One of the key principles of Tai Chi is to learn how to yield. Many times a defense that uses resistance actually fuels the attacking fire. Yielding comes in handy when you’re doing push hands. But like the rest of Tai Chi it also can be applied in everyday situations. Take a look at the excerpt from Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss (a wonderful book in which he asks successful people the same 11 questions.) Here we share an answer from Josh Waitzkin a Push Hands World Champion.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have “favorite failure” of yours?
The most painful loss of my life was the last round of the Under-18 World Chess Championship in Szeged, Hungry. I was tied for first place with the Russian representative, who offered me a draw early. I declined, pushed for a win, and lost. In the critical moment of the game, I had to a make a decision that was completely outside of my conceptual scheme. I only discovered the right decision after more than a hundred hours of study three months after the game. Essentially, I had to remove my final defense piece in front of my king, because his attack actually needed my defense like a fire needs fuel to burn. Without my defensive pieces in the way, my pawn structure was actually enough to defend my king and his attack had nothing to bite into. The principle: the power of the empty space- or responding to aggression with a void. The lesson felt like a complete paradigm shift, and I ended up developing a huge part of my life to its practice.
Twelve years later, I harnessed it to win the finals of the Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Championship. So, the worst loss of my chess life taught me one of the most important thematic lesson of my life and ended up winning me a world championship in martial arts a decade later. It’s so beautiful how life unfolds, if we lay it all on the line and keep our pores open.
Josh Waitzin was the basis for the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. Considered a chess prodigy, he has perfected learning strategies that can be applies to anything, including his other loves of Brazilian jujitsu (he’s a black belt under phenom Marcelo Garcia) and tai chi push hands (he’s a world champion). These days, he spends his time coaching the world’s top athletes and investors, working to revolutionize education, and tackling his new passion of paddle surfing, often nearly killing me (Tim) in the process. I first met Josh many years ago after reading his book, The Art of Learning.