Friday, July 26, 2013

Josh Waitzkin on the art of learning

Josh Waitzkin, who is a BJJ practitioner, chess champion, and whose early life was the basis of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer; is fascinated with the art of learning. He wrote a book entitled The Art of Learning where he discusses principles related to mastery and the art of excellence.

One of the concepts he touches on is the idea of keeping a "beginner's mind". This mind is having a child's mentality towards learning where one is excited to learn everything and there's a vast open field of new possibilities. The idea of beginner's mind is linked back to Zen Buddhism. Zen instructor Shunryu Suzuki notes: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." In mixed martial arts, former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez also intimately tries to follow this concept. "You have to stay open; open-minded and open to new things and to keep learning. Like a child at play, a beginner's mind", comments Alvarez, who is considered one of the top lightweights in the world. "I try and keep a beginner's mind because that will always keep me open and learning new things and always staying humble to be able to just continue to improve."

With this child-like mind there's no fear of looking bad in front of peers and other social fears. There's just a pure passion for unadulterated learning.

Josh Waitzkin also discusses how teachers should allow students to work with their strengths and not necessarily mold them into their image. He holds the viewpoint that it's crucial for an artist to be able to express themselves; and that falls in line with Bruce Lee's philosophy of martial arts, which is expressing oneself honestly.

Waitzkin also discusses how some of his most seemingly negative experiences of losing and injuries, actually where explosive catalysts in him achieving greater levels of knowledge. Waitzkin's views are actually similar to those of MMA trainer Greg Jackson, who himself is obsessed with the process of learning. Jackson, who is a ardent student of the Miyamoto Mushashi, follows the legendary samurai's idea of mastery, which states, "Once you understand the way broadly, you see it in all things". So for Jackson, he sees the same principles of learning being utilized in all arts across the board, and thus if you can be an expert in one discipline, you can take that same approach and become an expert in another. Once you understand how to become a master in one craft, those principles translate to other arts. Greg Jackson is working towards honing his knowledge in this top further to the point where in a decade or so he will write a piece of work that will illuminate others on the process of learning.

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