Jiu-jitsu and chess

Jiu-jitsu and chess

We often see people comparing jiu-jitsu to chess and if you practice both, the analogies are inevitable. I have no freaking idea what’s on other people’s minds, but I can talk for myself. I haven’t seen published any deep article about this topic and this text won’t fulfill that aim either. These are just a couple of personal ideas about something many of us like and I hope it adds some lights to establish parallels between both sports.

Though I’m still a bad chess player, I’m very lucky to have regular contact and friendship with a couple of very experienced ones in the last years. From them I learn a lot of theory and a deeper understanding of the game.

When I started jiu-jitsu today precisely a year ago, I was often confronted with mental images of losing knights and bishops every time I lost the side control for my opponents. We know how frustrating it is to lose a piece on the chess board when everything seemed to be controlled. Being under the mount was to me like losing a rook, which normally is enough to give up. But unlike in chess, people in BJJ don’t give up until being finished, curious stuff (I think man pride plays a serious role here). Recovering the guard after being under the opponent was much comparable to castling right on time, a huge relief, a new chance.

A while ago another comparison occurred to me, when that one fellow came to our academy. Do you know those guys who we often meet in our lower chess levels, who come with the idea to finish the game in five moves? The most famous being the e4, e5, Qh5, aka “Queen’s attack” (or Parham opening). Well, that was the guy in jiu-jitsu version.

The bloke was definitely a white belt like me, but he wore none above his gi (no prolem!). His movements were totally disarticulated and basically he learned somewhere a couple of locks (both arms and legs) and a kimura and he thought BJJ was that. His game concentrated in that limited collection and he deposited all his faith on that. I soon realize this guy was a patzer. After he got my leg once and finished the first roll, I started to take advantage of his failures (he had a weak guard, his breath was kind of desperate and his whole game was very sloppy), but he was also quite big, strong and even fast. I submitted him the next two or three rounds naturally.

What I then told him was something like this: “You seem to be obsessed to finish with a particular move and quick, that’s too risky, that’s starting the game from the end and you will often feel stuck. You will definitely lose more than win. Develop of your game instead, roll, gain control, and then try to finish”.

With this little anecdote I realized that like in chess, jiu-jitsu has a development (and certainly a opening and a end game). And yeah, like on the board, moving the queen too early often brings us into deception.

It is not easy to explain the development in BJJ. Whilst in chess, moving the rear pieces ahead is clearly the natural process to conquer the central fields and therefore establishing the control of the board, in jiu-jitsu it depends if you are standing or you are guarding, on the guard or if you are sitting face to face to your opponent. In anyways you must do something to win advantage or at least, don’t lose it. Core and hips play here a crucial role to prepare an eventual end game.

Like chess, BJJ is war and you very likely want to be the winner. Draws here are infrequent. Both games need strategy, strikes, defenses, impasses, combinations, intuition and more than a passing note, a plan. Any other way of checkmating are only by chance.

The toughest might be the middle game. For a plan A is advisable to have a B, a C and so on… Think about a butterfly guard in BJJ. If your opponent is smart enough and your first plan fails, you can easily jump to a spider guard and from there to a sweep or other option (in chess we’d call the chess tree), a collection of plans with endless variations. Both chess and BJJ have infinitive moves and offer us a lot of room for creativity and exploration!

There are certainly much more valid comparaisons between these two “fight sports” and I’ll bring more ideas as I develop my capacities during my both jiu-jitsu and chess journeys. Stay tuned.

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