July 26, 2023

The Art of Learning

"The Art of Learning" by Josh Waitzkin

Josh Waitzkin is an 8x chess national champ and 21x national and world champ in Push Hands.

This is an excellent, enlightening book for high performers. The book can be described as an autobiography1, but it's more about Josh's personal learning system and how it helped him achieve success.

Josh describes his life growing up with chess, the transition to martial arts, and his system for internalizing and building upon foundational concepts in any discipline. The book is separated into three parts:

  1. the foundation (chess)
  2. my second art (tai chi, push hands)
  3. bringing it all together (how the elements in the previous parts were used in training and performing at Tai Chi tournaments)

It sounds silly, but I found his experiences and systematic learning concepts significantly relatable to my own experiences in high-level Overwatch, Rocket League, and competitive video games in general. They helped me put into words concepts that I had already internalized but could not describe: investment in loss, making smaller circles, slowing down time. I learned new concepts that I wish I had known earlier: the soft zone, using adversity.

I've read, and stopped reading, many performance-related books (see "Performing Under Pressure" by Dr. Ceri Evans, Lewis Hamilton's psych man). Many of these books are too rigid (remember all of these new concepts all of the time when you're under pressure!) and spew too much superficial information that makes sense for the author, but maybe not for you personally. "The Art of Learning" might have the same effect on you, where the information is unrelatable and hard to ingest, but it absolutely hit for me. It's the first book of this nature that I could not put down and will be reading again.

  1. Josh's father, Fred, wrote "Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess", a more in-depth look into both of their lives with the specific framing of their early chess days. It's also a movie with a cool cast.