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He was no Rain Man, and I felt silly for half expecting him to be. He watched and absorbed. Then he begged his mom to let him give it a shot. Just once! Soon thereafter, dressed in OshKosh overalls, he was king of the hustlers. Cadet, and U. Junior Closed chess championships before the age of But how did he really become so good?
Partially by breaking the rules. The board was empty, except for three pieces in an endgame scenario: king and pawn against king. Memorizing openings was forbidden at the start. Learning chess in reverse? Yes, and this is just one of the many accelerated learning techniques Josh has refined and perfected over the last 20 years.
He tackled Tai Chi Chuan after leaving the chess world behind. What I am best at is the art of learning. Audio is embedded first, followed by text for the same chapter. Pain all through me. Deep breath. Let it go. My teammates are kneeling above me, looking worried. They rub my arms, my shoulders, my legs. The bell rings. I watch my opponent run to the center of the ring.
He screams, pounds his chest. The fans explode. They call him Buffalo. Bigger than me, stronger, quick as a cat. But I can take him — if I make it to the middle of the ring without falling over. I have to dig deep, bring it up from somewhere right now. Our wrists touch, the bell rings, and he hits me like a Mack truck.
Who could have guessed it would come to this? Just a few years earlier I had been competing around the world in elite chess tournaments. Since I was eight years old, I had consistently been the highest rated player for my age in the United States, and my life was dominated by competitions and training regimens designed to bring me into peak form for the next national or world championship.
But there were problems. Instead of focusing on chess positions, I was pulled into the image of myself as a celebrity. Since childhood I had treasured the sublime study of chess, the swim through ever-deepening layers of complexity. I could spend hours at a chessboard and stand up from the experience on fire with insight about chess, basketball, the ocean, psychology, love, art. The game was exhilarating and also spiritually calming. It centered me.
Chess was my friend. Then, suddenly, the game became alien and disquieting. I recall one tournament in Las Vegas: I was a young International Master in a field of a thousand competitors including twenty-six strong Grandmasters from around the world. As an up-and-coming player, I had huge respect for the great sages around me. I had studied their masterpieces for hundreds of hours and was awed by the artistry of these men. Before first-round play began I was seated at my board, deep in thought about my opening preparation, when the public address system announced that the subject of Searching for Bobby Fischer was at the event.
A tournament director placed a poster of the movie next to my table, and immediately a sea of fans surged around the ropes separating the top boards from the audience. As the games progressed, when I rose to clear my mind young girls gave me their phone numbers and asked me to autograph their stomachs or legs. My game began to unravel. I caught myself thinking about how I looked thinking instead of losing myself in thought. The Grandmasters, my elders, were ignored and scowled at me. Some of them treated me like a pariah.
I had won eight national championships and had more fans, public support and recognition than I could dream of, but none of this was helping my search for excellence, let alone for happiness. At a young age I came to know that there is something profoundly hollow about the nature of fame.
I had spent my life devoted to artistic growth and was used to the sweaty-palmed sense of contentment one gets after many hours of intense reflection.
This peaceful feeling had nothing to do with external adulation, and I yearned for a return to that innocent, fertile time. I missed just being a student of the game, but there was no escaping the spotlight. I found myself dreading chess, miserable before leaving for tournaments. I played without inspiration and was invited to appear on television shows.
I smiled. Then when I was eighteen years old I stumbled upon a little book called the Tao Te Ching, and my life took a turn. On October 5, , I walked into William C. I was used to driven chess players cultivating tunnel vision in order to win the big game, but now the focus was on bodily awareness, as if there were some inner bliss that resulted from mindfully moving slowly in strange ways.
I began taking classes and after a few weeks I found myself practicing the meditative movements for hours at home. Given the complicated nature of my chess life, it was beautifully liberating to be learning in an environment in which I was simply one of the beginners — and something felt right about this art.
I was amazed by the way my body pulsed with life when flowing through the ancient steps, as if I were tapping into a primal alignment. My teacher, the world-renowned Grandmaster William C.
Chen, spent months with me in beginner classes, patiently correcting my movements. In a room with fifteen new students, Chen would look into my eyes from twenty feet away, quietly assume my posture, and relax his elbow a half inch one way or another.
I would follow his subtle instruction and suddenly my hand would come alive with throbbing energy as if he had plugged me into a soothing electrical current. Here was a man thought by many to be the greatest living Tai Chi Master in the world, and he patiently taught first-day novices with the same loving attention he gave his senior students.
I learned quickly, and became fascinated with the growth that I was experiencing. Since I was twelve years old I had kept journals of my chess study, making psychological observations along the way — now I was doing the same with Tai Chi.
After about six months of refining my form the choreographed movements that are the heart of Tai Chi Chuan , Master Chen invited me to join the Push Hands class.
This was very exciting, my baby steps toward the martial side of the art. In my first session, my teacher and I stood facing each other, each of us with our right leg forward and the backs of our right wrists touching. I felt sucked forward, as if by a vacuum. I stumbled and scratched my head. Finally I fell back on old instincts, tried to resist the incoming force, and with barely any contact Chen sent me flying into the air.
Over time, Master Chen taught me the body mechanics of nonresistance. As my training became more vigorous, I learned to dissolve away from attacks while staying rooted to the ground. I found myself calculating less and feeling more, and as I internalized the physical techniques all the little movements of the Tai Chi meditative form started to come alive to me in Push Hands practice.
I had no idea what to make of this, but slowly I began to realize the martial power of my living room meditation sessions. After thousands of slow-motion, ever-refined repetitions of certain movements, my body could become that shape instinctively. Somehow in Tai Chi the mind needed little physical action to have great physical effect. This type of learning experience was familiar to me from chess. My whole life I had studied techniques, principles, and theory until they were integrated into the unconscious.
Students should gain a keen introspective awareness of their natural strengths and weaknesses, and build a game, a career, a way of life around that awareness. The Art of Learning articulates my belief that learners and performers thrive when their growth process is uniquely tailored to their own unique nuance of character. After the book was published I was approached by numerous educational groups who wanted to put the philosophy of The Art of Learning at the center of their organization. It is my ambition to support all children, teens, and young adults on their unique paths to excellence. The Art of Learning Project has been created by The JW Foundation to provide further resources for educators, parents, coaches and students, as well as to provide a place for these groups to share their stories, insights, and support.
The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence
It gives a look into the practicing mind of a master, instead of pure prescription. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities. Then we learn to use whatever comes to our advantage. Finally, we learn to be completely self-sufficient and create our own earthquakes, so our mental process feeds itself explosive inspirations without the need for outside stimulus.
The Art of Learning: The Tool of Choice for Top Athletes, Traders, and Creatives
The Art Of Learning - Josh Waitzkin