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Strategy Session #3

George Leonard – "Mastery"

          Hello Pokemaniacs!  You guys are in for a treat!  Today I am going to talk about my all-time favorite book – Mastery, by George Leonard (GL). This session will be split up into two parts - how to get on the path of mastery and how to stay on the path.  This is really good stuff, so buckle your seatbelt and hang on!

            First of all I am going to burst your bubbles – GL didn’t know about Pokemon when he wrote this book!  But that doesn’t matter, because you can take any interest that you have – sports, your job, driving a car, playing card games, whatever, and become a master in it if you have the desire and follow GL’s advice.  We will concentrate on playing card games – pokemon in particular.

GL tells us that there are four ways a person can approach a subject in which he wants to participate: He can become the dabbler, the obsessive, the hacker, and the master.  We can see ourselves in each of these first three approaches – our goal is to transform into the fourth approach – that of the master.  Let me explain.

The dabbler likes to try new things – he likes opening the packs of cards, trading with friends, and initially playing in tournaments.  He is really happy when he makes initial progress with his playing ability, but gets really disappointed when he doesn’t keep getting better at the same initial rate.  He can’t understand why he goes 3-2 in three tournaments in a row, and decides that this isn’t the right game for him.  He gives up very early on, and tries something else, only to repeat the cycle with a new hobby.

The obsessive is a bottom line kind of person.  He doesn’t settle for second best.  In fact, he is the type who buys every available pack of cards in the store, stays until closing time playing with everyone, reads all the news on the internet, and makes very fast initial progress.  However, when he goes 3-2 in a tournament, he pushes himself even harder,  and usually takes the shortest path to success (like copying internet decks or buying his way to victory).  Soon, however, he doesn’t seem to make progress, and begins to blame others for his failures, calling them “lucky”.  He gets mad when things don’t go his way.  Finally, he quits in disgust and moves on to another game, only to repeat the cycle.

The hacker has a different attitude.  He just wants to get the hang of a game, and that is enough for him.  He enjoys the camaraderie of the tournaments, but doesn’t mind losing, and doesn’t really care if he wins.  He doesn’t want to work hard enough to improve his skills – to rise to the next level of play – and so he remains near the bottom.

Being a master is different.  A master knows that he is going to have long periods of time where he seems to remain at the same level, and then one day, things seem to “click” and he moves up a notch.  This is followed by another long period of time where you seem to remain at the same level, and then you move up again.  These “long periods of time” are called “the Plateau”, and GL tells us that we must love being on the plateau – no matter how long this “lull” lasts.  It is the process of playing this game we love, which allows us to progress on the journey of becoming a master,

not whether we win or lose, or how many cards we buy.

There is no easy way to rise to the top of a skill or game or profession – GL tells us that we have to follow five steps to get on the path of mastery.  He calls these steps the five master keys.  They are instruction, practice, surrender, intentionality, and the edge.  I will talk about each of them below.

1.      Instruction.  GL says that the first thing you should do on the path to mastery

is to arrange for first-rate instruction.   The master teacher can guide you through the mountains of literature on pokemon, and teach you the main theories on deckbuilding.  Without a teacher, you would have to discover all of this for yourself, and while this might be exciting and rewarding in its own right, you might also overlook some important points.  A good teacher also acts as a mentor, and can personally guide you, giving advice with deck ideas and encouragement when things don’t go your way.  If you can’t find a person to teach you, you can find instruction on Pojo’s site, in books, friends at your gaming store, or the school of hard knocks.  Your teacher should point out what you are doing right at least as much as he points out what you are doing wrong.  Remember that YOU get to pick your teacher on your path to mastery, not the other way around.  If you don’t “click” with your teacher, find another one.  You have to be honest with yourself, and try to do those things that your teacher advises.  When you become more knowledgeable and outgrow your first teacher (surpass his skills with your own), then find another one, even more knowledgeable, and learn from him.   This process should continue until you become a master and beyond – before long, you will be asked to be a teacher yourself. 

2.      Practice.   Practice is the path upon which you travel.  It is the bridge between

the lessons taught by the teacher, and the test of the tournament.  This is where you will spend most of your time on the path of mastery.  The fact is that a master LOVES to practice.  In pokemon, that means making decks and tuning them against popular deck types.  The master likes to win, but secretly cherishes those games filled with twists and turns of fortune, great plays, close calls, and magical finishes – regardless of who wins.  The master never outgrows the basic moves of the game.  Practice until it becomes second-nature, and then practice some more for the fun of it.  The master practices 5 minutes longer than the other guys, to perfect his skills, even when it seems that he is not making any progress.  The mark of a master is to keep up the practice.

3.      Surrender.  GL means that you have to be willing to surrender to the demands

of your discipline.  With Pokemon, that means that you have to be willing to try new deck types and you have to be willing to lose to try new ideas.  A master doesn’t just climb up and up until he reaches the top.  His path is fraught with setbacks and difficulties, losses and boredom.  Those setbacks, or “stops” on the path are very important – they build character and let you prove to yourself that you truly want to be a master.  Mastery isn’t about winning, though a master wins a lot more often than he loses.  It is about discovery of every facet of this game, through hundreds of hours of practice and trying new things.   This may seem boring to some, but GL says that the essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty.  Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.  You can play the same deck 200 times in a row, and no two games will be exactly alike – just like snowflakes.

4.      Intentionality.  This is the mental game.  It includes relaxation, confidence,

and the mental rehearsal of specific plays or moves.  GL says that every master is a master of vision.  That means that you must visualise your victory.  Take Arnold Schwarzenneger for example – he said “All I know is that the first step is to create the vision, because when you see the vision there – the beautiful vision – that creates the ‘want power’.  For example, my wanting to be Mr. Universe came about because I saw myself so clearly, being up there on that stage and winning.”  He saw himself winning, and then did those things (found a teacher, practiced, and surrendered himself to his sport) to put him on the path of mastery.

5.      The Edge.  Masters are the ones who are most likely to challenge previous

limits – the trick for the master is not only to test the edges of the envelope,  but also to walk the fine line between endless, goalless practice and those alluring goals that appear along the way.  To maintain the edge, the master has to compete – to put that practice to use, and to see if his theories and hard work pay off.   However, competition shouldn’t be the goal – success in competition reinforces  all your hard work, but it is not the goal.  The goal is the love of practice – and competition is just another practice session.  If you don’t compete, you will never rise above your own deficiencies – you learn much more from your losses than you do from your victories, because those losses teach you that you aren’t perfect, and have to practice even more.


Now I am going to talk about the 13 pitfalls that GL tells us are strewn out

along the path to mastery.  These pitfalls will keep us from realizing our true potential, and they are explained below:

1.      Conflicting way of life.  In this busy world, we must make time for practice. 

We manage our own time – we all have 24 hours in each day, and how we prioritize those hours makes all the difference.

2.      Obsessive goal orientation.  It’s fine to have ambitious goals, but the best way

of reaching them is to cultivate modest expectations at every step along the way.  You are setting yourself up for disappointment by making impossible or impractical performance demands of yourself.  It is unrealistic to believe you are able to gain 100 rating points in one month, or win 3 tournaments in a row, and if those are your goals, you will disappoint yourself when you don’t achieve them, and may quit the game altogether (remember the obsessive…).  More realistic goals would be increasing your practice sessions to four per week, 30 minutes each, or doing better in the next tournament than you did the week before. 

3.      Poor instruction.  If you do nothing else, find a teacher/mentor to guide you on

the path.

4.      Lack of competitiveness.  Competition provides the spice in life – it is only

when the spice becomes the whole diet that the player gets sick.  Competition can provide motivation – take competition as an opportunity to hone your hard-won skills to a fine edge.  Winning is an essential element in the journey, but it isn’t the only thing.  You have heard me say this before – winning graciously and losing with equal grace are the marks of the master.

5.      Overcompetitiveness.  The would-be master who thinks about nothing but

winning is sure to lose in the long run.  This “number one” criterion creates far more losers than winners – even if you are number one in your store, town, state, country, or the world, you will eventually be surpassed by others.  If your goal is to become number one, you are missing the point.  The master will rise towards the top anyway, as a result of his practice, as a result of the master’s journey he is on.   Don’t lose sight of the true master’s goal – to practice for the love of the game.

6.      Laziness.  When you start skipping practice sessions, you are leaving the path. 

We are all busy people, but we have to prioritize our time, and we have to make time for those things that are important to us.

7.      Injuries.  If you push yourself too hard, your body will tell you by getting sick. 

You won’t sustain too many physical injuries by playing card games, but you can sustain some mental ones – exhaustion for one.  Build in breaks during your practice sessions – remember, you are doing this because you LOVE this game.  If you aren’t enjoying practice, then make practice enjoyable – surrender yourself to the boring practice, but practice with people you like, take breaks, and try new decks.  All these things can keep you from becoming utterly exhausted with this game.

8.      Drugs.  GL says it best when he said that folks who use drugs experience

upward surges without spending time on the plateau.  They miss the real experience – they aren’t learning how to improve.  If you take drugs, you aren’t on the path to mastery.

9.      Prizes and Medals.  Excessive use of external motivation can slow and even

stop your journey to mastery.  With lots of tournament wins, you could become convinced that you are already a master, and think that you have learned enough.  When you stop learning and stop practicing, you are no longer on the path of mastery.

10.  Vanity.  In order to learn something new of any significance, you have to be

willing to look foolish.  Try a new deck out and surrender yourself to losing and having people say that you aren’t a great player after all.  Ultimately, what they say doesn’t matter in the slightest.  What is important is that you tried a new thing – learned something new, and became better as a result.

11.  Dead Seriousness.  Laugh!  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Remember that

this game is FUN, and when it is no longer fun, you have to rediscover the joy in the game.  If your goal is winning, take another look at yourself – your goal should be playing in an excellent way, playing for the love of the game.  Winning will take care of itself, trust me.  And, in the end, winning isn’t really that important.  You won’t believe me until you reach the top, but winning without having fun is WORSE than losing.

12.  Inconsistency.  Practice and visualization give you consistency.  You know

your deck so well, that you know in which order to play the cards in your hand every time.  In a relatively simple game like pokemon, this may seem like a no-brainer, but there are more complicated games out there, folks, and practice is the only way to become consistent.  And consistency wins!  It’s not the guy who plays a circus deck who will rise to mastery, the master will be the guy who plays a solid deck consistently.

13.  Perfectionism.  Setting high standards is fine, but when we expect ourselves to

be perfect, we are heading for a big fall.  Realize that mastery is not about perfection.  It is about a process, a journey.  The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year.  The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he lives.

Well, that’s it.  I really want to thank George Leonard for writing this book – his book has really helped me begin my journey (along with thousands of other “trainers”) on how to become a master.  GL is my master teacher, and like he says, good instruction is a big part of the foundation of mastery.  There is a lot more in this book - read it for  yourself to get the most out of his words, and get on the path to mastery!  Talk soon, and keep practicing!

Tom is here to provide guidance to all Pokemon trainers out there.  Whether it's the Gameboy Game, N64 or the Trading Card Game, provides all the wisdom you desire. 

If you have cool game tips, a killer deck, or breaking news ... send them to us.  We'll post it on the site ... and give you all the credit.  


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