In his riveting new book, The Art of Learning, Waitzkin tells his remarkable story of personal achievement and shares the principles of learning and performance that have propelled him to the top—twice.
Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. A public figure since winning his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, Waitzkin was catapulted into a media whirlwind as a teenager when his father’s book Searching for Bobby Fischer was made into a major motion picture. After dominating the scholastic chess world for ten years, Waitzkin expanded his horizons, taking on the martial art Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately earning the title of World Champion. How was he able to reach the pinnacle of two disciplines that on the surface seem so different? “I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess,” he says. “What I am best at is the art of learning.”
With a narrative that combines heart-stopping martial arts wars and tense chess face-offs with life lessons that speak to all of us, The Art of Learning takes readers through Waitzkin’s unique journey to excellence. He explains in clear detail how a well-thought-out, principled approach to learning is what separates success from failure. Waitzkin believes that achievement, even at the championship level, is a function of a lifestyle that fuels a creative, resilient growth process. Rather than focusing on climactic wins, Waitzkin reveals the inner workings of his everyday method, from systematically triggering intuitive breakthroughs, to honing techniques into states of remarkable potency, to mastering the art of performance psychology.
Through his own example, Waitzkin explains how to embrace defeat and make mistakes work for you. Does your opponent make you angry? Waitzkin describes how to channel emotions into creative fuel. As he explains it, obstacles are not obstacles but challenges to overcome, to spur the growth process by turning weaknesses into strengths. He illustrates the exact routines that he has used in all of his competitions, whether mental or physical, so that you too can achieve your peak performance zone in any competitive or professional circumstance.
In stories ranging from his early years taking on chess hustlers as a seven year old in New York City’s Washington Square Park, to dealing with the pressures of having a film made about his life, to International Chess Championships in India, Hungary, and Brazil, to gripping battles against powerhouse fighters in Taiwan in the Push Hands World Championships, The Art of Learning encapsulates an extraordinary competitor’s life lessons in a page-turning narrative.
Waitzkin's name may sound familiar back in 1993, his father wrote about Josh's early years as a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Now 31, Waitzkin revisits that story from his own perspective and reveals how the fame that followed the movie based on his father's book became one of several obstacles to his further development as a chess master. He turned to tai chi to learn how to relax and feel comfortable in his body, but then his instructor suggested a more competitive form of the discipline called "push hands." Once again, he proved a quick study, and has earned more than a dozen championships in tournament play. Using examples from both his chess and martial arts backgrounds, Waitzkin draws out a series of principles for improving performance in any field. Chapter headings like "Making Smaller Circles" have a kung fu flair, but the themes are elaborated in a practical manner that enhances their universality. Waitzkin's engaging voice and his openness about the limitations he recognized within himself make him a welcome teacher. The concept of incremental progress through diligent practice of the fundamentals isn't new, but Waitzkin certainly gives it a fresh spin.
I have been learning chess through Chessmaster's lessons with Josh Waitzkin and my rating has gone from 800 to 1100 so far in 2 months which I was impressed with as it's a hobby for me. What struck me though was one line that he said in the tutorials about how chess is a lot like life and to look for similarities in life relating to chess tactics. I couldn't see it at the time, until I began to see things (previously invisible things) on the chess board that I started applying to life. Such as steering the fight, attacking instead of hanging back and taking notice of spaces left behind. For example, I took control of someone trying to control me emotionally and mixed it up with unpredictable actions etc. They are now currently in a whirlwind wondering what the heck happened lol. Well, in the end the unique vision that Josh Waitzkin has impressed me with as regards to applications to life, impressed me far more than my improvements in chess. So, I decided to give 'The Art of Learning' a try and now I'm very pleased to have read this excellent book. Again, he had me looking at things I thought I was familiar with, but then seeing something that was there that I could not see prior to reading this book, as related to learning. You don't have to be an athlete trying to climb to the top to read this book, even though Josh Waitzkin has climbed to the top of his game in chess and martial arts. My thought process when it comes to learning has been re-wired, plus this book will show you how to turn defeat to your advantage and to hone and sharpen your skills and enter spaces of thought that your opponent might be totally unaware of. Chess and Josh's experiences in martial arts are fascinating to read about - but really, this book can apply to literally any area of your life, in a way that I can't describe without writing an essay.
They say that people can either see a half full glass of water as either a half full or half empty glass of water, depending on whether they are an optimist or a pessimist, I'd like to think that Josh Waitzkin sees something else . . . instead, many aspects of an everyday thing object and forms new and refreshing perspectives.
In short, this book will teach you how to rise to excellence, train your mind as well as your body, find your own personal style to shape your tactics, leave any ego behind to learn incrementally and leave all false notions of perfection or innate unshakable ability in the dust. To form the right mindset for pushing yourself to the limits and most important of all - to stop thinking mechanically about sport and life, and the book certainly opened my eyes to how things are more connected than they seem in life.
I'm not quite the same person that I was before reading this book, not that anyone would notice of course, but my neural network has just been re-wired when it comes to my perspective on learning.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and for your kindness in encouraging people to embrace incremental learning Josh Waitzkin. You've opened my mind up to viewing many aspects of life in a completely different light. This book had more of an influence on me than I could ever have imagined. A fantastic book!