Jiu-Jitsu Letter

George Leonard's *Mastery*

There are a few books I re-read at least once a year. Mastery, by George Leonard1, is one of them. It’s the kind of book I sometimes buy for others.

The author was an aikido practitioner, but the lessons are applicable to jiu-jitsu and life in general.

He describes three characters that never reach mastery: the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker.


The Dabbler is excited in the beginning because he likes the new, shiny thing. He goes to class with enthusiasm, spends a bunch of money on gis and rash guards. He experiences rapid improvement and tells everyone about it. But he, like all of us, eventually hits a plateau. He no longer seems to be improving. He starts to wonder if maybe this isn’t for him after all. Maybe he’ll stick around long enough for a couple more growth spurts, but that means there will be a couple more stalls too. No more jiu-jitsu. It’s time to find something new to dabble in.


The Obsessive rarely misses a class. He’s always improving and works very hard. But nobody progresses smoothly in jiu-jitsu, not even the Obsessive. When he hits a plateau, he works even harder. Sometimes this works, but it doesn’t work for long. Eventually, the improvement stops, and he might think that he’s actually getting worse. Maybe he gets injured. It’s a perfect excuse to quit.


The Hacker is the opposite of the Obsessive. He attends class regularly but doesn’t care much for fundamentals and gets away with not building a solid foundation. When hits a plateau, he doesn’t care because he doesn’t care about improving. It’s actually a good attitude in a way, but then he notices everyone else is improving.

If this approach means he’ll never stop training, maybe he’ll change. But usually, we see students like this quit because they can’t handle seeing his peers pass him.

  1. Robert Greene’s Mastery is very good too. ↩︎

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