Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Pursuit of Mastery

“Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee-zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music. ...

"Cook Ding laid down his knife and [said], 'What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond all skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now-now I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

"A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I've had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I've cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there's plenty of room-more than enough for the blade to play about it. That's why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone."

- ZhaungZi

As students of a martial art, it is only natural that to master our art is among our goals. Some years ago in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell hit upon a trend among top performers in virtually any field: they had accumulated over their lifetimes, at least 10,000 hours of challenging practice.
Every since he published that book, students in search of mastery have been busy at work trying to figure out how to accommodate the maximum number of practice hours in the minimum amount of calendar time.

This is human nature I guess. I shudder to think though at the wreckage caused by the single minded focus on one aspect of life at perhaps the expense of many of the others (which are in the long run probably more important).

We have a new entry in the “How to be a Master” literature.

Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power (among others) has published yet another beautifully produced book on the very subject of mastery and how to acquire it. The name of the book is appropriately, Mastery. He includes the "10,000 hour rule," but puts it in context.

Below is a basic outline of his points. This link will take you to a page that expands a little on each of them.

Find your life’s task
                Rather than compete in a crowded field, find a niche where you can dominate
                Rebel against the wrong path and use that anger to motivate
                Love your subject at a very basic level
Find the Ideal Apprenticeship
                Engage in deep observation, practice incessantly and experiment
                Value learning over money so that  you’re not a slave to everyone’s opinion
                Revert to a feeling of inferiority to truly learn
                Engage in intense practice and tend towards resistance and pain
                Rely on trial and error more than anything else
Absorb a Master’s Power
                Choose a mentor who will intensely challenge  you
                Absorb your masters’ knowledge completely and then transform it
                Create a back and forth dynamic with all of your relationships
Master Social Intelligence
                Accept criticism and adapt to power structures and society
                Meticulously craft your persona
                Suffer fools and learn to exploit them
Awaken the Dimensional Mind and be Bold
                Absorb everything and then let your brain make connections for you
                Avoid putting things in familiar categories
                Don’t let impatience derail your plans
                Value mechanical and abstract intelligence equally
                Avoid “technical lock;” or getting wrapped  up in technical artistry instead of the real problem
The Final Step: Fuse the Intuitive and the Rational
                Shape your world around your strengths
                Know that practice is just as important than innate skill


walt said...

This study looks very interesting, and I appreciate the heads-up. Mastery is a subject that is often mentioned, referenced, or alluded to (and sometimes, claimed without earning it) -- but finding specific data about its nature is uncommon.

About his point re: the necessity to integrate the rational and the intuitive. Having been raised in a "rational" manner, for many years I trended toward a bias for intuitive thinking. Now, not so much. I believe that Lin Yutang wrote about this subject as well, and said that, ultimately, the Chinese considered "reasonable" to be the best balance between the two.

Thanks, Rick!

Rick Matz said...

I recommend both Robert Greene and Lin Yu Tang as authors!

Zacky Chan said...

Great to see the holistic explanation to the 10,000 hour idea. Certainly setting oneself out to log in the hours alone is a fool's quest. But what about trying to meticulously go over every single on of these points for the purpose of mastery? If you already have them it sounds great. If you're missing a few and can learn to adopt them, great! But to adopt this system to satisfy the image of master would be very ... unpleasant I imagine. Enjoyed the post!

Rick Matz said...

As I said about the 10,000 hour rule, the book helps to put many things into context.