The Art of Learning

An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
by Josh Waitzkin | Free Press © 2008 · 288 pages

Josh Waitzkin is an extraordinary human. Ever heard of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer? That’s the story of Josh life. Literally. After a childhood and young adulthood spent dominating chess, Josh then went on to master Tai Chi and became a World Champion. But what he REALLY became was a master of learning and peak performance. Big Ideas we explore include the two approaches to leaning, the downward spiral (what it is and how to avoid it), honoring your unique disposition, investing in loss, knowing your goal (decent, good, great, among best!), the power of stress and recovery and the ultimate secret of mastery.

One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there is a clear distinction between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great and what it takes to be among the best.
Josh Waitzkin

“My chess life began in Washington Square Park in New York’s Greenwich Village, and took me on a sixteen-year-roller-coaster ride, through world-championships in America, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Brazil and India, through every kind of heartache and ecstasy a competitor can imagine. In recent years, my Tai Chi life has become a dance of meditation and intense martial competition, of pure growth and the observation, testing, and exploration of that learning process. I have currently won thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands National Championship titles, placed third in the 2002 World Championship in Taiwan, and in 2004 I won the Chung Hwa Cup International in Taiwan, the World Championship of Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands.

A lifetime of competition has not cooled my ardor to win, but I have grown to love the study and training above all else. After so many years of big games, performing under pressure has become a way of life. Presence under fire hardly feels different from the presence I feel sitting at my computer, typing these sentences. What I have realized is that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess—what I am best at is the art of learning. This book is the story of my method.”

~ Josh Waitzkin from The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin is an extraordinary human being.

Have you ever heard of the book and movie called Searching for Bobby Fischer about a young chess prodigy? That’s the story of his life. Literally.

After a childhood and young adulthood spent dominating chess, Josh then went on to master Tai Chi and became a World Champion in the martial expression of that art known as Push Hands.

In this book, he tells his personal story and shares his perspective on how we, too, can master the art of learning. It’s a riveting read that starts off with him discovering chess for the very first time as a 6-year-old in New York City and ends with him winning a Tai Chi World Championship at 29.

In between, we get to tap into his remarkably lucid insights into the art of not just learning but of true mastery and the psychology of peak performance.

If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I think this book falls into the must-read category. (Get a copy here.)

As you’d expect, it’s packed with Big Ideas. I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author


Josh Waitzkin

Chess master, martial arts competitor and author.