I always hear the analogy that the martial arts are like “human chess.” It always made sense to me, as I know both the sport and the game require mastery of strategy. What I never realized was what happens when you actually try to “play chess.”
I have much more martial arts experience than chess experience; outside of a few games with my dad to learn the rules, I never really played. Growing up in karate, I encountered bigger, stronger kids and adults as my opponents.
What was my response the challenges of training with them? I worked to get stronger and better conditioned. In time, I caught up, but I never took the time to truly master the techniques. (See this previous article on the “compliments” I received when I could finally hang with them.)
A few years ago, when I started training in jiu-jitsu, I quickly learned that strength is easily negated by technique. I couldn’t believe that my training partners could tap me with so little effort. I realized that I would have to start learning my technique rather than relying on mere physical means.
I still have a long way to go. It’s paying off on the mats and in the dojo, but I revert to “power-spaz!” mode from time to time. That’s when I push too hard, flail too much, or otherwise get really sloppy. This usually happens when I’m stressed or when I let my opponent get me riled up–when he start to impose his game on me.
Sometimes the adrenaline response gets me out of trouble. Sometimes I can overpower someone when attacking or use speed to make up for my poor defense. However, this isn’t the case with real chess.
A student challenged me to a match recently during study hall. I was actually caught up with grading English papers for a change, so I accepted. He’s an unassuming guy though more street smart than book smart. His clothes and speech are the antithesis of your typical chess nerd’s. I asked him if he knew the rules, and he said yes. I figured I’d beat him a few times and then let him win a few matches before the bell rang.
Have you seen that video of Andre Arlovsky rolling with Marcelo Garcia? Yeah, we played five or six quick matches that went something like that. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. I was hopelessly overmatched.
I didn’t have the skills to defeat him, and I couldn’t rely on physical strength or speed to win. Our chess match was more challenging than much of the sparring I’ve done in karate or jiu-jitsu.
We had fun playing, and the student (or should I call him the teacher) was kind enough to share a few of his strategies. He was nothing but gracious–not cocky like me. I learned a lot by playing chess the other day, and I’m finally beginning to understand the connection between martial arts and chess thanks to him!
For bonus points: Here’s a neat article I read that breaks down the UFC/Chess analogy.
For double bonus points: Here’s my favorite chess game as a kid. It’s fitting, don’t you think? I used to play this and King’s Quest V on my i486 clone!