the U.S. and give up Tai Chi, because they realize they'll never be as good as the people they see there.
I like to compare my practice of the internal arts with playing other sports such as basketball. I can get together with a bunch of athletic guys and do pretty well in a basketball game. But put me up against Michael Jordan and I'm going to be humiliated. Heck, put me up against a good player from the UCLA or Kentucky, or even the local high school basketball team, and I'll be humiliated.
When Chen Xiaoxing visited my home in May, and we did push hands in my basement, every time I tried something on him I would end up flat on my back. It was astounding. Pushing hands with someone like that is a great experience, and a humbling one. It made me want to study harder.
A lot of people expect perfection. A lot of folks in Tai Chi, if they see a photo or video of another Tai Chi student or teacher, will criticize the person's form or skill. I've really never seen anything like it in any other martial art I've studied -- the unrelenting criticism of Tai Chi folks. It's quite shocking. And there's also a trend for Tai Chi people to moan about how they'll never be any good, and sometimes they'll even tell you that you'll never be any good.
You can't let these people bring you down. They practice a very self-defeating form of Tai Chi. If I had started studying Chen Tai Chi when I was 6, and worked several hours a day all my life under the instruction of the world's best, I would be as good at Tai Chi as Michael Jordan is at basketball.
But I didn't, and I'm not. So who cares?
I sure do enjoy it, though, and every year I peel back another layer of the onion, and every time I think I've gone a little deeper into the art -- just a baby step -- I see the art get deeper beneath me. It's a lifelong endeavor, and that's part of the fun.
I've had many people who have studied Tai Chi for decades come into my school, and they quickly see that they've studied very low quality Tai Chi. Their eyes are opened, and they get excited because it's so new and so deep.
It's all relative. If you have skill that another person doesn't have, pass it on while you continue to study and improve your skills. Don't be side-tracked by people who make you believe you have to be perfect, because that may never happen.
And please don't waste any mental energy criticizing someone else's skill. Worry about your own skill. Study and practice hard. Nobody's perfect, including you and me.
Being perfect is a worthy goal, but in the meantime, let's be as good as we can be, given our hectic American lives, and have more fun with these great arts.