In 1993, Paramount Pictures released a movie that had zero effect on my life at the time. It was Searching For Bobby Fischer starring Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley. The movie dramatised the early life of child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin as he makes his way into elite level competitive chess. I enjoyed the movie at the time but really thought nothing of it for a very long time.
In fact it was almost twenty years later that I found out that Josh Waitzkin was a real person, not a fictional character, and he had achieved some amazing feats in his life. His success was not limited solely to chess either. Josh is a world champion in the competition martial art form of Tai Chi. No easy feat there. Next he earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu phenomenon Marcelo Garcia. Black belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu take about ten years to meet.
Master level status in three disciplines. Colour me impressed.
And he wrote one of my favourite books, The Art Of Learning.
As you will be beginning to guess, I am a big fan of Josh Waitzkin.
And he is my age. I must admit that I am a little jealous of what he has achieved. Alright then, a lot jealous.
But enough of that. What impresses me and attracts me to his writing is the way Josh approaches learning by essential elements and questioning the classic sequence of learning. To say he is a little counter cultural is an understatement. While other chess students were studying elaborate opening sequences, Waitzkin learned the most basic end game. King versus King and pawn. This will mean much to chess devotees but maybe not so much to others.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a submission grappling martial art designed to neutralise the strength and size of an opponent. Seizing on the notion that most fights end up on the ground at some point, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu players learn to defend or attack from vulnerable positions on the ground. Most often they wrestling from their backs.
In both cases, the player starts the game with the end in mind.
By doing so, the player or learner is able to see the game in smaller and smaller circles. The unnecessary effort fades away and the player is left with only that which is essential to survival, and then succeed.
The essential elements become clear over time. My limited understanding of chess is that even with only a king and pawn, you are able to cut the size of the board to the point that your opponent has nowhere left to run. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the essential element that I am learning now is to first survive. After that, escape is possible and then perhaps winning. But survival is first for both chess and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You don’t get to play after the game ends. Give up your king or get submitted and the game is over.
I was able to use the technique of smaller and smaller circles to great success in powerlifting by reducing each lift to its essential element. In case you’re interested, a squat and deadlift is all about balance. A bench is about stability. Simple.
Possibly because I love strength sports, friends and church family seem to love sending me Bible verses about strength. One such area of the Bible is in the Book of Joshua.
“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
It is a clear roadmap for success. Be strong and courageous. For many years I would read this passage and take note of the words strong, courageous, success, prosperous and the warnings not to leave to the right or left. To me, it was like the start of a chess match or my first day of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Certainly, I knew what I wanted to do. Being strong and courageous seems both noble and awesome.
The clue for me was in the middle section. Meditate.
Meditation is simply saying the same words over and over. Meditation need not be ritualised or formalised, though it can if that’s your cup of tea. Simply, pick a verse and continue to chew on it like a cow chews the cud.
Over and over, round and round. Savour the goodness. Taste subtle variation of flavour that only comes from slow, mindful chewing.
Make the circles smaller and smaller.
In time, the end game takes shape. Communion with an almighty God on an intimate level.
The end game has never been success or prosperity. Strength and courageousness are equipment for the journey. Success and prosperity are merely blessings along the way. Not being dismayed or not turning from the way become lessons along the path. The essential element is a relationship with Jesus.
Begin with the end in mind. After that, this game of life gets a little simpler to navigate.