In this week’s podcast, I hesitated at one point and then chose my words very carefully. We were talking about the process of shooting a lot of matches, gaining a lot of experience, and improving your skills in competition shooting, and the phrase I used to describe this was “walking the path of mastery.”
This is a deliberate crib from George Leonard and his excellent book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. It is a devastatingly concise text, packed to the rafters with reflections and wisdom gained from decades spent in the Aikido dojo, all of which apply to shooting when treated as a serious martial art.
One of the core teachings of the book is that mastery is not, by its nature, a destination. You achieve a certain rank (belt in martial arts, or a classification of “Master”) but that is not the end. There is always more to do. Mastery is a journey, a process, an evolution, and it is never complete until you give up on it or you die. In the podcast, I was tempted to say something declarative about “once you’ve done this for a while” or claim some arbitrary level of proficiency that moves you from the “novice” to “experienced” bucket, but I caught myself because I know that we are each on the path of mastery. Some of us are walking down it, some of us have sat down for a rest, and some of us are trying so hard to sprint down it that we trip and fall. But despite the very black-and-white classifications of Sharpshooter or Expert, A class or B class, we are all just students on the path.
And those classifications are only really meaningful from the outside. As I wrote this time last year, in a post about setting and achieving goals:
Almost two years ago I set the goal to get serious and get good at practical shooting like IDPA and USPSA. My goal was to make IDPA Master class, and I’m not quite there yet, but it’s in sight. But where, twenty four months ago, the leap between my current state and shooting at a Master level was a vast one that seemed both momentous and hugely special, after literally years of work, when I make Master it won’t be with the awe and admiration I held when I took my first step on this path. It will be with the tacit understanding and nodding agreement that nothing in this world comes for free and I’ve earned this. On one level it’s less wondrous and amazing than it was when I set out to do it (has it really been two years?!). But at the same time, it’s a welcome milestone on the path of mastery I’ve embarked on.