As Anderson Silva prepares to defend his belt again, I've decided to reflect on two different mindsets when it comes to martial arts. The first is being the best. The second is doing your best. As competitive as I can get, I have come to the conclusion that the latter is more important, and not just because it is more achievable.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best martial artist, whether it be in the Olympics, the UFC, or some other venue. You get fame and fortune, everyone wants to train and hang out with you, you get some awesome titles, trophies, and medals, and your name is etched in the record books. The downside is that, sooner or later, someone will come along who is going to beat you. Once that happens, die-hard fans will still look up to you, but everyone else will consider you a has-been and move on to idolizing your successor. In other words, "being the best" is not sustainable, so you shouldn't base your entire self-worth on it. Should you always strive for first place? Yes. Just don't fall into the trap of believing that it's the only thing that can give meaning to your life. Needless to say, not everyone can be a champion. For example, most MMA fighters never make it into the UFC, much less win a belt.
On the other hand, doing your best has a lot more perks. With this mindset, you're more likely to cultivate your character and spirit, things which are much more important than gold medals and belts. You're also less likely to let the fame and fortune go to your head. Not to mention that you probably won't want to cheat yourself, so you'll be more likely to avoid drugs, binge-drinking, and other bad habits. Not to mention that, if you are always striving to improve, you may become the best as a by-product of your dedication and work ethic. While you can't stay the best forever, your reign will last a lot longer if you want to push yourself to the max rather than just be better than the No. 2 guy. With that attitude, you'll be less likely to suffer from "championitis", which is what happens when the guy at the top of the mountain gets complacent and stops working as hard as they used to. Even if you don't become a champion, you will know in your heart that you did the best you could. You'll still be able to pursue the martial arts for self-defense, personal growth, and fun, rather than being bitter over not achieving something that was never guaranteed to begin with.
So as you pick your martial art of choice, focus on doing your best, not just becoming a champion. Best case scenario, you become a champion anyway. Worst case scenario, you develop your spirit and character, make a lot of friends, and simply have fun.