Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Staying on the Path. "Mastery" by George Leonard

Mastery is a funny thing.. we usually use the word when we consider someone to do something effortlessly --like playing the Piano, speaking a foreign language--especially when someone is able to be creative and playful with a particular skill. We think, 'he's so comfortable, he's such a master in the kitchen, he was able to come up with his own recipe for this delicious Tomato Sauce!' And of course, we'd all love to get to that stage, in our jobs, in our hobbies, and in our relationships.

George Leonard started off in the US Army, becoming a 'master' of flying bombers/jets and became a teacher in that field. After the Second World War, he stumbled upon Aikido, and soon fell in love with the martial arts. He has long since achieved several levels of black belt and started his own Aikido academy. The path of Mastery he describes is based on his own endless journey towards 'Mastery' of Aikido. Towards, not to.

Is this book about Martial Arts, or landing Fighter Jets? Of course not. This book is for anyone that ever picked up a tennis racquet, tried to learn a new business, learn a language, monetize their hobby, or get serious about their fitness. Pretty much anything you do, can be taken to the level of 'zen-like' practice. This word practice is very important. We're not talking about 'practicing free throws' or 'practicing Calligraphy', but practice as in, 'he's been practicing Medicine for 20 years in that same small town.' The word, not surprisingly, conjures images of wise old masters from the Shinto age, in deep states meditation.

And why would you want to treat your Golf swing like an Ancient Monk would?

Because that's the only way you'll enjoy it. And that's when you'll really get good at it.

Leonard describes how most people pick up a new hobby or sport (eg. Rollerblading, Cross Country Running, etc) and how people find various ways to get frustrated/bored in the very early stages, and give up. Mastery should then be redefined not as 'being perfect at something', but 'staying on the path' not just for a while, not just for a few years, but for the rest of your life. Leonard himself can be considered an Aikido master, but he doesn't think so. He still sees ways to improve, ways to be more focused, ways to be more in the moment.

He mentions the tireless dedication of NBA legend Larry Bird in his own 'practicing.' Often showing up to the gym 2 hours before anyone else, not just practicing shooting, but pushing the limits of what would be possible, even practicing lobbing shots in from the 5th row. Countless excercises--dribbling, shooting, passing--thousands and thousands of shots that no NBA fan would ever see. What could possibly push an athlete to do this? Fame? Respect? Money? Not likely, fame and respect were already achieved in college. Money as a motivator probably would have put Larry Bird in Law School, not the basketball court. At any rate, he had that a couple years into his career, and still outworked everyone on the court late in his career.

The truth is simple: Larry Bird (and Jordan, and Magic Johnson, and Kareem) wasn't motivated by external things. He really loved to practice. His excellence on the court was just a consequence of his pure joy during practice time.

Our obsession with results is the number one thing ruining our pursuits, and standing in the way of Larry Bird-esque results. So where does it come from? Turn on a television and you'll get a hint: as Leonard describes, our modern consumerist culture, as portrayed on TV, is a series of... ahem... 30 second climaxes (whereby a product solves all your problems in a moment of pure ecstacy), interrupted by 30 minute stories, easily solved by happenstance or dumb luck. Life is so easy. The message: 'If you can't figure something out in 30 minutes, it's probably impossible. And not worth it anyway.'

If you hate to learn, try new things, make mistakes, you will drop out as soon as you possibly can, or keep going for a long time with mediocre results. Consider this book the guide to cultivating a love and joy of practice, and that is the true key to excellence.


zero said...
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zero said...

How could I do if I want to be a master of cooking, gardenning, housework, photograhy, language, etc. I mean too much I want to master..haha..Life is too short~~

Mike, I always think you can be a great businessman or more than that~~Because you know what you want and purchase it very steadily~~Never give up~~Maybe sometimes it is really tough, don't feel discouraged~~All the friends will support you, including me, if you don't think I have too little tiny power to help you~~Haha~~加油↖(^ω^)↗~~

Btw, you mentioned my idol Jordan~~It makes me can't wait to play basketball
!!!~~Due to the weather and work, I haven't played for a long time~~手痒痒的,想打球~~haha~~~It makes me really excited!!~~Do you want to play with me? hahahahaha~~~(probablely you will look down upon me and 盖我的帽...)

Shanghai, China said...

Thanks for your comments. It's very sweet.

That's cool. For the cooking question, the focus is that you start small, and don't be obsessed with making fast progress. If you join a cooking school, you must suppress your ego, especially if your teacher criticises you ;)

Also as you get better, you can take a job at a restaurant, and start to make money off your talent. :D As you get better, you can work at more prestigious restaurant. The reason you might want to work on this is because it's one way to spend a lot of time working on your art. ;)

Over time you can actually sell cookbook with your favorite recipes, or do a cooking show on TV, or open a Cooking School. They say the greatest joy in learning how to do something is to teach others.

As you can see, this is not a 3 month or even a 3 year path, but a lifelong path. And that's a good thing, because it's supposed to be a joy. If I told you that you could have FUN as a chef for the next 40-50 years, instead of "WORKING" as a chef, it sounds a lot more attractive.

As for Michael Jordan, he recently realized his dream of buying his hometown Charlotte's basketball team, the Hornets. Even though he stepped off the basketball court years ago (many believe as the greatest who ever lived), now he has a whole new challenge of running not just the Triangle Offense, but the entire organization. ;) The journey never ends.

zero said...

Thanks a lot, Mike~~You are always creative and gives good advices and useful information~~