How to learn Karate - aka - The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin


“You start with the fundamentals (basics), get a solid foundation fuelled by understanding the principles of your discipline, then you expand and refine your repertoire, guided by your individual predispositions, while keeping in touch, however abstractly, with what you feel to be the essential core of the Art.”


Ok, so Waitzkin wasn’t speaking directly about Karate in his book "The Art of Learning", but he might as well have been. Waitzkin describes multiple strategies of learning, that can be applied to absolutely anything: martial arts, languages, music, you name it, beginning with the obvious and intuitive and moving on to detail less understood, more esoteric concepts. The later chapters of the book truly delight with insightful magic. Chapters such as “Making smaller circles”, “Slowing down time”, and “The illusion of the mystical” are all worth a deep dive.


Josh Waitzkin won 8 national chess championships, his first world championship at age 11. He became famous as the subject of the movie: Searching for Bobby Fischer. He then went on to win over 21 National Tai Chi Pushing Hands Championships. He claims his excellence lies not in chess nor Tai Chi, but rather in ‘learning’. The strategies he details in this book are simply brilliant.


Here are a few of my notes from the book, but please don’t stop here. Read the book for yourself.

  • At my opponent’s slightest move, I move first.

  • Develop a routine to put you into the zone.

  • The real power of incremental growth comes to bear when we truly are like water, steadily carving stone.

  • An appreciation for simplicity, the everyday - the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life’s hidden richness - is where success, let alone happiness, emerges.

  • In your performance training, the first step in mastering the zone is to practice the ebb and flow of stress and recovery.

  • Peak performance requires recovery time. Train this by running intervals.

  • In all aspects of life, the ability to be clear-headed, present, and cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.

  • Presence must be like breathing. We cannot expect to touch excellence if going through the motions is the norm. If deep fluid presence becomes second nature, then life, art and learning take on a richness. Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential. For these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to that purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments when everything is on the line. -

  • In life, if one person is serenely present, while the other is being ripped apart by internal issues, the outcome is already decided.

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