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Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin

In 1993, Para­mount Pic­tures released Search­ing for Bobby Fis­cher, which depicts Joshua Waitzkin’s early chess suc­cess as he embarks on a jour­ney to win his first National chessJoshua Waitzkin cham­pi­onship. This movie had the effect of weak­en­ing his love for the game as well as the learn­ing process. His pas­sion for learn­ing was reju­ve­nated, how­ever, after years of med­i­ta­tion, and read­ing phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­ogy. With this rekin­dling of the learn­ing process, Wait­zkin took up the mar­tial art Tai Chi Chuan at the age of 21 and made rapid progress, win­ning the 2004 push hands world cham­pi­onship at the age of 27.

After read­ing Joshua’s most recent book The Art of Learn­ing, I thought of a mil­lion top­ics The Art of LearningI wanted to dis­cuss with him–topics such as being labelled a “child prodigy”, bloom­ing, cre­ativ­ity, and the learn­ing process. Thank­fully, since I was pro­fil­ing Wait­zkin for an arti­cle I was for­tu­nate enough to get a chance to have such a con­ver­sa­tion with him. I hope you find this dis­cus­sion just as provoca­tive and illu­mi­nat­ing as I did.

The Child Prodigy

S. Why did you leave chess at the top of your game?

J. This is a com­pli­cated ques­tion that I wrote about very openly in my book. In short, I had lost the love. My rela­tion­ship to the game had become externalized-by pres­sures from the film about my life, by los­ing touch with my nat­ural voice as an artist, by mis­takes I made in the growth process. At the very core of my rela­tion­ship to learn­ing is the idea that we should be as organic as pos­si­ble. We need to cul­ti­vate a deeply refined intro­spec­tive sense, and build our rela­tion­ship to learn­ing around our nuance of char­ac­ter. I stopped doing this and fell into cri­sis from a sense of alien­ation from an art I had loved so deeply. This is when I left chess behind, started med­i­tat­ing, study­ing phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­ogy, and ulti­mately moved towards Tai Chi Chuan.

S. Do you think being a child prodigy hurt your chess career in any way?

J. I have never con­sid­ered myself a prodigy. Oth­ers have used that term, but I never bought in to it. From a young age it was always about embrac­ing the bat­tle, lov­ing the game, and over­com­ing adver­sity. Grow­ing up as Read the rest of this entry »

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