Content warning Summary of Contents.
A knockout punch to the head is not the opening of most self-help books, but the Mindset Guide for Winner starts with one of the most significant and public defeats of its author, champion kickboxer and martial arts Grandmaster Marco Sies. Starting at the nadir of his career, Master Marco lays out a program of training, recovery, and triumph worthy of Rocky Balboa. Like Rocky, this is a book about going the distance as much as it is a book about ultimate success. An often repeated maxim among martial artists is that the journey is more important than the destination. Despite what sometimes seems to be an overemphasis on "success" in the book, I found my real interest to be the need for the fighter in all of us to keep our balance and regain it when we lose it, to savor our triumphs and learn from our losses, to focus becoming our best and to put in the effort do so. After all, the entire book describes how Master Marco got up again after slamming unconscious onto the mat in front of thousands. Having been knocked completely off balance, he describes in this book how he regained his balance — and his championship.
Balance is a concept at the core of martial arts, not only in sense of keeping one's balance but also in the sense of weighing opposites or reconciling contradictions. Typically, a master of the martial arts teaches his students how to fight and then enjoins them not to do so, in fact, to avoid fighting whenever possible. In a fight, sometimes offense is defense, and sometimes defense is offense. Most fighters emphasize taking the initiative, but there are also fighters who emphasize counter-strikes. A fight sometimes requires the use of force, and sometimes it requires redirecting the opponent's force. An effective fighter fights with his body, but even more so with his brain. The best way to win is not to think about winning.
In the time-honored tradition of American self-help books, the Mindset Guide for Winners presents itself as a guide to success based on the rags-to-riches story of the author, who began life as the poor child of a single mother in Santiago, Chile, arrived in America with nothing to his name, and ultimately became a seven-time lightweight, full-contact kickboxing champion and founded a successful martial arts academy (where I have studied since 2014). Master Marco outlines a five-step program for success: Decide, Condition, Plan, Create, and Endure. Each of these steps in the program provides a series of exercises — such as keeping a journal, setting goals, envisioning success, and exercising daily gratitude — which are not novel in themselves but which are gracefully synthesized under the main headings of the program. The book is Master Marco's training manual for life.
Ultimately, however, the book hints lightly at a kind of Buddhist or Stoic adaptation to the vicissitudes of life. The author's chosen metaphor is one of "vibrations" alternating between positive and negative poles, in which every negative must also be viewed from the perspective of its corresponding positive. Throughout, there is an emphasis of framing one's attitude and perspective in a way that cultivates disciplined habits, good company, acquisition of knowledge, and "inner peace." Self-help books almost universally chart a path to worldly success, and this one is no exception. It very much promises to lead the reader along the path of the old Army motto, "Be all that you can be." Along the way, however, along with the strategies for success, it does not neglect the importance that we "feel good" about our actions and that they lead us to "inner peace." The road to "feeling good" in this case it the result of and guide to virtuous works in order to achieve harmony with the universe. A bold claim, but not overly grandiose in that it does not promise that universe will be in harmony with us. (We all of us receive our share of left hooks to the head.)
The book contains a series of inspirational quotations (I would have omitted those from Henry Ford), but it could well have concluded with this one from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations:
"All things are mutually intertwined, and the bond is holy, and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been coordinated, and they combine to from one universal order. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one [Spirit] who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth ...."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translated by William Kaufman (New York: Dover Books), Book VII:9. Ultimately, the winner's mindset is not only about achievement of our full potential but also about attuning ourselves to the infinite. I suspect Master Marco would agree that there are many ways to get there, but in this short book, he has described his way in the hope that others might profit from it.
What I still wanted in the end, however, was fewer assurances that the method would provide results for me (how can we know?), fewer inspirational quotations, and more details on how he personally discovered and implemented the method, what mistakes he made along the way, how the method worked for him, and why he felt it provided him with better results than if he had not used it. More story, less explanation