Author: Joshua Waitzkin
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Free Press (May 20, 2008)
American International Master Joshua Waitzkin is well known for being the star behind Searching for Bobby Fischer as well as his role in the hugely successful program Chessmaster. I remember when I was still a pre-teen listening to Waitzkin’s lectures in the old Chessmaster 8000 program (later, version 9000 and the 10th Edition) and feeling awed by Waitzkin’s amazingly lucid ability to concisely explain the nuances of a competitive chess game, especially the psychological side of things.
After listening to Waitzkin’s Chessmaster lectures, I tried to search up what happened to Waitzkin. I searched my database and was surprised to find no games from him after the year 1999. I looked up his Wikipedia page and was disappointed to learn that he had retired from competitive chess. I glanced over something about him achieving some decent results in martial arts before closing the page. I had no conception of the scale of these “decent results” until I read Waitzkin’s book.
Normally I only recommend this book to people if they have either knowledge of competitive chess or of martial arts. However, given you are on this website, I already now that you play chess.
In purchasing this book, my expectations were high, especially given the average rating of 4.5/5 stars on Amazon.com from 50+ reviews. Surely Waitzkin’s brilliant ability to speak in Chessmaster would also translate over to his writing skills. I was not to be disappointed! He uses illustrious flashback scenes to bring you to some of the pivotal moments of his competitive careers, such as a US Junior Chess Championship final and the final round of the World Tai Chi Championship. The latter was a very intimidating competition to take part in. The tournament was held in Taiwan, where many of Waitzkin’s opponents were trained solely in martial arts from early childhood. Attempting to overcome such opponents was no simple feat.
Waitzkin’s first art was chess. He was recognised as a prodigy (a term which he personally dislikes) and his achievements in chess were phenomenal, including beating World Champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous display at the age of 11, and winning the US Junior Chess Championship in 1993 and 1994. For various reasons which he discusses in the book, he shifted his focus to martial arts, in particular, the Chinese defensive and meditative martial art Tai Chi Chuan. Waitzkin comes to realise many similarities about the learning process in what appeared to be two completely distinct disciplines. This book is an outline of Waitzkin’s generalisation of the learning process, which can be applied to innumerable disciplines in life.
What will be of long-term use for the reader is Waitzkin’s detailed descriptions of the process of learning and adopting the right attitudes for optimum growth. Drawing upon many of his own experiences, he painstakingly goes through important concepts such as entity and learning theories (which I have talked about in a previous blog post), dealing with intimidation, the downward spiral, the power of presence and conditioning oneself into the zone. I have mentioned aspects of Waitzkin’s rich philosophies in many of my recent articles. (I finished reading the book about 7 months ago and have since read it a second time.)
This is one of those books that will take countless readings to fully digest – the material is just to deep to understand straight away. It is also a positive, uplifting book – one that encourages you to shoot for the stars and emphasises that nothing can truly stop you if you adopt the correct attitude towards learning. Highly recommended!