Even Masters Have Masters

‘Will I ever make it to the next level?’

It’s something many people ask themselves at some point. I know I certainly have.

This thought can creep in when a goal seems almost beyond reach. We think about where we are — then where we want to be — and wonder how we’ll ever get there.

Now this can apply to anything. It could be trading, business, sport, or education.

The fact is, most successful people start at the bottom. They then work their way to the top, one level at a time.

I often get emails from people starting out in the markets. Two things usually stand out — basic knowledge and a modest capital base.

Many of these people worry about the enormity of the task. They wonder if they’ll ever be meaningfully successful. It’s a bit like standing at the base of Everest and looking up.

I know how this feels — I’ve been there. Every trader has… from the part-time speculator to the New York hedge fund superstar. Behind every successful trader there’s a modest beginning.

It’s funny how random events can take you down an unexpected path. A few years ago I was listening to ABC Radio. I tuned in by chance during a trip to the shops.

It turns out there was a talk show in progress. The special guest was former Test cricketer Justin Langer. This was a fascinating interview. It had a lasting impact on the way I think.

Justin was talking about his cricketing career. It was a tale of contrasts.

The first half of his career regularly saw him in and out of the team. He was continually falling short of expectations. His career was often on a knife’s edge.

But the second half was radically different. Justin’s star was soaring. He went on to become one of the most successful opening batsmen of all time.

How did he do it?

This is the part I enjoy most. I love listing to people’s stories…I always learn something new. And this was no exception.

The centrepiece of Justin’s story is a humble book. It was a gift from a teammate while on tour. Justin credits this as a key event in his career. His whole way of thinking changed.

The book became a constant companion. Justin said he would keep it on his bedside table. Each night he would read one of its short chapters…just a few pages.

I guess you’re wondering the book’s name. Well, it’s unusual. You probably won’t read about it anywhere else this weekend.

The name is Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. It was written back in 1979.

So what do martial arts have to do with cricket…or trading, for that matter?

Well, Zen in the Martial Arts isn’t about drills and technique. The focus is more life and philosophy…creating a positive from a negative.

I always pay attention when a high achiever gives away a ‘secret’. You never know where it’s going to lead.

So I went online after the interview to look for the book. Sure enough, it was there. Amazon had it in stock for a bargain basement $12.95. The biggest expense was shipping!

Zen in the Martial Arts is an outstanding book. Its 135 pages contain some real gems. Some of the chapter titles are‘Conquer Haste’, ‘Active Inactivity’, and ‘Lengthen Your Line’. It was mind-opening.

I bought Zen in the Martial Arts in 2009. It’s still clear in my mind six years later. I often find myself teaching my kids a lesson from the book.

Let me tell you about one of the chapters. It explains an excellent way to look at progression. This can really help put your ability into perspective. I reflect on this all the time for all sorts of things.

The chapter’s name is ‘Even the Masters Have Masters’. It describes the process of getting good at something.

The author, Joe Hyams, describes his own learning experience in the martial arts. He talks about ability as a never-ending staircase with countless landings, or plateaus. The landings represent times when he would stop improving.

Hyam talks of the frustration of being stuck on a landing. He says it was discouraging when his improvement would stall. And he found he wasn’t alone…the experience was common to many.

I’m one of these people. There have been many plateaus in my career…periods when I was only marking time. And yes, I found those times frustrating.

But life is often how we frame it. The right perspective can make all the difference.

Hyams recalls his mentor’s way of dealing with the plateaus. When discouraged, he would go to watch the beginners train. This would remind him how far he had already come.

He would then watch the black belts. This would then inspire him by seeing how much better he could be.

Eventually he was a black belt himself. But that wasn’t the top. His master was higher, and his master’s master was higher still. The potential to improve was endless.

I often think of the infinitely rising staircase. A landing is no longer frustrating. It’s now an opportunity to take stock…a chance to see an ever-increasing number of landings below.

Always reflect on your achievements along the way. They’re a great reminder of how far you’ve already come.

Until next week,

Jason McIntosh
Editor, Quant Trader

PS: Quant Trader is a fully algorithmic trading system. Its aim is to identify ASX stocks with the potential for big gains. The system’s underlying strategy is to run winners and cut losses. While easy to say, many traders find this difficult to do. Quant Trader can give you the discipline and confidence to turn a small profit into a BIG one. To learn more, click here.

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Jason McIntosh

Jason McIntosh

Jason is a professional quantitative analyst. Before he graduated in 1991 he joined Bankers Trust — a Wall Street investment bank — to be a trader. After Bankers Trust was taken over in 1999, Jason, already financially independent, co-founded a stock market advisory and funds management business called Fat Prophets. At 37 he sold his part of that business and retired. These days, he’s a private trader and system developer. In 2014 he launched the wildly successful trading service: Quant Trader.

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deToke deVille

Some people find the step-by-step drill ideal.
Zen? Maybe. Maybe not.

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