Reflections on the Death of a Trading Mentor
RIP Courtney D. Smith, a true Market Wizard
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… the teacher will disappear.”– Lao Tzu
Hello my friend and fellow trader, hope you’re well as always.
Today’s blog post is a re-post of an email newsletter I sent out earlier this week.
This week the trading world lost a true legend and veteran market wizard.
A few days ago I received an email informing me that Courtney D. Smith died in Dubai on Sunday.
Most of you will have no idea who he is, because he was pretty good at flying under the radar and had a very modest social media presence.
But he had a committed following of students, and an extremely impressive track record spanning his 50+ years as a professional trader.
Courtney’s Final Book – Viewpoints of a Trader
On Monday the 24th of April 2023, his son wrote a beautiful letter to tell Courtney’s students and followers of his passing, which I’ll share at the end of this post.
Some of you know that Courtney Smith was my very first trading mentor. Technically he was more like a trading coach, but I consider him a mentor due to the respect I had for him and the amount of time I spent learning from him and the sheer quality of his experience, knowledge and advice.
He was also the first impression I had of trading.
I’ve shared this story before in a previous newsletter that spoke about Courtney’s work, but I want to share it again so any new readers can understand why I care about Courtney.
Back around 2016, my dad invited me to a two-day seminar Courtney was hosting down in Sydney Australia.
In fact the exact date was Saturday, July 9th, 2016.
I know this because I’m currently visiting my 91 year old grandmother for her birthday, and she keeps very, very, often uncomfortably, accurate diaries. (She’s another mentorship figure who has had a huge influence on my life path, maybe I’ll talk about it someday).
I was a broke university student at the time studying audio engineering. The last thing in the world on my mind was financial markets.
In fact, according to my grandmother’s dairy, I was half a day late to the first seminar because I was hungover from the night before. (She wrote down ‘stomach problems’ but I remember very well that it was the Mai Tais).
I was late to the seminar not just because I was sick all morning, but because I was extremely sceptical I’d get anything out of it of value.
I was actually considering blowing it off altogether and not showing up at all.
The plus one ticket was free, and I was just there to bond with my dad and have a good time, not learn about the stock market. I figured maybe he could go all day and we’d hang out at night.
The only idea I had about trading at the time was from Hollywood movies. I assumed all traders wore fancy suits and had slicked back hair and wore gold Rolexes and yelled into telephones in high rise Wall Street office buildings.
I had no idea who Courtney was or what he looked like, so the picture I had in my head of him was wildly different from what I saw when I entered the seminar room.
Courtney was chilling at the front of the room behind a desk waiting for everyone. He looked extremely comfortable and relaxed. He had a Hawaiian T-shirt, baggy blue jeans and worn-out sneakers on, and a huge friendly grin on his face as everyone entered the room.
To be honest, he looked a little dorky. I liked it. It made me significantly less intimidated than I expected to be. I could tell straight away this guy was going to be an interesting character.
I was by far the youngest person in the room, being about 27 at the time.
Most of the people in the room were successful corporate types, slightly above middle-age and well-dressed.
My dad is an auto mechanic and I didn’t have a dollar to my name, so I felt (and looked) pretty out of place.
I spent two long days listening to Courtney teach the room about rules-based trend following systems.
He taught us how to read a price chart, how to spot potential bullish breakouts, how to buy into them and how to manage our risk systematically and without emotion.
I was hooked immediately. On the plane home from that seminar I decided I wanted to be a trader. I didn’t know what that would look like for me, but I knew I wanted to take on the challenge.
I read Courtney’s books, I took several of his courses, and I learned as much as I was capable of learning from him in those early months.
I took a small loan from my dad, and I turned a few thousand dollars into a REAL stake through a mixture of beginner’s luck and extremely hard work.
That small loan became a meaningful sum of money that has grown and grown over the years, and will continue to grow to a point where I know my family is going to be financially secure and will be for the rest of our lives thanks to my financial education and the tools I now have at my disposal.
Education and tools whose origins began with the wise guidance of Courtney.
But over the course of my early years as a trader, I eventually went down a different path to the one Courtney was teaching. I flew the nest and went out to look for others who I could learn from, armed with the experience of knowing what a real trader and a real mentor was.
I found other mentors and guides, like Steven Hart and Nick Radge who built rules-based systems that I found more intuitive to understand and trade than Courtney’s, which were more sophisticated than I was ready for as a beginner trader.
But the spirit and sentiment of what Courtney taught me in that first trading seminar has stuck with me from day one.
It informed my beliefs as a trader, and it is the reason why I sought out the other coaches and mentors I went on to seek who have helped me build a successful trading career and a bullish long-term equity curve.
I adopted Courtney’s beliefs early on, and they have slowly but surely led me to success.
The idea of using rules-based trading plans to eliminate emotional reactions and subjectivity from my trading has been a core pillar of my trading success over the past few years.
The belief that risk management is more important than profits has kept me from blowing up any large sum of money.
The concept of trend-following and trading in the direction of market momentum has kept me on the right side of markets and allowed me to survive and thrive through the Covid crash and two gargantuan crypto boom and busts.
The importance of respecting your money but not being emotionally attached to it, and the importance of taking the craft of trading seriously, treating it like a business, and using it as a vehicle to better understand yourself and improve your character so that you can become a better trader and in turn a better human being.
The doctrine that it’s more important to make money than to be right has kept me sane throughout my trading journey despite the wild ride and many tests of faith and confidence.
One of the very first things Courtney taught me was that I need to leave my ego at the door when I participate in trading.
It was one of the most surprising and counterintuitive things I learned in the beginning. I always assumed traders were cocky and full of themselves, and that they needed to be in order to take the risks that they need to take.
But I’ve met half a dozen hugely successful traders over the past 5 years, and EVERY single one of them has been kind but determined, down to earth but growth-minded, humble but confident, and never over-confident.
They all take their psychology just as seriously as their capital, and all of them understand that, in Courtney’s words, “the market is bigger, faster and better looking than you.” So don’t fight it.
I’ve been reflecting all day on Courtney and what he taught me. It’s because of traders like Courtney that I do what I do. I found his work so inspiring that as I began to find success in trading, I was inspired to try to pass on what I’d learned to others.
As you all know, trading is a lonely and solitary activity. Many people don’t understand us or what we do.
Here’s a quote from Courtney’s book, Chapter 28: The 5 Worst Things That Can Happen To A Trader:
#4 People will shun you
Similar to the one above, people won’t really understand you. What do you do for a living? I’m a trader. And watch their face. Most will look confused but a few will be interested. Most won’t know what to do with you because being a trader doesn’t fit into their reality.
In fact, even your family and friends may not really like that you are a trader. They won’t understand it. My parents thought I was a stock broker for my whole career because that was the only thing they could relate to. I don’t think either of my two wives really knew what I did for a living.– Courtney Smith, Viewpoints of a Trader
Many of our friends and family even try to talk us out of it, or at least they don’t believe that what we do is a real career.
They think we’re all just gamblers or suckers who have been tricked into buying courses and systems from snake oil salesmen.
Obviously there’s plenty of that out there, but Courtney showed me early in my career that there’s truly successful people out there who really know how to navigate financial markets profitably and sensibly and with adamant risk control.
This is the real deal. Trading and investing can truly make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams (over the long-term).
But the world of trading is very cold and mechanical. There’s not a lot of meaning in it, outside of what we do for ourselves and our friends and family with the money we earn. The act and art of trading itself is not always rewarding in a meaningful sense.
The profit we make is fantastic, but it’s only a means to an end. To find fulfilment in your trading in and of itself is difficult. It can be hard to stay motivated to keep learning and growing sometimes when we’re just dealing with numbers all day.
That’s where teaching, coaching, and mentoring can provide that sentimental value that we all seek in our work.
Not everyone is driven to teach or coach or mentor, but I understand why some are. In my early days as a trader, I questioned why anyone would teach trading if they truly knew how to trade. Why aren’t they printing money all day instead of selling courses?
While there are many out there who sell junk because they want to make a quick buck off people who don’t know what they’re doing, there are also great people out there who are honest and sincerely want to help others as a way to make their life’s work more meaningful.
I know Courtney was one of those people.
I also know that for me, the reason why I spend so much of my time creating content to share what I know and have learned from others who did the same for me is because THAT is where I get the spiritual and emotional value and meaning out of my trading.
That is where the human connection occurs which is lacking in the profession of trading.
The excitement and enjoyment of making money from my trading wore off quickly.
At first that was enough to sustain my motivation and inspiration, and making money and building wealth is obviously a huge driver and motivator for the hours I put into my work.
But over time, especially as the work became easier and I could coast on autopilot more often and had more free time, I began to see how passing on the knowledge I was learning could make my work so much more exciting and fulfilling.
Passing on knowledge is an ancient tradition. All crafts exist as they do today on the cutting edge of history only because those who discovered and paved the way passed on their knowledge so that later generations could stand on their shoulders and the shoulders of those who came before.
A good teacher can shave thousands of hours of learning time off a new acolyte’s journey. A good teacher can even be the difference between someone succeeding, failing, or giving up altogether.
It’s a noble role to take on.
And while I don’t think of myself as noble or special or even that good at teaching what I teach, and I know there are plenty of people out there smarter than me and better at what I do than I am, it still fulfils me to pass on what little valuable knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated.
And the mentors I learn from keep me inspired and motivated to grow and build and move forward through life with confidence.
And so I have the utmost respect for teachers and guides and mentors and coaches and people like Courtney, who dedicate a huge part of their lives to passing on the knowledge and experience they’ve gained throughout their lives on earth.
I’ll miss Courtney as I would a friend, even though we personally never spoke about anything other than trading advice a handful of times, and I was just one of many students.
I don’t know anyone who was as good at analyzing markets as Courtney.
And not only am I going to miss his humour and his banter and intelligent and entertaining presentations filled with great wisdom and knowledge, but most of all I’m going to miss his guidance.
Every week for the past few years I’ve sat down and listened and watched Courtney analyze the fundamental data that drives global markets.
This hasn’t necessarily helped my trading results much since I’m a system trader who uses very little or no discretion, but it did help me understand where the world currently was and where it was likely heading.
It gave me an economic compass and map that made me feel like I knew what was coming next and how to prepare for it. As Courtney used to say, watching his fundamental analysis videos was like reading tomorrow’s newspaper. It truly felt that way at times.
Courtney analyzed markets and their global economic drivers every day for over 50 years. That kind of experience is hard to beat.
If you’re curious to see what I’m talking about, here is Courtney’s final fully-paid up premium Wall Street Winners video newsletter, posted 2 weeks before he died:
(I don’t think he would mind me posting this in his honour and the information is now outdated, but if anyone related to him or his company has a problem with this email me and I’ll take it down):
I no longer have that guidance. I’ll need to take what Courtney taught me and apply my own analysis to the financial world from now on.
I’ve made copies of all the charts he used to analyze, and now I need to interpret them on my own if I want to have tomorrow’s newspaper and understand which direction the giant global economic machine is crawling in.
I’m a fraction as smart as he is, so that’s a daunting thought. I might not even be capable of it.
But, as this newsletter is titled, when the student is ready, the teacher will disappear.
“The purpose of a mentor is to help you grow and outgrow them.”– Steve Maraboli
We’re not supposed to cling to mentors and teachers. A truly great teacher should eventually teach themselves out of a job.
A true mentor is meant to be outgrown in the end. Your mentors should teach you how to walk, and then let you walk your path unsupported when you’re ready to. Otherwise, they’re just a crutch.
And while I feel incredibly saddened by Courtney’s passing as his work meant a lot to me, I’m also incredibly grateful for how he helped set me up on my own two feet.
While I might not have tomorrow’s newspaper anymore, I still know what I need to do. I just need to be disciplined, and follow the plan.
One good trade, then one good trade, then one good trade.
“The quickest way to go from a losing trader to a winning trader is to only go in the direction of the market. Your job is to make money. Period. Not to be smart, good looking, clever, or even right. Your job is to make money.
The only way to make money trading is to do what the market tells you to do. If the market is moving higher, the market is telling you to buy. If the market is moving lower, the market is telling you to sell. If the market is wandering sideways, the market is telling you get back in the pool and order another Mai Tai.
Bottom line. Do what the market tells you to do. Do not fight it. You will always lose. The market is bigger, faster, and better looking than you.”– Courtney Smith, Viewpoints of a Trader
Courtney wrote one last book before his passing. It was published late last year. It’s not your typical trading book. It’s a reflection on the life of a trader.
It’s full of Zen-like chapters that are extremely short and reflect on various experiences he had and beliefs he held about what it means to be a trader.
There’s no trading systems, no upsells, no hot tips – just the thoughts of a life-long trader who probably suspected his days were numbered as his health was failing him.
The book is called Viewpoints of a Trader: The Wisdom of Trading.
I’m not sure if it’ll still be in print by the time you read this since I’m not sure how Courtney structured its printing process, but it’s a fantastic read. I hadn’t gotten around to reading all of it, so when I heard the news today I pulled it out and finished the book.
Here’s a short excerpt that I read today:
“Trading is not yet a science. It is still an art.
Science operates under various rules. For example, we create a hypothesis and then we test the hypothesis. Art operates from within the trader himself.
One great advantage we have as traders is that we have a lot of data that we can analyze scientifically. We can back test our trading systems to see if they work. But trading is still an art. Much of trading is based on the experience of the trader.
In my opinion, I love to bring as much science as possible to my trading but I know that I can’t reduce all of my trading to pure science. So that means I must bring some art to the table.”– Courtney Smith, Viewpoints of a Trader
This newsletter/blog post is long enough so I’ll wrap it up.
My apologies for being slack on writing blog posts lately, I’ve been finding email much more convenient now that I’m so much busier than I was when I started this blog. Trading and business have been going very well, but the price is less free time to write.
Click here to join my mailing list if you’re not on it already – I send out a free weekly newsletter sharing valuable tips, insights, tools, reflections, books, podcasts, YouTube videos – anything I’ve found to be helpful in my own trading.
Thanks for reading my reflections on Courtney and what he meant to me and my trading career thus far.
I hope you can find mentors that inspire you like Courtney did me.
As always, take care, best of luck with your trading, and don’t take life too seriously – or for granted.
PS. Here is Courtney’s son’s email:
Dear friends and supporters of Courtney Smith,
It is with deep sorrow I need to share with you the passing of my father, Courtney D. Smith, in Dubai. The details are still unclear, but he has had health issues for the past few years, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. That he passed doing what he loved, on the road travelling around the world, is a blessing and what he would have wanted.
I want to express my deep gratitude to all of you for the support you’ve given my father. I know that in his seminars and interactions with all of you he gained more value and meaning in life than he ever could when he was in the corporate investment banking world. He loved travelling to every country he could on every continent, meeting with people from all walks of life, and sharing his knowledge with you. When I was with him I saw first-hand how much you all meant to him, and the joy he would feel when he’d learn that you had been successful in trading and how it improved your lives. All of you made him a happier person, and gave his life purpose and something to truly look forward to. That he could spend the last 15 or so years of his life being the person he truly wanted to be couldn’t have been done without all of you, and for that I am grateful.
While I share his name as Courtney D. Smith Junior, and like him and his father before him, I have devoted my life to learning, analyzing and sharing what I’ve discovered with others, we all found different fields to find our own paths. It is with deep regret that I have to share with you that his newsletters, videos and seminars will have to come to an end. There is no way I could hope to replace him, he was one of a kind.
I know nothing would please him more than your trading success. I’m sure he would want to remind you one last time to be disciplined and follow the rules.
I wish you all the best in trading and in life.
Once again, my thanks to all of you,
Courtney D. Smith Jr.
I got a chance to work with him year 2021 here in dubai. He was a good mentor and a good friend. Surely everyone that knows him will truly missed him.
Definitely, his passion for trading was infectious. I know I’m gonna miss him. Take care and good luck with your trading Ari
Hey Matt that was a beautiful commentary on Courtney!! I called him ‘coach’ b/c he mentored me, totally transformed my trading style, and showed me the world of EBTAS!! He has given me such a wonderful gift that for generations my family will feel the affects of his generosity!! Thx for sharing your thoughts on him!!
That’s great to hear Vijay, I know Courtney’s influence on my trading will last a lifetime as well and I’ll be forever grateful for what he taught me too. Take care and good luck with your trading my friend :)
Hi Matt, Such a great tribute to such a great man. Every week I would look at his wall street winners and get an understanding for the markets, and I too, like you have no idea where I’m going to get such market insights any more. To say his Passing came as a complete shock is an understatement, I guess you always think that person will be there, he was part of my weekly routine. I sat for a couple of days pondering life. A little of my journey into meeting Courtney. My first introduction was through one of his… Read more »
That’s so good to hear Toni, amazing how many lives Courtney influenced for the better. I’ll never forget the first time I met him, I had no idea traders could be so much fun and so passionate and a joy to be around. I know how you feel, I knew Courtney wouldn’t be here forever but I assumed we had several more years to soak up his work. My only regret is not attending more of his seminars in person. He was a ton of fun to be around, I was always planning to attend another seminar some day. Anyway… Read more »
Thanks for the great obituary and review of Courtney’s work. I am his publisher for Viewpoints of a Trader. It’s okay to post the video. We want Courtney to be remembered. Making his videos was one of his favourite things.
God bless you. Keep trading. Amen.
That’s amazing, thanks for that Jim. Love the book. I bought several extra copies to give away when I heard of his passing because it’s one of the best trading books I’ve ever read. It’s rare to find such honest reflections on a long lifetime of trading. He was a great story teller and a truly great trader. It’ll always have a place high on my shelf. I’m glad Courtney got a chance to lay out his reflections on his 50+ year career in that book before he passed, it would have been a real shame for all of us… Read more »