The Inner Art of Airmanship

Mindset Twelve:
Unending Journey of Self-Discovery

To the winged warrior the stick becomes as a Samurai sword. The sky becomes a practice. Each flight is new. And the more we fly, the more we discover. What is not needed falls away, and your airmanship becomes masterful.

Reading all the pages here will not make you a better pilot, and certainly will not explain what Zen or peak performance psychology is about. However, if you put the thoughts into action, over time, you will fly more surely. You will begin to see how full of discovery flying can be, and how fully learning one thing can then be positively applied to other areas of your life.

Psychologists now routinely refer to three kinds of work orientation: a job, a career, and a calling (Wrzesniewski, et al., 1997). A job is something you do just for the money. Your real life is all away from the job. I’ve had jobs like stocking supermarket shelves and selling cars. A career is something more. People who see themselves as having a career have a deeper personal investment in their work, and mark their achievements not only through pay, but with prestige and promotions. They invest more into their work than the uninterested job holder, and see themselves as getting more in return. It is a distinction only you make; selling cars or stocking supermarket shelves both could be careers.

The happiest people see themselves as having a calling. It’s a passionate commitment to the work for its own sake. The effort they expend becomes its own reward. The calling is what they are, not just what they do. When asked what makes a good pilot, the general in charge of accident prevention for the USAF, J. D. 'smokey' Caldara, said, “Flying safely is a way of life — a creed.”

The origin of the word calling is religious. You are called to do God’s work, and it is the root of the word vocation. Maybe someone with a calling conjures images of artists living by the sea or doctors working in Africa. But hearing and heding a calling is a solid fact of the human condition. You can view your work as drudgery, or as a method to advance in your spritual life. Your choice. Or you can start to see the greater whole. Entry-level street cleaners make our world beautiful, airline pilots bring families together and make global business a reality. It’s your choice how you view your work. A mundane job to do, or a way of life. By making airmanship your creed, by really paying attention, by making your efforts meaningful, the inner rewards will come.

For me to find this again, I needed to understand again the importance and ultimate responsibility of my position as an airline captain. From an attitude of just driving the bus, to acknowledging the awesome responsibility placed in me by trusting passengers. I transport soldiers on leave, TV stars, honeymooners, and parents on the way to show baby to the new grandparents for the first time. Several years ago, when I felt trapped in a routine job, I needed to awaken to the endless opportunities for growth by learning to fly at a higher level. I love flying. I have found my calling.

The most successful basketball coach of all time, Phil Jackson, wrote in his book Sacred Hoops that:

Most rookies arrive in the NBA thinking that what will make them happy is having unlimited freedom to strut their egos on national TV. But that approach to the game is an inherently empty experience. What makes basketball so exhilarating is the joy of losing yourself completely in the dance, even if it’s just for one beautiful transcendent moment. (Jackson & Delehanty, 1995.)


When I read this I thought of all the airline pilots that went to flight school dreaming about making millions of dollars flying on autopilot to exotic foreign cities twice a month while being served first-class meals by pretty flight attendants. After a while, it becomes Phil’s inherently empty experience. The joy of flying is in the flying. You must actively engage to find the magic. You will eventually have complete clarity seeing what is yours to do, then readily surrender to just doing it.

You might have heard the phrase Right Stuff used to describe superior pilot skills. It was popularized by skilled author Tom Wolfe in his landmark book about the beginning of the astronaut program, The Right Stuff. It is often now used as a shorthand for a natural pilot. But that is simplistic. A misunderstanding. Actual right stuff Apollo 7 astronaut and Marine Corps fighter pilot Walter Cunningham said the original use came as close as anything to describing what sets flying apart as an art, as a science, as a way of living:

The main thing to know about an astronaut, if you want to understand his psychology, is not that he’s going into space but that he is a flyer and has been in that game for 15 or 20 years. It’s like a huge and very complex pyramid, miles high, and the idea is to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you are one of the elected and anointed ones that have the right stuff.

The right stuff is not bravery in the simple sense; it is bravery in the most sophisticated sense. Any fool can put his hide on the line and throw his life away in the process. The idea is to be able to put your hide on the line — and then to have the moxie, the reflexes, the talent, the experience, to pull it back in at the last yawning moment — and then to be able to go out again the next day and do it all over again — and, in its best expression, to be able to do it in some cause, in some calling that means something. (Cunningham, 1977.)

Some people who study expertise use three broad levels of performance; novice, journeyman, and expert. Most training research has focused on the transition from novice to proficient journeyman, but clearly Sam was interested in how people continue to move up to become expert. A detailed account of performance levels developed by professors Hubert Dreyfus and Stuart Dreyfus at the University of California, Berkeley, is maybe the description most widely cited in academic papers. It uses a well-defined five level phenomenological model of skill acquisition: novice, advanced beginner, competence, proficiency, and finally expertise (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 2005). What’s the difference between the highest two levels? The professors wrote that:

The proficient performer, immersed in the world of skillful activity, sees what needs to be done, but decides how to do it. The expert not only sees what needs to be achieved; thanks to a vast repertoire of situational discriminations, he or she also sees immediately how to achieve the goal. Thus, the ability to make more subtle and refined discriminations is what distinguishes the expert from the proficient performer.

The chess Grandmaster experiences a compelling sense of the issue and the best move. Excellent chess players can play at the rate of 5 to 10 seconds a move and even faster without any serious degradation in performance. At this speed they must depend almost entirely on intuition and hardly at all on analysis and comparison of alternatives…. The expert driver not only feels in the seat of his pants when speed is the issue; he knows how to perform the appropriate action without calculating and comparing alternatives. On the off-ramp, his foot simply lifts off the accelerator and applies the appropriate pressure to the brake. What must be done, simply is done. (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 2005.)

This Dreyfus and Dreyfus five level model was used by Patricia Benner in her seminal book From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. She analyzed actual patient care experiences as described by 1,200 skilled nurses, then produced a manual on practical mastery in the real world that the American Journal of Nursing recognized as a 'book of the year' when it was released in 1984. It has since been cited thousands of times by other researchers and kept in print for two decades. Patricia found that:

Expert performers no longer rely on analytic principles (rules, guidelines, maxims) to connect their understanding of the situation to an appropriate action. The expert, with an enormous background of experience, has an intuitive grasp of each situation and zeros in on the accurate region of the problem without wasteful consideration of a large range of unfruitful, alternative diagnoses and solutions. The performer is no longer aware of features and rules, and his or her performance becomes fluid and flexible and highly proficient. (Benner, 1984)

Bringing the focus back to flying, a NATO military aircrew training paper on airmanship believed there are three meaningfully different levels that can be distinguished: Basic, Superior and Outstanding. (Ebbage & Spencer, 2003).

Basic Airmanship is essential competence. It requires a solid foundation of aeronautical knowledge and skills, and results in textbook performance. With additional motivation, knowledge and experience, you can reach Superior Airmanship. Here, pilots do more than simply follow standard operating procedures. They use foresight to anticipate problems and use higher-order skills such as situation assessment, judgment and problem solving to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to situation management. The highest level is Outstanding Airmanship. It is the desire to achieve excellence in all aspects of performance. At this level pilots are dedicated to self-improvement and have a genuine desire to perform optimally at all times. It is continuous striving for airmanship excellence, and manifests itself in outstanding performance.

In his excellent book Redefining Airmanship Tony Kern uses a similar model, but with four levels of pilot skill. The first level is safety, which by definition is reached by every private pilot or primary flight training graduate. Safe enough to be let loose alone into the sky. The second level is effectiveness, which must be reached by a commercial pilot for a line check, a military pilot for mission qualification, or for sport pilots it is the ability to handle cross-county flying in a range of weather. Kern says that, “Many flyers see little reason to develop additional skills beyond this effectiveness level. Motivation to develop beyond this level must come from within.” Elsewhere, Kern has stated this “good enough” zone is characterized by “the crushing grip of mediocrity” (Kern. 2009).

Kern, Pilot Skill Levels

(From Redefining Airmanship, figure 3-1, page 54.)

For those that continue to study and practice and think, a third skill level is achieved. They can fly efficiently, saving fuel or time or effort. It is more skill than is required, but it is the major stepping stone to mastery. It is where our art of flying starts to be seen. After adding and adding, you now start to pare down. Eliminate the unnecessary. Do only what is rightly required. Almost correct the first time, followed by a small correction and then peace. Downwind to base to final becomes one gently decelerating smooth curve like the sun setting.

Dr Kern identifies a forth skill level by precision approaching perfection. Few aviators ever reach this level. It is the inner art of airmanship. Master of the wing. Authority without domination. You must seek perfection as “a continuing motivation for personal improvement.” You exceed the skill levels, you top the motivation pyramid. By not flying two knots too fast, by sitting peacefully in the flow, ready for the zone, in complete control but relaxed looking at the clouds, you have made airmanship an inner art. And speaking again of art, Master painter and sculptor Michelangelo knew about this. He said, “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” So you keep attending to what some consider tiny trifling bits of details. In time, this practice of insight and discipline transforms you. Every cockpit has a window to the world, but more importantly it offers some a view into the human condition. The cockpit is a vehicle for discovering we can do what we once could not even imagine. The cockpit transports us into the unknown.

Fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut Chris Hadfield has spent almost his entire adult life making sure he knew what do next in airplanes and spacecraft. Years of training. Practicing everything to the nth degree. And speaking from the International Space Station, he said the end result “feels like you’re on the crest of a wave of ability.”

Sam said the Japanese would recognize the highest level of airmanship as Shibumi, which he said is effortless perfection. You can’t work that hard all at once he said. It takes time, you have to learn and forget, you have to internalize and let your habits make you. Flying becomes a path to inner harmony in motion.

When asked on a CompuServe flying forum what makes a good pilot, philosopher of flight Richard Bach once answered, “Four things: Judgment, judgment, judgment, and the ability to see the air the way a river-rat sees the water.” For good judgment you must consider all the facts, and apply rules and values without cheating or letting your ego be larger than the sky. Keep making effort to learn all you can, and to just do what is right. As a safety warrior, you take pride in choosing the right path. As a Samurai held his code of conduct — the Bushido — above all else, you must hold your proud aeronautical honor code above all else. Do not allow the powerful forces of management, ego, saving face, looking good, being cool, getting there on time, or whatever cloud your clear decision making skills.

You are the pilot-in-command. Of the airplane, of yourself.

Captain John Rosenberg is a check airman at Delta Air Lines and chair of the National Professional Standards Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association. At a 2010 NTSB conference he defined aviation professionalism as a “dedication to striving for mastery.” Russ Bartlet, when he was Blue Angel #1, the team’s leader, made it equally clear when he said, “we have to seek perfection in the maneuvers. As simple as that.” Squadron Leader Simon Meade, when he was leader of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic display team, also laid it out in black and white, “if we don’t strive for perfection from the very start, what do we strive for?”

Simon Meade, RAF

Red Arrows Squadron Leader Simon Meade

They are not alone in this attitude. At 16-years-old John Rands was flying gliders, by 21 he was a RAF fighter pilot in the powerful Lightning interceptor, then he flew three years in the Red Arrows. Following a tour in the Harrier, he returned to the aerobatic team to fly using the coveted call sign Red Leader. With over two thousand Red Arrow sorties in his logbook, he wrote in his 1999 book Reds what happens after every flight:

We watch the video of our performance as soon as we can after the show, picking out the areas for improvement. There is always something to work on.

Maybe we have something to learn from doctors. They have a 'practice'. After decades of education and experience, they practice medicine. It’s the required mindset for complex arts and sciences that can never be fully mastered.

Maybe the best cellist the world has ever known was Spaniard Pablo Casals. He had a long lifetime of practice and playing, At four years old Casals could play the violin, piano and flute. At six he played the violin well enough to perform a solo in public. He spent 13 years practicing Bach’s six cello suites every day before he performed them in public. He won awards around the world. And at age 93 he was asked why he still practised three hours a day. The master replied: “I’m beginning to see some improvement.”

Dale Masters, after 11,000 hours teaching in sailplanes, wrote that learning, “is an endless process. The more you learn, the more there is to learn, and the more fun it all becomes.” Jeremy Sloane, USAF Thunderbird pilot, said in 2006 that, “no matter how precise we fly, there is always room for improvement.” John Saccomando, USN Blue Angel pilot, said in 2004 that, “It’s really a never ending process. we’re never completely going to reach that level of perfection.” Neil Armstrong, fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut, moon walker, aeronautical engineering professor, and at age 75 still an active glider pilot, said in a CBS TV interview that he works for, “self satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, trying to do a little better than you think you possibly can.”

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, flying a glider.

Abilities now start to touch aspirations. Mario Andretti, the ‘Driver of the Century’ according to the Associated Press and RACER magazine, won races in Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, midget cars, sprint cars, stock cars and drag racing. Did he rest on his laurels? No. Instead he was always on a mission, saying he was always “striving to the next level.” Debby Rihn-Harvey, who has over 25,000 hours aloft as a Southwest Airlines B737 captain, unlimited aerobatics champion and flight instructor put it this way:

It is you against perfection, not against anyone else. I’ve never flown a perfect flight in 25 years…. I feel too many people are so mechanical when they learn to fly, and if I can make them feel as if they are one with the airplane I feel as if I’ve done a service and given back to aviation some of what it has given me.

As you continue to learn, continue to practice, the mechanical feeling will start to disappear. Your awkward old self will get out the way of your smooth pilot self. You naturally come to treat the cockpit with respect as a learning place, a dojo. You are flying just to fly. You are soaking up new experiences on every flight. You are concentrating on every task, bring right mindness to bear. You work on areas you know are weak, whether it is the electrical system or CRM or letting your eye and hands fly the approach while your mind is a monitor. Let both sides of the brain go flying. Although you are nothing special, you sometimes have a 'white moment' where you get in the zone when hand-flying. Then you may often feel that your 'no-mind' flying is a fully engaged flow state. It gets better from here. It gets harmonious, unified, and effortless.

This point of starting to see the full potential is where I was when I lost contact with Sam. He talked to me of being a mirror. He talked of all the words and all the techniques falling away. Of becoming a sky where clouds and mountains are just clouds and mountains.

Airliner in cloud

If you work hard to get to this stage, you have been changed. You are not an amateur, a hacker, or a dilettante. You are a master. A true safety warrior. The process will have changed you. You know now what only warriors and artists who have invested their whole selves into a practice can know. The world of the painter is not the world of the art critic. The world of the pilot is not the world of the passenger.

Despite the huge amount of time it takes to get to this stage, it takes more. We all know the slightly unsettling feeling of not flying for a while and then getting back into the cockpit. We lose ‘the edge.' We quickly lose proficiency. Elite level flying is a use-it or lose-it skill. Just like the physical changes in brain structure with practice in an activity can be seen by neuroscientists, the effects of stopping have been mapped. A university group studied the increase in the area of the occipital lobe (a region associated with the perception of motion) over time as their participants learnt to juggle (Dragansski, et al., 2004). More than the increase, it’s worthy of note that when the juggling stopped within months the occipital lobe has lost about half of its pervious increase in size. Not staying current in a motor skill has a real physical effect we can see in the brain.

Sam loved the imagery of snow falling on trees. Christmas card stuff. So much heavy snow that stiff old oaks will eventually crack under the weight. However the flexible willow will bend and bend and bend. And then at some point the snow will simply slide off and the willow springs back up. Alive. It does it all without thought.

Snow on tree with bird

Blend with nature. Accept the changing, changeless river. You know who you are as an individual and simultaneously are invisibly, yet palpably, connected with the All. In this state, your creative power is limitless. Sam babbled sometimes of oceans of air, of not feeling or knowing, but somehow letting the plane kiss the concrete. Not only were the passengers unaware of when they touched the ground, so was the pilot.

I told Sam of such a landing I had experienced in the ATR. It felt great. I asked him what I should do after flowing into the zone for a landing where the flight attendant’s call up to say the passengers are clapping. He looked at me like I was stupid, and said, “the after landing checklist.”

E `a`a `ia makou e ho`okele hou, `A`ohe halawai ma`o oa aku. This is a Hawaiian chant from those astounding Polynesian sailers who in tiny boats long ago navigated thousands of miles of (to us) seemingly empty Pacific ocean. It means “we are challenged to sail once again, no horizon is too distant.” The human race has survived and thrived all over the planet because we learnt the life and death secrets of mastery of sky, wind, and self. And as the chant shows, we have long known there is no real end to this inner journey of mastery.


Multi-hulled Hawaiian canoe, c. 1781.

Mōhiotanga, Mātauranga, Māramatanga. These are three Māori terms for different types of knowledge, and their differences show these New Zealand natives had a keen appreciation of human understanding. Mōhiotanga is the internalized knowing we are born with. It’s how leaves turn to the sun or babies suckle a mother’s breast. In the nature/nurture dichotomy it is nature. On the other hand, Mātauranga is nurture, the knowledge that is transferred from others via instructions or training. What is intriguing is Māramatanga. This third word for knowing can be translated as illumination. It is connected with the many degrees of understanding (mārama), it occurs after an internal reaction or fusion of the other two kinds of knowledge through insight or training. Māramatanga is the knowledge of the expert, way beyond instinct, beyond the best books. Māramatanga is only created within us by deliberative practice. It is the knowledge of the inner arts.

Tihē mauriora
Ki Te Whaiao
Ki Te Ao Mārama!

The breath and vital energy of life
To the Dawnlight
To the World of Light of Illumination!

Kata Oh Manna Dey, Kata Oh Kwey Ta was a favorite phrase of Matsuo Bashō, and directly translates as learn form then exceed. The Japanese are not the only people to understand this idea. An Italian saying puts it this way, Impara l'arte, e mettila da parte, which means learn the art, then put it aside. The idea here is learn the rules so well that you can forget them. They are part of you. The master artist has learnt the rules of color and perspective and shadow so well she just paints what she sees in her eyes and her heart. The master pilot has learnt aerodynamics and flight control systems so well he just joins the downwind and lands. We are flying into special realms of space and time through total absorption in the work.

Nina Ananiashvili is an incredible prima ballerina who was a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet and guest performer with the New York City Ballet. Sickly as an infant, her parents enrolled the toddler in figure skating lessons in an effort to improve her health. She thrived. At age six she started practicing ballet. At ten she was accepted into the Moscow Choreographic Institute. She practiced ballet five hours a day, six days a week. As an adult, she continued to practice every day. It is hard to imagine that much practice. Literally a lifetime of learning. But like all true master craftsmen she grow past the teachings and the practice. In a filmed interview she said about performing:

When the time comes I forget what I’ve learned. I dance between the notes. (MacGillivray, 1989.)

Stirling Moss is a legendary British motor racing champion, who won an astonishing 212 professional car races. He said:

You have to be part of the car. It’s no longer that you’re in a car and doing something with it, that’s why I refer to this as a complete entity. If things are right, it is complete. (Manso, 1969.)

Pilot and author William Langewiesche described a 19,000 hour master pilot this way:

He did not sit in airplanes so much as put them on. He flew them in a profoundly integrated way, as an expression of himself. He lived through them. (Langewiesche, 2009.)

That pilot, by the way, was Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the captain of US Airways Flight 1549. He landed a powerless A320 in a river between the skyscrapers of New York City, after sudden dual engine failure at 2,800 feet. A National Transportation Safety Board official described it as “the most successful ditching in aviation history”.

A320 landing on Hudson river

Wolf Hirth, the German gliding pioneer and one of the founders of Schempp-Hirth sailplanes wrote that one of his commands — commands — for pilots was:

He must gradually become one with his plane as if the wings were his own. (Hirth, 1952.)

Be the plane. One with the wing.

YinYang brush ink

Years ago, I showed my sort-of-finished notes about Inner Flying to F. E. Potts, a true master pilot who wrote the book F. E. Potts’ Guide To Bush Flying. He was kind enough to write me back:

Flying is an inward journey, and a thinking person’s game. With a guy like me, where flying was merged into the arctic environment and I was more at home at the controls of my planes than anywhere else, it does reach a depth that isn’t found in more mundane flying. The computer hackers find it is necessary to fall into “hack mode” on touching the keyboard if one is to reach the highest levels, and much the same is true with the best pilots. As one settles behind the controls all else should fall away and there should only be the present moment and its smooth integration into the past and future of the flight as one flow.

I never speak of Zen or anything like that in reference to flying, because it should be unnecessary to reach outside your self into other realms. There is a certain pleasure in settling behind the controls of a bush plane (say, a Super Cub), lifting off a rough gravel bar, and flying just a few feet above the trees and river bottoms to some remote area where one can land and get out and wander around without another human within hundreds of miles of where you are at. In the end, it is the contentment, the silence, and the inner peace that come with the life of a wilderness bush pilot that are its best reward.

It was this letter, received after Sam had left, that showed me that when the plane and pilot become one, when you are the mirror reflecting the nature of the sky and the machine — at that time counting the Twelve Mindsets and all the other thoughts of arete and psychology will also fall away. I shall be back again in the cockpit. Turning switches. Checking gauges. Flying airplanes.

Katte, kabuto no o o shime yo (勝って兜の緒を締めよ). This is a Samurai battle cry that can be translated as ‘after victory, tighten your helmet cords’. You may have won this battle, but be prepared for the next. And the next. For the battle with the sky, and the ego, is never ending.

Enjoy the journey. Work in the eternal now. Play with the perpetual pursuit of piloting perfection. One with the wing. Flying from A to B and all inner points in-between.

The life so short, the craft so long to learn.


Each one of my flights lays the foundation for a better flight tomorrow.

Leo and Ricky Brigliadori

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.

Pat Riley

It doesn’t matter what I did on my last performance. It matters what I do on my next performance. If I ever took it for granted, I’d quit.

Sean D. Tucker

Every day of my life, I’m trying to find a different way to get better.

Ray Lewis

I need to stop trying to become perfect, and just try to become better.

Sasha Conen

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.

Salvador Dalí

Many people have the ambition to succeed; they may even have a special aptitude for their job. And yet they do not move ahead. Why? Perhaps they think that since they can master the job, there is no need to master themselves.

John Stevenson

Airmanship requires that every pilot personally accept the responsibility and determination to strive for perfection on every flight.

Frederick Hansen

Little things make the difference. Everyone is well prepared in the big things, but only the winners perfect the little things.

Paul 'Bear' Bryant

Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

Bruce Lee

Bush Flying, like all forms of flying, is a matter of details. And no detail is too small not to be important. There is an old saying that a flight is not over until the airplane is parked and properly tied down. Nowhere is this more true than in the bush, where help is unavailable. This is the reason the pro takes such care of seemingly minor details, and, in these details, survives.

F. E. Potts

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything I did, everything I achieved, can be traced back to the way I approached the fundamentals…. You can’t skip fundamentals if you want to be the best.

Michael Jordan

Fore-warned, fore-armed; to be prepared is half the victory. I know by experience, that I have enemies both visible and invisible, and I know not when, nor in what shape, they may attack me.

Miguel de Cervantes

To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a skier, when you race, you are never gonna have a perfect run. You don’t even have a perfect section, or a perfect turn. But what’s every athlete out there doing, still, over and over? they’re pursuing it: they’re trying, anyway. That’s what I’ve been doing for 25 years.

Bode Miller

I don’t want to use the word perfect, because nothing is perfect. I strive for excellence.

Barbara Streisand

You can always become better.

Tiger Woods

The bottom-line reason why I played golf, I wanted to be the best at what I could do…. There is no way that anybody is ever going to be 100% at at. Nobody ever has and nobody ever will. I am motivated to get as close as I can to perfection.

Jack Nicklaus

You can never really get to the end of music. It’s an eternal journey. You think you know a lot, but the more you find out, the more you realize you don’t know anything. It’s a constant source of curiosity and search. And wonder.


The fun is to learn. To just keep that learning process going.

Helen Mirren

It is always possible to improve.

Bill Toomey

If you are bored flying, your standards are too low.

Lauran Paine Jr.

I don’t think I have reached a plateau. I have just reached the level where I am today. But I need to go above it.

David Beckham

Every situation, every moment, provides the opportunity for self-growth and development of your character.

David K. Reynolds

The vocation, whether it be that of the farmer or the architect, is a function; the exercise of this function as regards the man himself is the most indispensable means of spiritual development.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

It is that personal pursuit of greatness. Your own quest to challenge yourself against the ocean.

Greg Long

The Way is not far from man; if we take the Way as something superhuman, beyond man, this is not the real way.


Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.

Pablo Picasso

I just remember feeling at a certain point in the piece as though everything disappeared — myself included.

Jeffrey Kahane

I may be flying a complicated airplane, rushing through space, but in this cabin I’m surrounded by simplicity and thoughts set free of time. How detached the intimate things around me seem from the great world down below. How strange is this combination of proximity and separation. That ground — seconds away — thousands of miles away. This air, stirring mildly around me. That air, rushing by with the speed of a tornado, an inch beyond. These minute details in my cockpit. The grandeur of the world outside. The nearness of death. The longness of life.

Charles A. Lindbergh

It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Do not entertain hopes for realization, but practice all your life.


Discipline is based on pride, on meticulous attention to details, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of the goal or the fear of failure.

Gary Ryan Blair

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

Pablo Picasso

Art is not a pastime but a priesthood.

Jean Cocteau

A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action.

Samurai maxim

Train tirelessly to defeat the greatest enemy, your self, and to discover the greatest master, your self.

Shi Su Yan

you’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.

Charlie Parker

Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.

Miles Davis

Ah, mastery …  what a profoundly satisfying feeling when one finally gets on top of a new set of skills … and then sees the light under the new door those skills can open, even as another door is closing.

Gail Sheehy

Man is a thinking reed but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinking. “Childlikeness” has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfullness. When this is attained, man thinks, yet he does not think. He thinks like the showers coming down from the sky; he thinks like the waves rolling on the ocean.

Daisetz T. Suzuki

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.

Frédéric Chopin

You must work very hard to become a natural golfer.

Gary Player

Know yourself and play within yourself. I want to be the best and take things to a new level — to be creative, to do the undone, to show the unseen.

Deion Sanders

The inner being is what takes you to another level.

Greg Norman

Harmony comes gradually to a pilot and his plane. The wing does not want so much to fly true as to tug at the hands that guide it; the ship would rather hunt the wind than lay her nose to the horizon far ahead. She has a derelict quality in her character; she toys with freedom and hints at liberation, but yields her own desires gently.

Beryl Markham

Doing work which has to be done over and over again helps us recognize the natural cycles of growth and decay, of birth and death, and thus become aware of the dynamic order of the universe. ‘Ordinary’ work, as the root meaning of the term indicates, is work that is in harmony with the order we perceive in the natural environment.

Fritjof Capra

To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.

Sun Tzu

You have to eat your technique. Digest it. Eliminate it so it’s a part of yourself, it’s in your blood, but you’re not concerned with it anymore.

Tom Robbins

There is freedom from desire and sorrow at the end of the way. The awakened one is free from all fetters and goes beyond life and death. Like a swan that rises from the lake, with her thoughts at peace, she moves onward, never looking back. The one who understands the unreality of all things, and who has laid up no store, that one’s track is unseen, as of birds in the air. Like a bird in the air, she takes an invisible course, wanting nothing, storing nothing, knowing the emptiness of all things.

The Dhammapada

Let you mind wander in simplicity, blend your spirit with the vastness, follow along with things the way they are, and make no room for personal views — then the world will be governed.


We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.


Although the sea was my greatest enemy, it was also my greatest ally. I know intellectually that the sea is indifferent, but her richness allowed me to survive.

Steve Callahan

There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.

Aldous Huxley

There is no enlightenment outside of everyday life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Blunt the sharpness,
untangle the knot,
soften the glare,
merge with dust.

Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

We die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

Dag Hammarskjöld

No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself.


Bliss is now. This bliss is not an achievement, it’s an understanding that there is nothing to achieve, nowhere to go.


There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.

Beverly Sills

All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.

M.C. Richards

What is important in life is life, and not the result of life.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The secret principle of all disciplines is that by training, training falls away. By forgetting about training and sloughing off your own mind, you will be all the more unaware of your self, and the place you thus come to is the perfection of the Way.


The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror. It grasps nothing. It expects nothing. It reflects but does not hold. Therefore, the perfect man can act without effort.


The final state of any discipline is where you forget what you have learned, discard your mind, and accomplish whatever you set out to do without being aware of it yourself. You begin by learning and reach the point where learning does not exist.

Heiho Kaden Sho

The single thing which makes any man happiest is the realization that he has worked up to the limits of his ability, his capacity.

Neil Armstrong

You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.

Arthur Ashe

If thou shouldst say, “It is enough, I have reached perfection,” all is lost.  For it is the function of perfection to make one know one’s imperfection.

Saint Augustine

Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.

Our teams at UCLA had four perfect seasons, but we never played a perfect game, never played as well as we could. That’s perfection. We didn’t reach perfection, but we constantly strove toward it.

John Wooden

There is no beginning to practice nor end to enlightenment. There is no beginning to enlightenment not end to practice.


You can’t learn to fly capably in a day; you can’t learn to fly well in a year; and you can’t learn to fly perfectly in a lifetime. Learning to fly is a constant struggle toward mastering yourself, your machine, and the environment. During those moments when I began to think I had attained some competence at maneuvering a ton of fabric and sheet metal from airport to airport, there was always a new challenge that tempered the joy in my joystick. That’s because mastery is an ideal, not a goal.

Rod Machado

The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection — even though nothing more than the pounding of an old piano — is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star.

Logan Pearsall Smith

I’m never going to be a good enough father. I’m never going to be a good enough husband. I’m never going to be a good enough actor for myself. I just never will be, and I have to get comfortable with waking up every day and trying to move some little increment closer to the person I have always dreamed of being. This is the journey.

Will Smith

It’s taken my entire life to come up with the [aerobatic] routine I just flew. And it’s hopefully going to get better tomorrow. How boring would life be if you don’t constantly challenge yourself?

If you’re not challenging yourself, what are you breathing for? If you empower yourself to keep trying to do it for the right reasons, and keep trying to perfect your personal art form, then you win. That’s what I call success.

Sean D. Tucker

If you’ve done it as long as we’ve done it, it’s only because you believe that you haven’t quite got it right yet. And that tonight you’re going to hit it in the right tempo, and all the sounds are going to be right, and everyone’s going to be hearing everything they want to hear, and you can just make it a little bit better that you’ve ever done it before.

Keith Richards

Motor racing is an art, although not recognized as such by the followers of ballet, music and so on. Nevertheless, to me, to watch Fangio drifting round a corner is as exhilarating as seeing a Pavlova executing a graceful pirouette. Being an art one can never finish learning. It may be possible to reach the maximum speed round a given corner in a given car, but there are thousands of corners and many cars, as well as varying surfaces and conditions. This impossibility of reaching perfection gives one much scope for improvement. I always feel that motor racing is rather like chasing the rainbow’s end, for the more one learns or the nearer one gets to the end, the further is draws away. It is this ever-disappearing goal which one strives for that makes it the most fascinating of all sports.

Stirling Moss

Whom have we conquered? None but ourselves. Have we won a kingdom? No and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfacton, fulfilled a destiny. To struggle and to understand, never this last without the other.

George Mallory

To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.


And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same — like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.

Richard Bode

In the perfect moment, I was so concentrated there was no space for other thoughts. When you want to make a turn, and you are at the top of a steep vertical wall, when you are in the situation that when you fall you die: everything changes. You think very much about turning. You think very much about where to turn. And you do all this in a very special way. You act like a different person. You act with all yourself. You are making a completely different experience. And in some way, you are discovering yourself.

Stefano De Benedetti
First person to ski the east face of Mount Blanc.

It is not with metal that the pilot is in contact. Contrary to the vulgar illusion, it is thanks to the metal, and by virtue of it, that the pilot rediscovers nature…. The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We try to reach perfection. The aircraft is our tool.

Christophe Deketelaere

This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.

Nikos Kazantzakis

The highest art form of all is a human being in control of himself and his airplane in flight, urging the spirit of a machine to match his own.

Richard Bach

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.


To be in the mountains, to be in nature, and to play with elements, and to play with ability, and to play with our minds, to be concentrated, to realize some nice lines, that’s a good way to use life.

Antoine Montant

The 8th of July mission was the most intense, the most exciting mission that I ever flew. Everything worked. During that minute and 29 seconds I drew on all my life experiences. Every part of my training and education came together in that moment and it worked. Few people ever experience that moment where everything jells. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe.

Steve Ritchie
The only U.S. Air Force pilot ace of the Vietnam War, describing a complicated engagement that lasted 89 seconds during which he, along with his Radar Intercept Officer Charles DeBellevue, shot down two MiG 21’s.

I just want to continue to push. To just become as good as I possibly can be, to see what other aspects of the game I can get better at. 'Cuz you know, it’s fun. I just enjoy doing it, so when you enjoy doing it, you wanna find out new ways to do it.

I am going to work extremely hard. I’m not going to cheat the game. I am going to take all the steps and do all the work necessary. It’s like, God blessed me with the ability to do this, I’m not going to shortchange that blessing. I’m going to go out there and do the best that I can every single time.

Kobe Bryant

All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top. But no one knows where the top is. Even at my age, after decades of work, I don’t think I have achieved perfection. But I feel ecstatic all day. I love making sushi.

Jiro Ono
85-year-old sushi chef whose 10-seat restaurant has no restrooms but three Michelin stars. He is considered the best sushi chef in the world.

No matter what recipes you know, no matter how much experience you have, each piece of fish in each pan presents a unique set of circumstances to which you must react, based on the sensory information at hand in the moment. You must take what you have before you and make something lovely out of it. And while it might be the same thing every day, it’s something new every second.

Michael Gibney

The teaching which is written on paper is not the true teaching. Written teaching is a kind of food for your brain. Of course it is necessary to take some food for your brain, but it is more important to be yourself by practicing the right way of life … The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice.

Shunryu Suzuki

If you are quiet, you can see things very naturally and choose any strategy with serenity. This represents the path for the judo-ka. There is no end, no pinnacle to achieve. You can continue forever.

Shozo Awazu

And it’s a game, I think, a great deal like life in that it demands a man’s personal commitment be toward excellence and be toward victory; even though you know that ultimate victory can never be completely won. Yet it must be pursued with all of one’s might. And each week, there’s a new encounter; each year, a new challenge. But all of the rings and all of the money, and all of the color and all of the display, they linger only in the memory. But the spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel — these are the things that endure, and these are the qualities of course that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them. And I’dlike to say that the quality of any man’s life has got to be a full measure of that man’s personal commitment to excellence and to victory, regardless of what field he may be in.

Vince Lombardi

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront … the black dragons and the the crowded crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In the end it is not just the ability to make an aeroplane respond with grace and precision to his touch which he will discover, but something far more important: the harsh truth about himself!

Neil Williams

Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence brings about wealth and all other public and private blessings for men.


It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane.

Charles Lindbergh

These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

T. S. Eliot