تسلط - بخش چهارم

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تسلط - بخش چهارم

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  1. Transform yourself through practice—The Fingertip Feel

As narrated in chapter 2 (here), after graduating from the Citadel in 1981, Cesar Rodriguez decided to enter the pilot training program for the United States Air Force. But soon he had to confront a harsh reality—he was not naturally gifted for flying a jet plane. Among those in the program were some who were known as “golden boys.” They seemed to have a knack for flying at high speeds. They were in their element. From the very beginning Rodriguez loved to fly, and he had ambitions to become a fighter pilot, the most elite and coveted position within the air force. But he would never reach such a goal unless he somehow managed to raise himself up to the skill level of the golden boys. His problem was that he was quickly overwhelmed by the glut of information that a pilot had to process. The key was to learn how to take a scan pattern of all the instruments—a quick reading here and there—while maintaining a feel for one’s overall position in the sky. Losing situational awareness could prove fatal. For him, this scanning ability could only come through endless hours of practice on the simulator and in flying, until it became relatively automatic.

Rodriguez had played sports in high school and he knew the value of practice and repetition, but this was a lot more complex than any sport or any skill he had ever tried to master. As soon as he became comfortable with the instruments, he would be faced with the daunting task of learning to execute various flying maneuvers (like rolls), and to develop a feel for the exact speeds needed to enter them. All of this required extremely rapid mental calculations. The golden boys would ace these maneuvers in no time. For Rodriguez, it would require a lot of repetition and intense focus every time he entered the cockpit. He noticed sometimes that his body would get there ahead of his mind; his nerves and his fingers would intuit a sense of what command of the maneuver should feel like; he would then consciously aim to recreate that feeling.

Once this mark was passed, he would have to learn how to fly in formation, working with other pilots in an intricately coordinated team. Flying in formation meant juggling several skills at the same time, and the complexity of it all could be mind-boggling. Part of him was motivated by the great excitement he felt commanding such a jet and working with the team, and part of him was also motivated by the challenge. He had noticed that in gaining control of the jet and the various maneuvers, he had developed acute powers of concentration. He could tune everything out and immerse himself completely in the moment. This made every new skill set a little easier to master.

Slowly, through sheer tenacity and practice, he rose to the top of his class, and was considered among the few who could serve as fighter pilots. But there remained one last hurdle in his ascent to the top: flying in the high-scale exercises run by all branches of the military. In this case it was a matter of understanding the overall mission and operating in an intricately orchestrated land-air-sea campaign. It required an even higher level of awareness, and at moments during these exercises Rodriguez had an odd sensation—he was no longer focusing on the various physical elements of flying or on the individual skill components, but was thinking and feeling the overall campaign and how he fit into it in a seamless fashion. It was a sensation of mastery, and it was fleeting. He also noticed a slight gap between himself and the golden boys. They had relied for so long on their natural skills that they had not cultivated the same level of concentration that he now possessed. In many ways, he had surpassed them. After participating in a few of these exercises, Rodriguez had risen to elite status.

On January 19, 1991, in the space of a few minutes, all of his elaborate training and practice would be put to the ultimate test. A few days before, the United States and allied forces had launched Operation Desert Storm in response to Sadaam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The morning of the 19th Rodriguez and his wingman, Craig “Mole” Underhill, flew into Iraq as part of a thirty-six-aircraft strike force, heading toward a target near Baghdad. It was his first real taste of combat. Flying F-15s, he and Mole quickly spotted a pair of Iraqi MiG fighters in the distance and decided to give chase. Within seconds they realized that they had been lured into a trap, the pursuer turning into the pursued, as two MiGs now bore down on them from an unexpected direction.

Realizing how quickly one of the enemy planes was approaching, Rodriguez suddenly jettisoned his fuel tanks for greater speed and maneuverability. He then dove toward the ground, below the level of the approaching MiG, doing everything he could to make it difficult for the enemy to get a read on him with his radar, including flying at a right angle to the ground to make his plane as skinny as possible. Without a radar reading, the MiG could not launch a missile. Everything was happening so fast. At any moment his own radar could light up, indicating the enemy had locked into him and he was as good as dead. He had one chance to make it: evading the MiG until it got too close to fire, and drawing it into a dogfight—a circular battle in the air that was a rare occurrence in modern warfare. At the back of his mind he was also trying to buy enough time for his wingman to help him out, and he could somehow sense Mole’s presence following him from a distance. But time would bring another danger—the presence of the second MiG on the scene.

He tried every evasive maneuver in the book. He saw the MiG getting closer and closer when suddenly he heard from Mole, who had been following him and had now maneuvered into position. As Rodriguez looked over his shoulder, he could see the enemy MiG exploding—Mole’s missile had struck it. As the chase had unfolded, everything had gone as Rodriguez wanted, but there was not a second to relax. The second MiG was now rapidly approaching.

Mole ascended to 20,000 feet. As the MiG bore down on Rodriguez’s plane, its pilot realized Mole’s presence above him, and began to maneuver up and down to somehow escape being trapped between the two of them. Using this instant of confusion, Rodriguez was able to get inside the MiG’s turning circle. It had now turned into a classic two-circle dogfight in which each plane tried to circle onto the tail of the other and into firing range, moving closer to the ground with each succeeding loop. They circled and circled around each other. Finally, at 3,600 feet, Rodriguez got a reading and locked his missiles on the MiG. The Iraqi pilot went into a hard evasive maneuver, turning directly toward the ground, flipping upside down and trying to circle into a reverse direction to escape, but in the few seconds of the dogfight the pilot had lost awareness of how close they had drifted to the ground, and he crashed into the desert below.

Mole and Rodriguez returned to the base to debrief their superiors on the mission, but as Rodriguez went over it all and watched video of the encounters, he had a strange sensation. He could not really recall any moment of it. It had happened so fast. The entire encounter with the MiGs had only lasted three to four minutes, and the final dogfight a matter of seconds. He must have been thinking in some way—he had executed some nearly perfect maneuvers. For instance, he had no recollection of deciding to jettison the fuel tanks nor where such an idea came from. It must have been something he had learned, and somehow in the moment it had simply occurred to him, and very easily might have saved his life. The evasive maneuvers he executed with the first MiG astounded his superiors—they were so fast and effective. His awareness during the dogfight must have been exceptionally keen; he had circled to his opponent’s tail in ever-faster cycles, never losing sight of the desert floor they were approaching. How could he explain all of these maneuvers? He could hardly remember them. All he knew was that in the moment he hadn’t been experiencing fear, but rather an intense adrenalin rush that made his body and mind operate in total harmony, with a kind of thinking that moved in milliseconds and was too fast for him to analyze.

For three days after the encounter he could not sleep, the adrenalin still coursing through his veins. It made him realize that the body possesses latent physiological powers—unleashed in such dramatic moments—that elevate the mind to an even higher level of focus. Rodriguez would go on to have one more kill in Desert Storm, and another in the 1999 Kosovo campaign, more than any pilot in recent combat, earning him the nickname the Last American Ace.

In our daily, conscious activity we generally experience a separation between the mind and the body. We think about our bodies and our physical actions. Animals do not experience this division. When we start to learn any skill that has a physical component, this separation becomes even more apparent. We have to think about the various actions involved, the steps we have to follow. We are aware of our slowness and of how our bodies respond in an awkward way. At certain points, as we improve, we have glimpses of how this process could function differently, of how it might feel to practice the skill fluidly, with the mind not getting in the way of the body. With such glimpses, we know what to aim for. If we take our practice far enough the skill becomes automatic, and we have the sensation that the mind and the body are operating as one.

If we are learning a complex skill, such as flying a jet in combat, we must master a series of simple skills, one on top of the other. Each time one skill becomes automatic, the mind is freed up to focus on the higher one. At the very end of this process, when there are no more simple skills to learn, the brain has assimilated an incredible amount of information, all of which has become internalized, part of our nervous system. The whole complex skill is now inside us and at our fingertips. We are thinking, but in a different way—with the body and mind completely fused. We are transformed. We possess a form of intelligence that allows us to approximate the instinctual power of animals, but only through a conscious, deliberate, and extended practice.

In our culture we tend to denigrate practice. We want to imagine that great feats occur naturally—that they are a sign of someone’s genius or superior talent. Getting to a high level of achievement through practice seems so banal, so uninspiring. Besides, we don’t want to have to think of the 10,000 to 20,000 hours that go into such mastery. These values of ours are oddly counterproductive—they cloak from us the fact that almost anyone can reach such heights through tenacious effort, something that should encourage us all. It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous. The ability to master complicated skills by building connections in the brain is the product of millions of years of evolution, and the source of all of our material and cultural powers. When we sense the possible unity of mind and body in the early stages of practice, we are being guided toward this power. It is the natural bent of our brain to want to move in this direction, to elevate its powers through repetition. To lose our connection to this natural inclination is the height of madness, and will lead to a world in which no one has the patience to master complex skills. As individuals we must resist such a trend, and venerate the transformative powers we gain through practice.

  1. Internalize the details—The Life Force

As the illegitimate son of the notary Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci (see here, for more on the artist) was essentially barred from studying and practicing the traditional professional careers—medicine, law, and so on—and from higher education. And so as a boy growing up in the town of Vinci, near Florence, he received little formal education. He spent much of his time roaming around the countryside and venturing into the forests outside his town. He was enchanted by the incredible variety of life he found there, and the dramatic rock formations and waterfalls that were part of the landscape. As his father was a notary, there was a fair amount of paper (a rare commodity at the time) in the family house, and feeling a great desire to draw all that he saw on his walks, he began stealing sheets of paper and carrying them with him.

He would sit on a rock and draw the insects, birds and flowers that fascinated him. He never received any instruction. He simply drew what he saw, and he began to notice that in trying to capture these things on paper, he had to think deeply. He had to focus on the details that the eye would often pass over. In drawing plants, for instance, he began to notice the subtle distinctions in the stamens of various flowers and how they were different from one another. He would notice the transformations these plants went through on their way to blossoming, and he would capture these changes in sequential drawings. In going so deeply into their details, he had fleeting intimations of what animated these plants from within, what made them distinct and alive. Soon, thinking and drawing became fused in his mind. Through drawing things in the world around him, he came to understand them.

His progress at drawing was so astounding that his father thought of finding him a position as an apprentice in one of the various studios in Florence. Working in the arts was one of the few professions open to illegitimate sons. In 1466, using his influence as a respected notary in Florence, he managed to secure a position for his fourteen-year-old son in the workshop of the great artist Verrocchio. For Leonardo, this was a perfect fit. Verrocchio was deeply influenced by the enlightened spirit of the times, and his apprentices were taught to approach their work with the seriousness of scientists. For instance, plaster casts of human figures would be placed about the studio with various pieces of fabric draped over them. The apprentices had to learn to concentrate deeply, and recognize the different creases and shadows that would form. They had to learn how to reproduce them realistically. Leonardo loved learning in this way, and soon it became apparent to Verrocchio that his young apprentice had developed an exceptional eye for detail.

By 1472 Leonardo was one of Verrocchio’s top assistants, helping him on his large-scale paintings and taking on a fair amount of responsibility. In Verrocchio’s The Baptism of Christ, Leonardo was given the task of painting one of the two angels off to the side, and this work is now the oldest example we have of his painting. When Verrocchio saw the results of Leonardo’s work he was astounded. The face of the angel had a quality he had never seen before—it seemed to literally glow from within. The look on the angel’s face seemed uncannily real and expressive.

Although it might have seemed like magic to Verrocchio, recent X-rays have revealed some of the secrets to Leonardo’s early technique. The layers of paint he applied were exceptionally thin, his brush strokes invisible. He had gradually added more layers, each ever so slightly darker than the last. Operating in this way, and experimenting with different pigments, he had taught himself how to capture the delicate contours of human flesh. Because of the thin layers, any light hitting the painting seemed to pass through the angel’s face and illuminate it from within.

What this revealed was that in the six years that he had been working in the studio, he must have applied himself to an elaborate study of the various paints and perfected a style of layering that made everything seem delicate and lifelike, with a feeling of texture and depth. He must have also spent a great deal of time studying the composition of human flesh itself. What this also revealed was the incredible patience of Leonardo, who must have felt a great deal of love for such detailed work.

Over the years, after he left Verrocchio’s studio and established a name for himself as an artist, Leonardo da Vinci developed a philosophy that would guide his artwork and, later, his scientific work as well. He noticed that other artists generally started with an overall image they planned to depict, one that would create a startling or spiritual effect. His mind operated differently. He would find himself beginning with a keen focus on details—the various shapes of noses, the possible turnings of the mouth to indicate a mood, the veins in a hand, the intricate knots of trees. These details fascinated him. He had come to believe that by focusing on and understanding such details he was actually getting closer to the secret of life itself, to the work of the Creator who infused his presence into every living thing and every form of matter. The bones of the hand or the contours of human lips were as inspiring to him as any religious image. For him, painting was a quest to get at the life force that animates all things. In the process of doing so, he believed he could create work that was much more emotional and visceral. And to realize this quest, he invented a series of exercises that he followed with incredible rigor.

During the day he would take endless walks through the city and countryside, his eyes taking in all of the details of the visible world. He would make himself notice something new in every familiar object that he saw. At night, before falling asleep, he would review all of these various objects and details, fixing them in his memory. He was obsessed with capturing the essence of the human face in all of its glorious diversity. For this purpose, he would visit every conceivable place where he could find different types of people—brothels, public houses, prisons, hospitals, prayer corners in churches, country festivals. With his notebook always at hand, he would sketch grimacing, laughing, pained, beatific, leering expressions on an incredible variety of faces. He would follow people in the streets who had a type of face he had never seen before, or some kind of physical deformity, and would sketch them as he walked. He would fill single sheets of paper with dozens of different noses in profile. He seemed particularly interested in lips, finding them just as expressive as eyes. He would repeat all of these exercises at different times of the day, to make sure he could capture the different effects that changing light would have on the human face.

For his great painting The Last Supper, his patron, the duke of Milan, grew increasingly angry with Leonardo for the time he was taking to finish it. It seemed that all that remained was to fill in the face of Judas, but Leonardo could not find an adequate model. He had taken to visiting the worst parts of Milan to find the most perfectly villainous expression to translate onto Judas, but was having no luck. The duke accepted his explanation, and soon enough Leonardo had found the model he wanted.

He applied this same rigor to capturing bodies in motion. Part of his philosophy was that life is defined by continual movement and constant change. The artist must be able to render the sensation of dynamic movement in a still image. Ever since he was a young man he had been obsessed with currents of water, and had become quite proficient at capturing the look of waterfalls, cascades, and rushing water. With people, he would spend hours seated on the side of a street, watching pedestrians as they moved by. He would hurriedly sketch the outlines of their figures, capturing their various movements in a stop-action sequence. (He had reached the point where he could sketch with incredible rapidity.) At home, he would fill in the outlines. To develop his eye for following movement in general, he invented a whole series of different exercises. For instance, one day in his notebook he wrote, “Tomorrow make some silhouettes out of cardboard in various forms and throw them from the top of the terrace through the air; then draw the movements each makes at different stages of descent.” His hunger to get at the core of life by exploring its details drove him into elaborate research on human and animal anatomy. He wanted to be able to draw a human or a cat from the inside out. He personally dissected cadavers, sawing through bones and skulls, and he religiously attended autopsies so that he could see as closely as possible the structure of muscles and nerves. His anatomical drawings were far in advance of anything of his time for their realism and accuracy.

To other artists, Leonardo seemed insane for all of this attention to detail, but in the few paintings that he actually completed, the results of such rigorous practice can be seen and felt. More than the work of any other artist of his time, the landscapes in the backgrounds of his paintings seemed infused with life. Every flower, branch, leaf or stone was rendered in intense detail. But these backgrounds were not simply there to decorate. In an effect known as sfumato, and one that was peculiar to his work, he would soften parts of these backgrounds to the point at which they would melt into the figure in the foreground, giving a dreamlike effect. It was part of his idea that all of life is deeply interconnected and fused on some level.

The faces of the women he painted had a pronounced effect on people, and particularly on men, who often fell in love with the female figures he depicted in religious scenes. It wasn’t any obvious sensual quality in their expression, but in their ambiguous smiles and their beautifully rendered flesh the men would recognize a powerfully seductive quality. Leonard heard many stories of them finding their way to his paintings in various houses and secretly fondling the women in the images and kissing their lips.

Much of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa has been damaged by attempts to clean and restore it in the past, making it hard to imagine it as it originally appeared, and how its startling qualities shocked the public. Fortunately, we have the critic Vasari’s description of it, before it became hopelessly altered: “The eyebrows, growing thickly in one place and thinly in another, following the pores of the skin, could not have been more lifelike. The nose, with its ravishingly delicate pink nostrils, was life itself. The shaping of the mouth, where the red of the lips merged with the skin tones of the face, seemed not to be made from colors but from living flesh. In the hollow of the throat, the observant onlooker could see the pulsing of the veins.” Long after Leonardo’s death, his paintings continue to have haunting and disturbing effects on viewers. Numerous security guards in museums around the world have been fired for their weird, obsessive relationships to his work, and Leonardo’s paintings remain the most vandalized in the history of art, all of this attesting to the power of his work to stir up the most visceral emotions.

The primary problem for artists in Leonardo da Vinci’s day was the constant pressure to produce more and more work. They had to produce at a relatively high rate in order to keep the commissions coming and remain in the public eye. This influenced the quality of their work. A style had developed in which artists could quickly create effects in their painting that would superficially excite viewers. To create such effects they would depend on bright colors, unusual juxtapositions and compositions, and dramatic scenes. In the process, they would inevitably gloss over the details in the background and even in the people they portrayed. They did not pay much attention to the flowers or trees or the hands of figures in the foreground. They had to dazzle on the surface. Leonardo recognized this fact early in his career and it distressed him. It went against his grain in two ways—he hated the feeling of having to hurry with anything, and he loved immersing himself in details for their own sake. He was not interested in creating surface effects. He was animated by a hunger to understand life forms from the inside out and to grasp the force that makes them dynamic, and to somehow express all of this on a flat surface. And so, not fitting in, he went on his own peculiar path, mixing science and art.

To complete his quest, Leonardo had to become what he termed “universal”—for each object he had to be able to render all of its details, and he had to extend this knowledge as far as possible, to as many objects in the world as he could study. Through sheer accumulation of such details, the essence of life itself became visible to him, and his understanding of this life force became visible in his artwork.

In your own work you must follow the Leonardo path. Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work. They are in a hurry to create effects and make a splash; they think in large brush strokes. Their work inevitably reveals their lack of attention to detail—it doesn’t connect deeply with the public, and it feels flimsy. If it gets attention, the attention is momentary. You must see whatever you produce as something that has a life and presence of its own. This presence can be vibrant and visceral, or it can be weak and lifeless. A character in a novel, for instance, will come to life for the reader if the writer has put great effort into imagining the details of that character. The writer does not need to literally lay out these details; readers will feel it in the work and will intuit the level of research that went into the creation of it. All living things are an amalgam of intricate levels of details, animated by the dynamic that connects them. Seeing your work as something alive, your path to mastery is to study and absorb these details in a universal fashion, to the point at which you feel the life force and can express it effortlessly in your work.

  1. Widen your vision—the Global Perspective

Early in his career as a boxing trainer, Freddie Roach felt like he knew the business well enough to become highly successful at it. (For more information on Roach see chapter 1, here, and chapter 3, here.) He had fought for years as a professional; he had a boxer’s feel for the game. His own trainer had been the legendary Eddie Futch, who had trained Joe Frazier, among others. When Roach’s career as a boxer had ended in the mid-1980s, he had served as an apprentice trainer for several years under Futch himself. On his own, Roach had created a novel training technique based on the use of sparring mitts. Wearing these large mitts, he could spar with and teach his fighters in the ring, in real time. This added another dimension to his instruction. He worked hard at building a personal rapport with his fighters. And finally, he developed the practice of poring over videos of opposing fighters, studying their styles in depth, and devising an effective counter-strategy based on this study.

And yet despite all of this work, he sensed that something was missing. Everything would go well in practice, but in actual fights he would often watch from the corner with a helpless feeling as his boxers would go their own way, or would enact only a part of the strategy he had devised. Sometimes he and his fighters would be on the same page, sometimes not. All of this was reflected in the winning percentage of his boxers—good but not great. He could remember back to his own days as a fighter under Futch. He too had done well in practice, but in actual fights and in the heat of the moment, all strategy and preparation would go out the window and he would try to punch his way to a victory. He had always missed something from Futch’s training. Futch had trained him well in all of the separate components of a fight (like offense, defense, and footwork), but Roach never had had a sense of the whole picture or the overall strategy. The connection between himself and Futch had never been that great, and so under pressure in the ring, he would suddenly just revert to his own natural way of fighting. And he now seemed to be having a similar problem with his own fighters.

Trying to feel his way through to a process that would bring better results, Roach decided he needed to do for his fighters what had never been done for himself in his own career—namely, to give them a feel for the complete picture of the fight. He wanted them to enact this script over all the rounds, and to deepen the connection between fighter and trainer. He began by expanding the mitt work, making it not just a component in the training process, but the focal point. Now he would spend hours sparring with his fighters over several rounds. Day after day, feeling their punches and getting a sense of the rhythm of their footwork, he could almost get inside their skin. He could feel their moods, the level of their focus, and the degree to which they were open to instruction. Without ever having to say a word, he could alter their moods and focus by the intensity of the mitt work he did with them.

Having trained as a fighter since he was six years old, Roach had a feel for every square inch of the ring. With his eyes closed he could gauge exactly where he stood in the ring at any moment. Training his fighters for hours with the mitt work, he could imprint into them his own sixth sense for the space itself, deliberately maneuvering them into bad positions so they could feel in advance how they were approaching such a dangerous space. In the same way, he would impart to them several ways to avoid such dead positions.

One day, as he was studying a video of an opposing fighter, he had an epiphany—his way of watching videos was all wrong. In general, he would focus on a fighter’s style, which is something boxers can control and alter for strategic purposes. This suddenly seemed like a superficial way of studying the opponent. A far better strategy would be to look for their habits or tics, the things they couldn’t control no matter how hard they tried. Every fighter has such tics—they are signs of something deeply wired into their rhythms—and they translate into potential weaknesses. Discovering these tics and habits would give Roach a much deeper read on the opponent, cutting to his psyche and to his heart.

He began to look for signs of this in the tapes he watched, and in the beginning it would take him several days to see anything. But in the course of watching so many hours on the opposing fighter, he would get a feel for his ways of moving and thinking. Eventually, he would find the habit he was looking for—for instance, a slight motion of the head that always foreshadowed a particular punch. Now that he had found it, he would see it everywhere on the tapes. After doing this for many different fights over several years, he developed a feel for identifying such tics much more quickly.

Based on these discoveries, he would craft a complete strategy that had built-in flexibility. Depending on what the opponent showed in the first round, Roach would have ready several options for his own fighter that would surprise and upset the opponent, keeping him on his heels and in react mode. His strategy would encompass the entire fight. If necessary, his own fighter could sacrifice a round or two without ever losing control of the overall dynamic. Now, in the mitt work, he would go over the strategy endlessly. Carefully mimicking the tics and rhythms of the opponent he had come to know so well, he could show his fighters how to mercilessly take advantage of their habits and weaknesses; he would go over the various options to adopt, depending on what the opponent revealed in the first round. By the time the fight itself approached, his fighters would feel as if they had already fought and destroyed this opponent, having faced Roach so many times in preparation.

During the progress of the fights themselves, Roach now had a completely different feeling than in the years before. The connection with his fighters was absolute. His vision of the whole picture—the spirit of the opponent, the way to dominate the ring space within each round, the overall strategy to win the fight—was now deeply imprinted into the footwork, punching, and thinking of his own fighter. He could almost feel himself in the ring exchanging punches, but now he had the ultimate satisfaction of controlling both the mind of his own fighter and that of the opponent’s. He would watch with mounting excitement as his fighters would slowly wear down their opponents, exploiting their habits and getting inside their heads just as he had taught them to.

His winning percentage started to climb to a level that was unprecedented in the sport. His success extended beyond the main fighter in his stable, Manny Pacquiao, to include nearly all of his boxers. Since 2003 he has been named Boxing Trainer of the Year five times, no other previous trainer having received the award more than twice. It seems that in modern boxing he is now in a class all by himself.

If we look closely at the career path of Freddie Roach, we can see a transparent example of the development of mastery. His father, a former New England featherweight champion himself, had pushed all of his sons into the sport at a very early age. Freddie Roach himself had begun serious training as a boxer at the age of six, and this continued all the way to the age of eighteen, when he turned professional. Those twelve years added up to an extremely deep level of practice and immersion in the sport. For the next eight years of his life, until he retired from the sport, he fought fifty-three bouts, an intense fighting schedule. As someone who enjoyed practicing and training, the number of hours he spent in the gym as a professional boxer was much higher than that of other fighters. After retirement he stayed around the sport, working as an apprentice trainer for Eddie Futch. By the time he began his own career as a trainer, he had accumulated so many overall hours of work in the sport that he already saw boxing from a perspective that was much wider and deeper than that of other trainers. And so when he felt that there was an even higher level to aim for, this intuition was based on the depth of all those years of practical experience. Inspired by this feeling, he was able to analyze his own work up to that point and see its limitations.

Roach knew from his own career that so much of boxing is mental. A fighter who enters the ring with a clear sense of purpose and strategy, and with the confidence that comes from complete preparation, has a much better chance of prevailing. It was one thing to imagine giving his fighters such an advantage, but it was quite another to bring it to pass. Before a fight there are so many distractions, and during a match it is so easy to simply react emotionally to the punches and lose any sense of strategy. To overcome these problems, he developed a two-pronged approach—he crafted a comprehensive and fluid strategy based on his perception of the opponent’s habits, and he imprinted this strategy into the nervous system of his fighters through hours of mitt work. On this level, his training did not consist of individual elements that he worked on with his boxers, but of an integrated, seamless form of preparation that closely simulated the experience of a fight, repeated over and over again. It took many years of a hit-and-miss process to create this high-level training, but when it all came together his success rate skyrocketed.

In any competitive environment in which there are winners or losers, the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail. The reason is simple: such a person will be able to think beyond the moment and control the overall dynamic through careful strategizing. Most people are perpetually locked in the present. Their decisions are overly influenced by the most immediate event; they easily become emotional and ascribe greater significance to a problem than it should have in reality. Moving toward mastery will naturally bring you a more global outlook, but it is always wise to expedite the process by training yourself early on to continually enlarge your perspective. You can do so by always reminding yourself of the overall purpose of the work you are presently engaged in and how this meshes with your long-term goals. In dealing with any problem, you must train yourself to look at how it inevitably connects to a larger picture. If your work is not having the desired effect, you must look at it from all angles until you find the source of the problem. You must not merely observe the rivals in your field, but dissect and uncover their weaknesses. “Look wider and think further ahead” must be your motto. Through such mental training, you will smooth the path to mastery while separating yourself ever further from the competition.

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