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Reflections on Mastery

Sports Medicine Acupuncture

Mastery is a goal, but it is also a process. We must remember that nobody is ever “given” mastery. Rather, it is a result of a process of disciplined learning. In my view, there are three important components for the practitioner to consider when reflecting on the ever-so-elusive concept of mastery. First, having a teacher is essential. He or she may be one who can guide you with both knowledge and wisdom gained from years, even decades, of experience. In addition to the vast amount of subject matter, this person ideally would provide the learner with perspective and simple truths about working in our profession as an acupuncturist. A second and equally important need is a supportive group, sometimes called a cohort. Dedicated individuals can share their experiences and provide perspectives to the other learners of the group. There are times when we need that support from our colleagues. And third, as we all understand, our own discipline and dedicated hard work is what makes the process go. We all know that in the end, we as an individual need to do the work.

With these three important components, one path of mastery is the process of repetition and review. That is, we need to review the material numerous times. Again and again and again. This in my opinion is what the path of mastery requires.


Every professional and world-class athlete that I have ever treated gained their elite status by a training schedule that emphasized repetition. One of the most effective training techniques for the runner, for instance, is interval training. The athlete repeats a specific distance, over and over, to enhance their speed, endurance, and performance.

And each high level athlete that I was so fortunate to work with always had mentors. This is how they learned to be elite, where they gained deep wisdom as well as the simple practical tricks of the trade. It was no magic or fairy tale relationship. Just a colleague who was slightly ahead of them on the path. And these elite athletes almost never trained alone— they always had an individual or group to experience the rigors of the sport together. The running group, the Cross Fit gym companion, the climbing buddy. Mentors and groups will always be a component in athletic mastery.

These perspectives are important to remember as each of us continues our studies. We need to organize our learning with these essential “must have” items. And, to remember one last thing. The great athletes that I treated were usually the ones who always laughed. Those who had such discipline and dedication but no humor in their training and competing had a much more difficult time reaching their goals. So add laughter, humor, and joy to the mix!

And remember that our acupuncture profession is no different. It offers a centuries old template for this process of mastery. The traditional Chinese way of learning with a teacher is long revered, and one that I was so fortunate to experience. But remember, it is the teacher as well as the group or community of colleagues, held together by your own discipline and dedication.


Each one of you can do this. But you have to start where you are. This might be your first step. You may have taken many steps on the path of acupuncture mastery. However, the most important step is the one you are taking in the present moment. And there are many steps yet to take, regardless of where you are in the learning cycle. Enjoy it.

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