Self Help

Mastery - The Keys To Success And Long-Term Fulfillment - George Leonard

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Matheus Puppe

· 19 min read

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  • The book provides insights into aikido’s philosophy and how it can be applied to everyday life activities. It shows how martial arts principles can be presented to a wider audience beyond martial arts practitioners.

  • It opens the door to understanding our hidden potentials and how we can become more balanced, powerful, energetic, alert and present - not just in martial arts but in all aspects of life.

  • The book offers a lively and intimate account of how a martial art can become a path of life and a means to cultivate compassion in action.

  • It unites the mystical and practical, helping the reader see new possibilities and capture the imagination.

  • The book is considered a classic that will stand the test of time alongside other great works exploring the relationship between martial arts and life.

  • Readers do not need to be martial artists to appreciate the insights and lessons in the book, as it discusses mastery and applying discipline in a wider context beyond any single skill or domain.

In summary, the reviews praise the book for its philosophical insights into aikido and how its lessons can be applied beyond martial arts to improve oneself and one’s approach to life more generally. It is seen as offering a unified yet practical perspective on cultivating mastery, discipline and hidden potentials.

  • The passage discusses the journey to mastery, using learning tennis as an example. It describes the incremental steps and stages one must go through to master a new skill.

  • Early on, it focuses on proper form and technique like grip, stance, footwork, swing mechanics. Progress is slow and difficult, with lots of thinking and feeling disjointed.

  • After about 5 weeks, things start to click together a bit but new challenges emerge like movement and keeping form while moving. Skills regress temporarily.

  • Plateaus are reached where no further progress seems to be made for weeks, which can be frustrating. Competitive playing is not recommended for at least 6 months to a year.

  • True mastery, where skills are automatic and effective, is estimated to take an average of 5 years of consistent practice for an adult learner. New skills add new layers of thinking and temporary relapse.

  • Mastery requires patience, dedication and a long-term perspective, not quick results. It’s a journey with setbacks that pushes one’s motivation and limits impatience for instant gratification.

In summary, the passage outlines the slow, incremental nature of skill mastery and highlights the challenges of plateaus, regression periods, and the long-term commitment required for true mastery.

The passage describes different approaches people take towards choosing activities or pursuits without fully committing to the process of mastery. It introduces three archetypes - the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker.

The Dabbler enthusiastically takes on new hobbies, careers or relationships but loses interest quickly once they hit a learning plateau and progress slows down. They love the initial excitement but lack patience for the gradual improvement required for mastery. The Obsessive focuses intensely on a single pursuit but becomes anxious and fixated on constant upward progression, unable to appreciate periods of consolidation. The Hacker adopts a critical and detached perspective, viewing everything as a problem to solve but failing to commit fully to any journey.

All three approaches avoid the arduous but rewarding path of diligent and sustained practice over time that is required for true mastery. The passage suggests we should embrace both periods of growth and consolidation, enjoying the process itself rather than constantly seeking quick results or new distractions. Mastery requires patience, perseverance and fully committing to long-term development.

  • The passage describes different types of people in regards to mastery - The Dabbler, who enjoys novelty but doesn’t change or progress. The Obsessive, who is results-oriented and pushes relentlessly for quick gains without accepting plateaus. The Hacker, who is content remaining on a plateau and doesn’t aim for mastery.

  • It argues American society and culture undermines mastery through its values of consumerism, advertisements pushing endless climaxes and fantasies, and the prevalence of gambling which promotes the idea of getting rich quick without effort.

  • Television commercials typically depict a sequence of climactic moments rather than the plateaus of practice/mastery. Entertainment follows a similar pattern that resolutions are quick without long-term effort.

  • This conditions people to want endless climaxes in their own lives and leads to issues like drug abuse to artificially create that rush when real life doesn’t deliver it. Gambling also promotes the fantasy of getting rich without work.

  • In summary, it analyzes different imperfect approaches to mastery and argues American culture incentivizes quick rewards over long-term discipline and practice, undermining the pursuit of mastery.

The passage critiques certain American values that promote instant gratification and quick fixes over long-term mastery and patient effort. It argues that this mentality influences areas like medicine, business, and individual behaviors related to dieting, gambling, and drug use.

While celebrating recent triumphs of democracy and free markets, it cautions against complacency and warns that an unrestrained consumerist culture focused only on growth and climactic moments risks environmental and social problems. True prosperity requires tackling long-term challenges through dedicated effort over time.

It emphasizes the importance of fully valuing and even enjoying the “plateau” periods of diligent practice with no outward progress. The author reflects on his experience with the martial art of aikido, where long plateaus taught him to persist through practice itself rather than attaching only to results. Learning to appreciate plateaus is key to developing a life of mastery instead of constantly seeking escapes from effort through quick fixes.

  • The author describes their journey practicing aikido regularly over many months and years at a dojo near their home. They attended classes 3-4 times per week and found great reward and joy in the regular routine of practice, even without clear goals or progress.

  • They were initially surprised when they achieved a higher brown belt rank without realizing. Later, ambition crept in when discussing black belt but this led to injuries for them and their peers, teaching the importance of goalless practice.

  • Through steady, regular practice over many more months without ambition, they eventually achieved black belt along with their peers. They learned the importance of enjoying the plateau and not getting ahead of themselves.

  • The passage draws parallels to mastery in other fields like art, writing, gymnastics where enjoying the process rather than just goals or results is key. Regular routine and practice provides pleasure and rewards in itself.

  • It describes the author’s father practicing his work with deep focus and concentration on Saturdays, finding joy in the work itself rather than just recognition or fame. This face of deep focus is likened to the look of mastery.

  • The passage describes the author’s experience as a newly minted flight instructor at Turner Field in Albany, Georgia in 1944 during World War II.

  • At just 20 years old, the author and five other top graduates from flight school were made instructors while their classmates were sent to combat. They felt unprepared for teaching.

  • Flight training conditions were extremely dangerous due to high volume, lack of safety procedures, and poor visibility at night. Two midair collisions occurred, killing instructors and students.

  • There was immense pressure to produce pilots quickly for the war effort. Student pilots who didn’t perform well were quickly removed from training.

  • Despite the challenging circumstances and inherent dangers, the author gained invaluable experience as an instructor that served him well as a combat pilot. He credits his 6 months of instruction with mastering the skill of flight.

The passage reflects on the author’s experience as a flight instructor many years ago and then later as an aikido instructor. As a young flight instructor, he excelled at teaching his two most talented students but lost interest in his less talented students, barely getting them through training. Years later, teaching aikido, he has come to realize the value of teaching all students, even slow or less talented ones. Teaching beginners forces an instructor to break skills down into small steps, revealing the essence of the art. The most talented students don’t necessarily become the best martial artists, as they may gloss over important steps. Drawing from a Zen parable, the passage argues that those who must work hardest to learn, like the “worst horse,” can end up mastering a skill most deeply. The experience has taught the author the challenges of teaching all types of students.

  • Practice in the context of mastery means dedicating oneself fully to an activity or skill as a way of life, not just to achieve goals or get better. It becomes a “practice” as a noun rather than a verb.

  • For masters, the journey itself is the reward, not any endpoints like winning or achievements. They continue learning and perfecting techniques for their entire lives.

  • Beginners get restless doing the same moves repeatedly, but masters can appreciate subtle variations even in basic techniques. A class spent doing just one throw revealed new insights for the author.

  • Masters enjoy practicing for its own sake and get better as a result, which makes them enjoy it even more. They are the ones who stay on the mat longer each day than others.

  • True practice means integrating an activity fully into one’s life, not viewing it as separate from the rest of life or just a means to an end. It becomes a path or journey rather than something done occasionally to improve.

The passage discusses the importance of surrender and practice in achieving mastery. It gives examples of how top athletes like Larry Bird and Steve Largent would practice diligently to hone their skills. Bird in particular loved practicing and never took much time off, even after winning championships.

The passage then expands on the three keys to mastery - the first being finding a teacher, the second being regular practice. The third key is surrender, which means surrendering to one’s teacher and discipline. It means being willing to feel clumsy as a beginner and accepting indignities that come with learning. It also means enduring repetitions and drudgery of basic techniques.

The passage draws on swordmaster stories from Eastern literature as an analogy. These stories depict an apprentice surrendering for years to a swordmaster through menial chores before being accepted as a student. The Karate Kid movie is presented as a modernized version condensing the years of surrender.

Surrender also means letting go of hard-won skills at times to advance to a new level, likened to relinquishing a cup of milk to get a full quart. The passage gives the author’s own example of overhauling his jazz piano playing to improve. Overall it emphasizes how surrender and dedication to practice are key components of achieving mastery.

The passage describes two karate experts, Russell and Tony, as they attempt to learn aikido in an 8-week certification program.

Russell, who holds a karate black belt, struggled at first to let go of his karate skills and habits when doing aikido techniques. He had difficulty fully embracing the new competency of aikido. After 4 weeks, he was still behind others with no martial arts experience. However, after finally surrendering his prior karate competence, he was able to progress on the path of aikido mastery.

Tony, who held a high-level karate black belt, took a very different approach. He never showed any karate moves and respected his teachers greatly. Through his calm and powerful presence, he revealed himself as a fellow learner, without any hint of being an expert. During a demonstration, he beautifully displayed his high-level karate skills but remained humble.

The key lesson is that to progress as a master, one must cultivate the mindset of a beginner at every stage, surrendering any sense of expertise. There are no experts, only learners. Intentionality, or mental focus and visualization, is also essential to mastery in any domain.

  • Masters are dedicated to fundamentals and small incremental steps in practice, but also challenge previous limits and take risks to push boundaries. There is a balance between endless practice and pursuing challenging goals.

  • Chuck Yeager, considered the best pilot, emphasized experience but also enjoyed “exploring the edges of the envelope.” Pushing limits requires balancing endless practice with testing boundaries.

  • In aikido, there is an endless path but also periodic rigorous exams that are challenging goals. The exam is a trial and climax, but the journey is most important.

  • Playing the edge is a balancing act that demands awareness of when one is pushing too far. Conscious decisions are sometimes made to exceed safe limits for the sake of exceeding one’s potential.

  • Running provides a clear example, as it usually demands playing the edge to run fast. While safe programs are important, some run to exceed limits, knowing risks, as informed adults wanting to challenge themselves.

  • Pushing boundaries can be both stupid and heroic, as with Julie Moss crawling to finish the Ironman despite collapsing from exhaustion near the end. Both caution and courage have merit.

  • Resolutions and changes often fail due to homeostasis, the body and mind’s natural tendency to resist change and maintain equilibrium. Even positive changes can trigger homeostatic defenses initially.

  • Homeostasis keeps things stable, which is important for survival, but it can also prevent improvements. Backsliding occurs when changes disrupt the established equilibrium.

  • Examples given include the initial discomfort of starting exercise for a sedentary person, and a family maintaining dysfunction after an alcoholic father stops drinking by having another member take over the disruptive role.

  • Organizations and cultures also strongly resist changes through homeostatic mechanisms like bureaucracy, and tend to accept trivial changes more easily than meaningful reforms.

  • To succeed with resolutions like pursuing mastery, one must understand and overcome homeostatic resistance through preparation, support systems, and making improvements gradual and consistent rather than abrupt. Backsliding can then be avoided and positive changes stabilized long-term.

  • People often feel drained of energy when in reality they have more untapped potential energy than they could ever use. Energy comes from using energy - a human “wears out from lack of use.”

  • Children are naturally energetic but many factors tap their energy from a young age, like excessive restraints, demands for sitting still, passive learning in school rather than exploration. This early “lethargy training” can persist into adulthood.

  • Adults often waste energy on busywork and passive activities like TV instead of engaging in life’s opportunities.

  • Brief periods of aerobic exercise or decisive action can cure mental/spiritual lassitude in the same way physical tiredness is cured.

  • Achieving mastery requires energy, but the pathway of mastery itself gains stability through regular practice over time. Lifelong learning also helps one adapt to change and harness untapped energy sources.

  • The key is recognizing we all have more potential energy than we use, and gaining energy through active use rather than passive squandering or hoarding of resources. regular mindful practice in mastery helps tap into innate human abilities for focus and productivity.

The passage discusses how modern education and socialization tend to emphasize conformity and discourage curiosity, exploration, and unleashing of human energy. While necessary for social order, this squashing of energy also stifles individual potential.

It notes how society wants to constrain driven or highly energetic personalities due to a fear of their unbridled energy. However, many thoughtful individuals have managed to channel their energy productively.

The passage provides some suggestions for tapping into one’s own untapped energy reserves: maintaining physical fitness, adopting a positive outlook, being honest with oneself and others, honoring but not indulging one’s “dark side,” and clearly defining priorities to guide one’s energy into action rather than indecision. Overall it argues that unleashing repressed energy could significantly improve lives but must be directed constructively rather than destructively.

Here are the key points made in the passage:

  • Prioritize your goals and to-do items by categorizing them as A, B, or C priorities. Focus first on completing the A items.

  • Do the same exercise of prioritizing for your long-term goals. Having written goals provides clarity.

  • Make commitments by telling others about your goals/deadlines. This helps hold you accountable.

  • Getting started is important, so set interim goals and deadlines to keep you moving forward on your journeys of mastery.

  • Staying on the path of mastery over the long run is challenging but provides the most energizing way of living.

  • Potential pitfalls to watch out for include: conflicting lifestyle demands, obsessive goal orientation, poor instruction, lack of competitiveness, overcompetitiveness, laziness, injuries, drugs, excessive focus on prizes/medals, and vanity.

  • Managing priorities, setting deadlines, working toward mastery, and avoiding these pitfalls can help you stay energized and on track with your goals. Regular practice and continual improvement are key to success.

  • Our preoccupation with goals and results means we miss out on experiencing everyday activities and tasks. Most of life consists of “in-between” activities like commuting, chores, errands.

  • We can reclaim this time by approaching everyday tasks with focus, presence and mastery. Taking even mundane activities and practicing them with care, precision and mindfulness.

  • Driving is presented as an example of something that can be practiced as a skill, paying attention to mechanics, road conditions, traffic awareness. Driving well requires high levels of perception, concentration and judgment.

  • Doing household chores like dishwashing can also be an opportunity for mastery, doing it mindfully and focusing on efficiency, grace and flow of movement rather than just getting it over with.

  • The idea is that we can enrich everyday experiences and tasks by practicing them as we would a skill or art, with presence, care and pursuit of continuous improvement rather than just checking items off a to-do list. This allows us to reclaim experiences we may otherwise rush through or see as insignificant “in-between” time.

“Now lift your heels quickly and let them drop back down slowly… Do this a few times to loosen your ankles…

“Now shift your weight back and forth between your heels and balls of your feet…”


“Now do the same thing between your left and right feet…”


“Now in a single movement, evenly shift your weight back to your heels and center it directly above your feet…”


“Now relax your weight down through your legs, pelvis and trunk until your whole body feels balanced and centered evenly over your feet…”


“Draw your attention down to your center just below your navel…”


“Become aware of your balanced, centered stance…”


“Maintain this centered, balanced stance throughout and resume normal breathing.”

Rotating the hips. Rotating the hips helps develop a sense of connectedness, flexibility and centeredness throughout the body. To do this exercise, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Focus attention on the abdomen. Slowly turn the hips to one side as far as possible without lifting or shifting the feet. Slowly return to center, then turn to the other side. Breathe normally as you move. Go no further than a comfortable range of motion. The hips should move as one unit. With practice, this exercise can be done with the eyes closed. It awakens centering and releases bound-up energy.

Letting go of tension. This exercise combines breath and visualization to release unnecessary tension throughout the body. Close your eyes and visualize areas of your body that are holding tension, for example the shoulders, lower back, jaw, etc. As you inhale, visualize the breath flowing into that area and relaxing the tension. As you exhale, visualize the tension flowing out through the breath. Move your focus systematically through different areas of your body, spending more time where you hold the most chronic tension. With practice you’ll become adept at releasing tension on the spot whenever it arises. This skill is essential for maintaining your equanimity on the path.

Well, these energy exercises should provide a few helpful sustaining morsels for your journey into mastery. But don’t stop here. Keep exploring new disciplines that teach you about yourself from the inside out. Most of all, stay centered and enjoy the adventure. Mastery is a lifelong dance that moves to its own mysterious rhythm. But every step you take will bring you closer to understanding your own divine nature. Have a great trip! And until we meet again…happy practicing!

  • The passage guides the reader through a centering and balancing exercise involving deep breathing, relaxing different body parts, and achieving an awareness of one’s physical and energetic center.

  • It introduces techniques for regaining balance and centering when knocked off-kilter physically or psychologically, such as suddenly leaning over then standing up straight, or being gently spun around.

  • The concept of “ki” or “chi” is introduced - the fundamental energy believed in Eastern traditions to underlie all life and connect all things. Martial arts techniques are said to involve controlling or projecting this energy.

  • An exercise is described where one partner startles the other with a wrist grab to simulate an unexpected blow. The receiver is instructed to fully experience the sensations and acknowledge feelings, then use the arousal to return to centered balance and consider how misfortunes can provide positive energy.

  • In summary, the passage guides the reader through calming and centering the body, then introduces ways to regain composure after being knocked off balance, and how to potentially gain energy from unexpected blows by facing challenges head-on from a balanced place.

  • The author was visiting Esalen Institute after finishing a book on education and joined others in a conga drumming session led by a local mountain man.

  • Impressed by the author’s apparent quick progress as a newcomer to conga drumming, the mountain man interpreted the author as “a learner.”

  • The mountain man, a sculptor, said he had been stuck creatively for over a year and no longer felt like a learner. He asked the author to visit his home in the remote Los Padres mountains to give advice on how he could become a learner again.

  • Curious to see the mountain man’s secret home, the author agreed to follow him up a steep and difficult dirt road through the forest to reach his clearing near the mountain top.

  • The encounter presented an opportunity for the author to potentially help the mountain man regain a sense of openness to learning and creativity after feeling stuck in his work for an extended period. It also allowed the author a rare glimpse into the isolated life of one of the legendary self-sufficient mountain men of Big Sur.

The passage describes a visit the author had to a remote mountain cabin belonging to a man described as a “mountain man.” At the cabin, they had a disjointed conversation and the author noticed a mysterious blonde woman.

The mountain man then took the author on a tour of his metal sculptures, asking for advice on how to regain his creative spark and sense of being a learner. When prompted, the author replied simply that “to be a learner, you’ve got to be willing to be a fool.”

The author reflects later that this casual answer contained more truth than he realized at the time. He discusses how being willing to be foolish and make mistakes is important for learning. Babbling infants learn language through encouragement of their “foolish” approximations. Strict correction could stunt language development.

The author also notes how fear of looking silly or childish often prevents taking risks and trying new things. True mastery requires a willingness to be a beginner again and again. Even great masters like Judo founder Jigoro Kano recognized this, asking to be buried in a white belt to symbolize being a perpetual beginner. The ultimate lesson is that being willing to “wear your white belt” and be a foolish learner is key to both learning and achieving mastery.

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About Matheus Puppe