Path to Mastery: Lessons in Mastery from the Far East

by Ed Britton

The Eastern cultures are really good at the long game – patient and persistent people. They set an intention, lay out a plan and stick to implementation for, sometimes, generations.

Few people in the Far East have more than one or two options to pursue in life – they have few resources available – and along with limited choices comes limited distractions. Focus, discipline and daily practice leads to mastery of some of the most difficult arts for which the Asian people are famous. The key piece in their achievement of mastery is not going to the best universities or having legions of researchers supporting their pursuit to the front lines of their profession, but simply relentless practice.

Another unmistakable feature of the Asian master's personality is their personal love of the art. Rather than driven by economic considerations, these masters love what they do for its own sake. That love carries them through vicissitudes of fickle financial fashions that come and go at a rate that is not compatible with the achievement of mastery.

Oriental masters also revere the basics. While we were living in China, my son took up the sport of badminton under the tutelage of a Chinese master. Every day for the first month, my son practiced nothing but bouncing the birdie on his own racket – no net, no serving, no rallies, no game. Thirty days of bouncing the birdie. He was developing hand-eye coordination to a masterful level. Once he was 'one of the best in the world' at bouncing a birdie, he went on to perfecting his serve. Now he had a net! But still no rallies and no games.

Traditionally, the Asians tend to excel in individual arts and sports rather than team-oriented mastery. So, this brief consideration of oriental mastery seems particularly relevant to the pursuit of coaching mastery, because coaching also tends to be an individual art. The patience, persistence, practice, love and attention to the basics seem to apply particularly well to the coach's pursuit of excellence.

I don't suggest that consideration for the pragmatic or business side of coaching can be ignored. Rather, the mastery side of coaching needs to be insulated from the varieties of the market place so that the mastery can stand on its own and persist through the bumps and twists that would otherwise distract and derail.

While mastery should not be our only reward, mastery can be its own reward.

Ed BrittonEd Britton is a career and leadership coach who lives in Calgary, Canada. He also serves the IAC as the Director of Development and leads the Path to Mastery coaching triads program. Ed has a background in the physical sciences, in adult education and leadership development. After living in China for 10 years, Ed looks forward to a Canadian winter and cross country skiing! If you would like to participate in the Path to Mastery coaching triads program, please contact Ed at

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