The Art of Learning


people.josh-waitzkin (Private) reflects on how he became a world master in both chess and martial arts and how underlying both pursuits was a single art of learning that is unversal in all pursuits.


One of the most impactful books I've read in the past decade. Recommend to anyone looking to excel at their field.


  • performance = ability to focus and ability to relax (interval training helps)
  • Making Smaller Circles - master the fundamentals and keep refining them
  • Presence as Parallel Lines
  • good is a feeling - once you know it in one field, you can chase for it in other pursuits

Key Points

  • on growth
    • Hermit Crab - growth = being vulnerable
    • invest in loss
    • have a rival
  • on resillience
    • find the soft zone
    • build Sandals (vs forcing the world into compliance)
    • Presence as Parallel Lines - one line is the presence and the awareness of the presence, when the two go out of sync, trouble happens
  • the learning process
    • start with fundamentals
    • Making Smaller Circles - once you have mastered the basics, make it smaller but keep the same feeling
    • expand from basics, build triggers to keep you present, create sandals to overcome adversity
    • learn to alternate between focus and relaxation (do interval practice)
    • known what good feels like and hone into that feeling - use it as a guide for learning anything



  • duality of things: external and internal have same principles
  • study of numbers to leave numbers, forms to leave forms

1 - foundation

1 - innocenet moves

  • learning chess, coach that could dicipline without breaking the child (josh)
  • learning without any inner conflict (eg. fame )

2 - losing to win

  • loss is biggest teacher

3 - two approaches to learning

4 - loving the game

  • your opponent is your greatest teacher, the one that knows you the best and challenges you the most

5 - the soft zone

  • performance training:
    • flow with what comes
    • use what comes to your advantage
    • create your own earthquakes
  • soft zone is like blade of grass, can survive in hurrican like winds

6 - the downward spirla

  • the first mistake is not the one that sinks you, its what follows
    • Suddenly she stepped right into the oncoming traffic. I guess she was confused by the chaotic one-way street, because I remember her looking the wrong way down Broadway. Immediately, as she stepped forward, looking right, a bicycle bore down on her from the left. The biker lurched away at the last second and gave her a solid but harmless bump. In my memory, time stops right here. This was the critical moment in the woman’s life. She could have walked away unscathed if she had just stepped back onto the pavement, but instead she turned and cursed the fast-pedaling bicyclist. I can see her now, standing with her back to the traffic on 33rd and Broadway, screaming at the now-distant biker who had just performed a miracle to avoid smashing into her. The image is frozen in my mind. A taxicab was the next to speed around the corner. The woman was struck from behind and sent reeling ten feet into the air. She smashed into a lamppost and was knocked out and bleeding badly. The ambulance and police came and eventually I moved on to P.S. 116, hoping that she would survive. (Location 890) #eg (Private)
    • I have always visualized two lines moving parallel to one another in space. One line is time, the other is our perception of the moment. I showed my students these lines with my hands, moving through the air. When we are present to what is, we are right up front with the expansion of time, but when we make a mistake and get frozen in what was, a layer of detachment builds. Time goes on and we stop. Suddenly we are living, playing chess, crossing the street with our eyes closed in memory. And then comes the taxicab. (Location 904)


    There is time of things that are happening in the moment and our perception of it. When we lose track of the present, because we are absorbed in the past, we are not able to react to what is happening now

7 - changing voice

  • "numbers to leave numbers"
  • improving at self through chess vs improving chess

8 - breaking stallions

  • two ways to break a stallion
    • tie it up and freak it out (break it down completely)
    • horse whisperer, make horse intention your intention
  • find your unique disposition and follow it
    • to not is to leave yoruself without a center

2 - my second art

9 - beginner's mind

  • tai chi - finding obstruction in different parts of body
  • obstacle to calm existence is irregular breathin

10 - investment in loss

  • loss as a teacher

11 - making smaller circles


Distilling large movements into smaller ones


Once you have mastered the basics of a move, can you keep refining it, retaining the feeling of the original move while making it smaller?

In the context of push hands, this is literally making smaller movements while retaining the same feeling of the full move

Making smaller circles is not mastering some advanced technique but rather the refinement of the basics until it becomes like breathing

12 - using adversity

  • an earthquake during a competition sparked a period of intense concentration
  • next step is to invoke an earthquake like concentration without the earthquake
  • whenever you control two of the opponents limbs with one of your own, then you have advantage #star

13 - slowing down time

  • relying on intuition and the unconcious in high level play

14 - the illusion of the mystical

  • the superpower is perceiving more detail, which slows down time and allows you to perceive more frames than your opponen

3 - bringing it all together

15 - the power of presence

  • even when positions were even, the first to cave to pressure in a chess match would lose
  • the solution is to embrace the pressure

16 - searching for the zone

  • interval training as the foundation to be good under pressure #star
    • eg. bike at 170 bpm, relax down to 144 bpm, and cycle every minute
  • there is release knowing that full relxation is just a breath away from total concentration

17 - building your trigger

  • waiting is life, we have to learn to wait
  • build a trigger in the form of a routine that you do before you enter a state of presence
    • eg. if you're present playing ball with kid, make sure to meditate before that and use meditation as trigger for being present

18 - making sandals

  • use dirty players as teachers who expose weaknesses in your mind
  • accept reality and emotions, use it
  • highest level performers need to be true to themselves
  • formula
    • cultivate soft zone, be aware of feelings and ready to either hold or let go of whats arising
    • turn weakness into strength, use emotion to fuel performance
    • find emotional triggers that lead to best performance
    • figure out how to manually trigger those emotions
    • condense those triggers until you can call them at will

19 - bringing it all together

  • make small circles from single technique/idea
    • keep condensing the movements
  • slow down time, make smaller circles on a group of techniques

Once you know what good feels like, you can zero in on it, search it out regardless of the pursuit.

people.josh-waitzkin (Private) - Location 2704)

  1. Concepts