BJJ and Chess

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is often compared to a physical game of chess. This is an apt metaphor,
but BJJ players who don’t also play chess may not realize the specifics of the

Position: If you watch two knowledgeable chess players in a match, you may wait some time before you see a single piece get taken. The early stages of the game are typically spent fighting for positional dominance. If one player can arrange his pieces so that they
support each other and have space to move while isolating his opponent’s pieces and limiting their room to maneuver, then that player is on the road to victory. This concept should be familiar to all BJJ players. “Position before submission” is a widely recited BJJ mantra. Much as on a chess board, a jiu-jitsu player will try to limit an opponent’s movements and isolate his limbs before going for the finish.

Double attacks: Unless you are up against a completely clueless chess beginner, you can’t just march up to your opponent’s pieces and start capturing them. In chess, your opponent gets to move each time you move. If you move your rook into position to capture his knight, then he can move that knight to a safe position or move another piece to capture your rook in return. In order to win material, you have to learn how to make a single move that produces multiple threats. Perhaps you can use a fork: move your rook so that it threatens both the knight and a pawn. When the opponent moves to protect his knight, you can capture the pawn. Another possibility is a discovered attack. Maybe when you move your rook to threaten the knight, it exposes a clear path for your bishop which was behind the rook to threaten the opponent’s queen. Then when he moves his queen to safety, the knight is left unprotected. Once again, this should be familiar to BJJ players. Against a skilled opponent you will rarely be able to just seize an armbar, for example. As soon as you move into position to threaten the armbar a smart jiu-jitsuka will defend the arm. Instead, you must make a single move that produces multiple threats. Perhaps you maneuver into a position where if your opponent defends the armbar you can choke him, but if he defends the choke you can armbar him, and if he defends both you can sweep him.

As a side note, this illustrates an important concept for any martial art: the idea that
when you get a move your opponent also gets a move. Too many martial artists are fond of
demonstrations where an attacker makes a single attack and then stands around like an idiot with his punching arm extended while the demonstrator goes through a 15-move combination. Unless you are literally 15 times faster than your attacker, it isn’t going to happen that way.

This concept leads us to another core component of both good chess and good jiu-jitsu:

Efficiency: In chess, if you make moves which don’t advance your position or build credible threats on your opponent then you will very likely find yourself unprepared as his unified army crushes your own on the way to checkmating your king. In jiu-jitsu, if you make moves which don’t advance your position or make credible threats on your opponent, you will end up just tiring yourself out to no avail and getting crushed by a more skilled adversary.

If you enjoy technical BJJ and have never played chess, it might be worth giving it a try.
Pick up a copy of Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Tactics, find an opponent, and have some fun. You might get some insights into your martial art from another angle.

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