On the Art of Learning with Josh Waitzkin

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
February 14, 2017March 24, 2017


Josh Waitzkin is an 8x US National Chess Champion, a 2x Tai Chi Push Hands World Champion, and a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  He is the author of The Art of Learning (require reading to train with me).  Josh is now pursuing paddle surfing where I’ve been working with him for the last year.  He is the most positive, inspirational person I know and I’m incredibly thankful he agreed to come on the show.

Josh’s Core Training Principles –

  • Reduced Complexity (end game before opening) – training with less variables to focus on larger, high-level principles concepts.
  • Firewalking – learning from the experience of others using empathy and visualization.
  • Mental Representations – have a clear mental model for a skill your practicing.  Like modeling an Agassi forehand.
  • Growth comes at point of resistance – we learn the most when we’re outside of our comfort zone.
  • Living on the other side of pain
  • Train at the few to internalize the many
  • Finding your own way
  • Beacon of Quality
  • Depth before Breadth
  • Loving the storm
  • Have your compass on
  • Most important Question
  • The Downward Spiral – Usually it isn’t the first mistake that’s disastrous, but the first mistake tends to make the second more likely.
  • Philosopher vs. Philosophologist – We tend to study the work of those who study the experts instead of studying the experts directly.

Links –

Complete Show Notes –

  • Thanks to my family for the epic intro to the show!
  • Huge Thanks to Garrett Dutton, AKA G Love for letting me use “The Things that I used to do” for the theme music.
  • Introduction to the Progression Project, what this show is going to be about.
  • About Josh Waitzkin [2:00]
  • Interview Beginning [3:00]
  • On Josh’s Passion, early chess and love [4:10]
  • Transitions of Josh’s career.  Chess to Thai Chi, Thai Chi to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Jiu Jitsu to Paddle Surfing(receptivity) [6.40]
  • Breakthroughs, How/Why we can get though training plateaus. [14:40]
  • On self expression in sport [20:45]
  • Reduced complexity training principle [22:00]
  • How to maximize learning curve [26:00]
  • On coaching different personalities [27:00]
  • Josh’s biggest life crisis, chess coach pushed him out of his game. [29:00]
  • Discussion of Peak and Mental Representations . Skill representation vs. dynamic, decision representation [31:00]
  • Thematic mapping – Non-local habit creation map.  Which techniques are housed under which principle under which meta-themes. Train at technique to internalize principle to internalize meta-theme. [34:00]
  • External locust of control  [35:00]
  • Living on the other side of pain  [36:20]
  • On Loving Deliberate Practice  [38:30]
  • Firewalking [41:45]
  • On Finding Your Own Way [48:00]
  • What skills will be most important for children growing up now.   Beacon of Quality  [49:30]
  • How Josh trains, depth before breadth [51:30]
  • Cultivating passion [53:30]
  • “Most important thing about parenting is listening with your mind wide open” [54:00]
  • Training your weaknesses [56:00]
  • Balance of pushing growth edge vs. going to far and instilling fear  [57:30]
  • Fear vs. Risk [1:02:00]
  • Have your compass on . [1:04:30]
  • Most important question – MIQ [1:06:00]
  • The Downward Spiral  [1:07:00]
  • Philosopher vs. Philosophologist [1:08:00]
  • Greatest insight is right next to greatest blunder [1:09:00]
  • “We live our lives listening to the commentators” [1:12:20]
  • Role of conscious mind in learning [1:16:00]
  • mental models in investing  [1:18:30]
  • On Lifestyle, making decisions for lifestyle  [1:20:30]
  • Moving to the jungle [1:23:00]
  • Some notes from Erik.  Thanks to G Love for the music.  Profanity, going to try to keep it to a minimum so you can listen with your kids.
Progression Project Podcast


  • Christian Charles

    Totally inspired by this latest podcast: Got me out for an hour of bay paddling a challenging new Starboard 7’10” followed by a solo session in 2″ Long Island slop the next day. Keep up the inspirations and thank you.

    • Erik Antonson

      You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Christian

    Correction: 2′ slop not 2″. It was pretty bad but not that bad!
    Looking forward to more progression project podcasts…

  • Jason

    Loved the question about mental representation for skills like paddling vs. decision making, I was surprised by Josh’s answer… I’m still not sure if he dodged the question ha ha?

    Would love to know what others who are familiar with the concept think.

    I think it may have been Brad Gerlach who told me that either he had 1st hand knowledge, or had a good source that Tim Ferris ultimately decided surfing was not a sport that could be learned quickly, as there is no substitute for time in the water for learning how to read waves, and just the instinct of slight shifts of position in the lineup… ( I was asking Brad how he knew why to move when I couldn’t see anything on the horizon, then a few minutes later he was in just the right spot for the swell that appeared.)

    His answer was it was just instinct, he had a feeling he needed to move a little.

    I asked him if there was a way to learn this skill…Brad said, nope. Just time on the water.

    All that said, I’ve been watching your video on the Popdart quite a bit, because you’re not surfing the waves one usually sees in the clips, the perfectly peeling ones, or perfect barrels.

    Many of the waves you surf in that video are pretty similar to waves I surf here in LA… and that’s quickly changed how I’m approaching waves — I had been drilling drop-in, wait, bottom turn — that I didn’t realize how much there is to do with gunning down the line for speed + waiting to see the right spot to make the turn or cutback.

    I feel like many of the waves you take in the pop dart video, you make a quick turn right after catching the wave to stay up high…generate speed down the line then your bottom turn isn’t so much pointed straight at the beach, but more of a swerve out in front of the wave….

    I think more videos of good surfers surfing mediocre waves would accelerate people’s ability to read waves as well as expand a beginner’s idea of what can be done on those conditions.

    So, I do think it is possible to shorten the learning curve for wave reading, if people could see different archetypes of waves – not just the perfect ones, but the so-so to even close-outs… I’ll never forget one session I had where I thought it was pretty boring, thigh high waves, mostly closing out, nobody doing anything but dropping in and riding for like one second.

    Then some kid showed up and was boosting airs, throwing spray and showing that it wasn’t a boring day at all…we were all just lacking vision of what was possible!

    Loved the foray into parenting — super curious to hear more about helping children find “their beacon of quality” — and a love of learning, and a work ethic, but also a discovery of your own learning style ( as part of a love of learning?)…

    Deliberate Home Schooling… hmmm needs a better title, but you may have a seed of a book germinating here….


  • Laura S. Cowie

    That was so intense and the only person I have ever heard talk that way about mental modeling (in different words) is my mother. Yesterday was her 79th birthday and the day before she won a Grande Dame tennis tournament in doubles with her partner. Although she doesn’t surf, she is definitely riding the same wave of intuition and individuality. Thanks for sharing…beautiful.

  • Tom

    “Thematic mapping – Non-local habit creation map.” Can someone ELI5 that?

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