Learn the form, master the form, break the form.

“Learn the form, master the form, break the form.”

Study a martial art of any kind and you’ll likely learn this lesson. First you learn a form – a kick, block or grapple. Then you master the form form – you practice it thousands of times, in different variations, and put it into practice against many opponents. Then, finally, you break the form.

Breaking the form is how you get to greatness in anything.

Look at the guitar virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix, or the experimental prose of Virginia Woolf, or the Jiu-Jitsu of Royce Gracie and you see masters of those forms who have graduated to BREAKING those forms. You’re looking at the Best-of-the-Best.

Our culture, which is obsessed with the ideology of get-rich-quick and success without commitment, learns all the wrong lessons when we look at a master of any form. Instead of understanding that we first need to learn and master form, we tell ourselves that the path to greatness is to REFUSE ALL FORM.

And so today the world is littered with artists who refuse to learn draughtsmanship, writers who don’t understand grammar, and entrepreneurs who ignore economics. They’re victims of a cruel lie, that perpetuates because there’s more profit in telling people what they want to hear, than taking the time and effort to show them the form.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.

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