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The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance Paperback – May 27 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (May 27 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743277465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743277464
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Ponnambalam on Feb. 1 2010
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 16 2013
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 30 2014
Format: Paperback
The title is misleading. The book doesn't contain much actual analysis of learning techniques. Maybe author wants to explain the learning techniques through his life experience; however, I find that too much text is describing author's life and too few text are actually focus on breaking down the learning process and explain how they works. if Josh Waitzkin is your childhood idol maybe you may like this book, I guess that is why Tim ferriss recommends this book. It is the 1st reason I bought this book. All this book's learning content can be summarized in one chapter. The rest is Josh's training and tournments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Aug. 3 2014
Format: Paperback
It is important to keep in mind that the material in this book indicates what Josh Waitzkin learned about learning during what he characterizes as his "inner journey to optimal performance" at the highest levels of competition in chess. The material centers on the process to his optimal performance. Had he competed in professional baseball, he would never have played for an MLB team. So, as other reviews have duly noted, this book's title is somewhat misleading.

However, although Waitzkin never became a world champion or even a grandmaster in chess, he was a better player than most of those with whom he competed. Indeed, he was a National Chess Champion at age nine and won other national titles again another seven times. He also became a master of Tai Chi Chuan and earned 21 National Championships and several World Championships. Finally, he was the subject a book and film based on it, Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In recent years, I have been grateful to Anders Ericsson and his research associates at Florida State University for all that I have learned from them about optimal performance. The key revelations correlate with what Maitzkin shares. For example, the importance of focus and commitment: "My growth became defined by [begin italics] barrierlessness [end italics]. Pure concentration didn't allow thought or false construction to impede my awareness, and I observed clear connections between different life experiences through the common mode of consciousness by which they were perceived."

Also, overcoming exhaustion during practice or competition as he did in finals against "the Buffalo" in Taiwan. Although "spent" and down 2-0 with only seconds remaining, he somehow battled back to tie.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jared Fournier on Sept. 26 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book had me hooked through almost 3/4 of it. I couldn't put it down, I was reading it in coffee shops and restaurants alike and talking it up to all my friends. But then nearing the end I found it to be more of Josh talking himself and his experiences up rather than concentrating on the purpose and title of the book. Do not get me wrong if I had this mans talent everyone I would run into would get my entire life story and challenges. The problem is though that having to read someone talk about themselves gets repetitive fast. Good book, bad ending, interesting author.
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