Specialized Mastery

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Simon @ Trainee Golem Builder recently recommended a book to me called “Mastery” by George Leonard.

This was recommended to me already a time ago but to be honest, just never got around to it because there has been so many more modern takes on the subject and I just ended up reading those instead. I finished reading it today and for the most part, the book is on point but since I’ve read other materials already, it’s nothing new – the only thing I probably didn’t like is his definition of a “hacker” (he might’ve as well used the term “slacker” in his terminology).

Mastery, by definition, is learning a system/methodology by the book and having the skills to implement it. Playing a song note by note is mastery, being able to perform a Karate Kata perfectly is mastery, being able to completely read a person is psychological mastery over someone, taking the Hoodoo correspondence class and using those teachings to effectively perform workings is mastery.

I’ve had a very interesting journey with this thing called “mastery”. All of my life, since I was a kid, to strive for mastery was something that has been ingrained to me.

Going to school and reaching #1 in our class for all those years, being accepted into an “accelerated” class because normal classes were too slow for me and I was classified as “gifted”. From learning how to play basketball, volleyball, tennis, breakdancing, krumping, karate, judo, boxing & self-defense. From playing guitar, to learning and hacking computers, to learning how to juggle, to magick and sorcery. My life is littered with things that I achieved and things that I failed at.

Notice though that I didn’t mentioned I mastered any of this things above…

I admit, I’m not one to master something for the sake of mastery, I prefer to be effective – to me, that is what mastery is. That’s why I’m a sorcerer, that’s why I’m a hacker, I now live in a very “specialized” way of mastery. (And that’s why I had an issue with how the term “hacker” was used in the book.)

Bruce Lee & Tim Ferriss are the pioneers of what I call “specialized mastery”.  These guys threw out the idea of mastering a system for the sake of mastery but for the sake of being effective instead.

For all intents and purposes, my Jeet Kune Do is very different from Bruce Lees JKD; mine is going to be hands heavy, with lots of throws, alot more infighting and midrange, elbows and knees. Bruce would be more mid to long range but can fight close if needed, alot more variety  and technique, close out the fight with some sort of power strike.

Tim Ferriss has built most of his life, hacking away at things and specializing in certain ways to take advantage of a position and eventually achieve results. One of the stories of his success was taking advantage of a loophole to become a TKD champion.

With me, when I play basketball, even though I am big and tall, I never liked playing the forward position – I always preferred the point guard/shooting guard position since those were my strengths; I love shooting the ball, I love dishing out cool assists, and I love shutting down my opponent. I’m not very fast (I was deceptively fast, lol, it’s an illusion that utilizes my length and my dash speed) and I’m not a fancy ball handler but I used what I have to put my team to advantageous positions and eventually win ball games.

Throughout the years, these “jack of all trades” types of people has been looked down upon by people or at least, has a stigma on them because while they are good at something, they’ve never actually mastered the system. To my point, these “jacks” are not so one-dimensional as people portray them to be, while they “mastered” one aspect of the system and utilized it to their advantage, we all put in the time and effort to learn the other aspects of the system, it’s just we chose to boost the strengths we have to be more effective.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a beauty in a way that someone who has mastered a system and made it their own. Word can’t describe it, it just has to be enjoyed and worshipped but like anything in the world, there are many paths to achieve mastery and they put in the work just like everyone else.

By definition, I would be a master of none but nonetheless, I would be very effective in a wide variety of situations with the skill set that I’ve amassed. I might not be able to play Canon in D note by note, vibrato by vibrato but I sure can hell play it loud, overdriven with plenty of wah- wahs.

Mastery is in the eye of the beholder. Mastery is in the context of what is required. If you have to perform a kata, knowing the whole thing is likely the thing that would lead you to success, if you are in a street fight – kata will likely not help you but using the techniques learned in a kata to fight will likely help you more.



3 thoughts on “Specialized Mastery

  1. Thanks for posting this.

    What happens when a person gets to the highest level within a system?

    I think the answer should be, there is no highest level. It’s the path that matters, not the system. The system is a handy way to plot and track progress. But too much focus on the system can negate the point of any system – that being a path of advancement.

    As you say “there are many paths to achieve master”. This to me is the crux of it. Each path has characteristics that are beneficial and potentially harmful. Recognition of that helps choose whether to use one system as a path of mastery, or multiple systems for a single, integrated path.

    1. Within mastery, there are plenty of other levels of achievement – that path of advancement you mentioned becomes even more rugged and less travelled. Becoming a master of something is only one of the other steps, then comes advancing the art past its current stage, practical application, etc, etc.

      Mastery itself is not the end all be all answer, it’s essentially a lifelong process of development.

      1. I think we are in agreement. My point summed up is: mastery does not exist, there are only the paths towards mastery.

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