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The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance [Paperback]

Josh Waitzkin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 27 2008
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."

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.

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.

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From Publishers Weekly

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. (May 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Waitzkin, a champion in chess and martial arts, brings enthusiasm and obvious love of learning to this amazing look at what he aptly describes as the art of learning. He begins by recounting his own quirky journey. At the age of six, Waitzkin learned chess from a motley crew of street hustlers, gamblers, junkies, and artists. Since then, he has been among the highest-ranked chess players. He recounts the distractions of adolescence as well as fame after the publication of his father's book and, later, the film based on it, Searching for Bobby Fischer. He later discovered that chess principles could be applied to learning tai chi. In fact, he found a respect for artistry, meditation, and philosophical devotion within both chess and martial arts and realized the possibility for broader application to learning in general. Waitzkin integrates his personal experiences in mastering chess and tai chi with research on psychology and learning techniques to offer a vibrant and engaging look at the love of learning and the pursuit of excellence. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick read, thoroughly engaging. Feb. 1 2010
First of all, I am not a viral marketer, which is what I assume all 5 star reviews are.

If you are one of those people who reads biographies of exceptional individuals trying to extract wisdom to apply to your own life and circumstances then I highly recommend this book to you. It is loaded with concepts that you can take and start personalizing to meet your own ends. If you are a seasoned self-help/lifestyle veteran like myself then I would still recommend this book for the nuggets.

If you want concrete, step by step paths that require small amounts of introspection, then look elsewhere. If you want an amusing story with boatloads of applicability via intense, and most importantly, honest introspection then pick this up immediately.

It is in my top 5 of all of my self-help/lifestyle purchases, perhaps top 3.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Review courtesy of

“My whole life I had studied techniques, principles, and theory until they were integrated into the unconscious.” – Josh Waitzkin

Joshua Waitzkin was national chess champion in the U.S. 8 times, inspiring the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and more recently has earned two world champion titles in Pushing Hands, the martial arts version of Tai Chi. It’s fair to say that he knows something about learning.

Quite a bit of The Art of Learning is devoted to Waitzkin’s career in both chess and pushing hands, and unfortunately though enjoyable it is perhaps a bit short on wisdom. Interspersed with that, however, are discussions of how he sees the learning process and the principles he believes underlie expertise in any discipline.

Waitzkin introduces a few vague lists of principles, but in essence argues the key to excellence is the gradual mastery of fundamental principles, over time interlinked into complexity and integrated into our subconscious. The key to such learning is to take the small things you learn and ‘chunk’ them into larger ideas in your memory, ensuring efficient storage and retrieval. As a result, an expert martial artist and a beginner actually perceive different things. A complicated strike may be made up of six parts, but an expert perceives it as one moderately fast attack. The beginner, on the other hand, sees six different moves, all blindingly fast. Mastery of the fundamentals can actually change not just how you perform an event but also how you perceive an event.

Once you’ve achieved this chunking of basic concepts into complicated ones, he argues, you start achieving the deeper mastery critical for progress, and the correct decision can even seem intuitive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! May 23 2014
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I bought this book on a suggestion from a friend, and it was a good choice! I enjoyed the way this book was written, with autobiography and lessons all in one. Worth the read for sure, and I find myself referring back to it (mentally) all the time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book May 17 2014
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Josh Waitzkin's book is full of insights and very hard to put down. I would recommend it for anyone trying to understand effective learning patterns.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read May 16 2014
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Josh's story is wonderful to read, and his insights are applicable to almost any discipline. I give it five stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book May 5 2014
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This is a good book on the art of high performance. No hack or shortcut, Josh's book is about how to make superior performance possible - when spending the effort to get in the top performers.
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