A Shaolin investor can walk through walls. It is said that listened for, he cannot be heard; looked for, he cannot be seen; felt, he cannot be touched.
Everything I ever needed to know in life I learned from watching the '70s TV show Kung Fu. Every week, Kwai Chang Caine, the hero played by burnout hippie David Carradine, would roam the American West doling out Taoist wisdom and kung fu kicks to the head in equal measure. Sure, I liked the fighting scenes where Caine would finally abandon his peaceful instincts and pummel the loudmouth bullies with some nifty martial arts moves. But I also liked the flashbacks where young Caine recalled the wisdom of those teachers who showed him how to make his way in the world.
It recently occurred to me that many of these lessons apply equally well to the investing world. The Shaolin monks who raised young Caine in their monastery emphasized learning, balance, and discipline. These are the same principles emphasized each month in Motley Fool Stock Advisor. Let me explain.
You must be joking
Ordinarily I'd agree that it's unwise to base your investment decisions on a dubious television program from more than 30 years ago. But this show was different. It was inspired by Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy that offers its adherents a philosophy for conducting one's life in this world. Perhaps the most famous Taoist text, Tao Te Ching, was written by Laozi in what scholars believe was the 6th century B.C. This seminal work was most likely the source for the "lessons" that were imparted to Caine in the American television series.
Learning: the path is known to each man by finding it
Central to Taoism is that each person must learn the Tao -- or "way" -- by studying the ancient texts and learning from masters of the philosophy. In Kung Fu, Caine grew up in a Shaolin monastery, where he learned from Masters Po and Kan before embarking on his own to teach others.
I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that excellence in investing also requires a serious commitment to learning. David and Tom Gardner, Fool co-founders and lead analysts for Stock Advisor, consider themselves both students and teachers. Both have read and studied the works of Masters Lynch, Buffett, and Graham, among others. And both then try to impart this knowledge to their growing community. Do you know why it is a good idea for your potential investment to have a high percentage of insider ownership? How does a biotech firm like Amgen
One of their more fundamental lessons is that you must be in the game in order to improve as an investor. Even a small position in your favorite company will encourage you to dip into some financial statements and read up on the company's management.
Balance: the yin-yang of investing
Once you're in the game, building a diversified portfolio is crucial to obtaining solid returns without taking on too much risk. Taoism teaches us about the concept of balance. For example, the notion of two opposing but complementary forces -- as illustrated by the idea of yin and yang -- was fundamental to Taoist teaching. At Stock Advisor, we have our own yin and yang -- David and Tom. David looks for ultimate growth stocks and concentrates on identifying excellent companies. Tom is more value-oriented and spends considerable time analyzing fundamentals. Taken together, the two complementary strategies can provide the returns and diversification you need in your portfolio.
Discipline: it is not magic; it is a price that has been paid
Do you have the self-discipline to pick up a vat of boiling liquid with your inner forearms? Me neither. But sound investing does require the discipline to hold an underperforming stock through a difficult stretch or to buy an apparently overpriced stock that may go even higher. Both David and Tom have developed this discipline over many years of investing. Both adhere to a buy-and-hold strategy and both are willing to establish positions that run contrary to market sentiment.
This discipline has been well rewarded. Thus far, David has outperformed the market by 37.29 percentage points. Tom has beaten the index by 48.59 percentage points. Is this luck? When Reggie Miller hits a three-pointer at the buzzer, is that luck? Or is it the result of hours of practice?
Below you can see some of the returns achieved thus far by David and Tom, as reported in the Stock Advisor scorecard:
**Tom issued a sell recommendation on Sanderson Farms on Aug. 20, 2003.
Call it luck if you must, but few would argue with those results.
To go anywhere, begin by taking a first step
Excellence in investing is like excellence in anything else. It requires commitment, practice, and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. The guiding belief of our Stock Advisor investment service is that anyone can become a successful investor. There are no admissions requirements to this university and there will be no tests to study for. If you'd like to take a 30-day free trial and see all that we have to offer, click here. If you don't like what you see, just cancel. And no, you will not be expected to grab a pebble out of David Gardner's hand before leaving the service.
John Reeves owns shares of Netflix, but no other company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.