By Adisa, The Bishop
The World Chess Championships are underway starting today in London, England. One of the most favorites to take out the legendary Magnus Carlsen is an American named Fabiano Caruana. In a recent conversation with The Guardian Fabiano noted that he used both training in yoga and relaxing to Hip-:Hop. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar and a lot of Killah Priest,” he told The Guardian. Hip-Hop has always been a source of inspiration because rappers tend to be underdogs of mainstream society.
The relationship between Hip-Hop and chess goes back to the origins of Hip-Hop in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Bobby Fischer was making a name for himself in Brooklyn as Kool Herc and others began to rise in the Bronx. Then Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers movies taught Hip-Hop youth the importance of training hard and having original style in all that you do. Hip-Hop was never again the same.
Over time the parks kids were battling on concrete to, were the the same places people were playing chess and doing Tai Chi in. Over time, each infected the other. Rappers from EPMD, Public Enemy, Wu Tang, Eminem, 2 Chainz and NBA Youngboy have all used chess language or martial arts imagery over the years. A few months ago, PBS Newshour covered some of the connections between Hip-Hop in chess and at Oakland Museum Exhibit I guest curated called RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style and Wisdom.
Back in the day if you were interested in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (now known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) you hailed Rickson Gracie (pronounced Hickson) as a god on Earth. The movie Choke is a cult classic to all who do Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. One scene in particular stood out. There is a scene where Rickson is doing a workout on the beach in LA. It was a mixture of yogic and aerobic movements. I Watched it over and over. It was called Ginastica Natural. Legend has it that it was developed by a man in Brazil named Orlando Cani and was innovated and spread by Alvaro Romano.
Being in the SF Bay Area I knew I could not learn it from so far away. But it did inspire me to learn yoga (which I now teach along with meditation). It taught me balance, improvement of mastering my emotions and of course, made me more flexible. Yoga and meditation have been practiced by Tajai of Hieroglyphics, Grammy nomiated artists Mystic, Afu-Ra and many others. RZA of Wu Tang has shared his wisdom on the topic in The Tao of Wu and the Wu Tang Manual.
Over the years chess and jiu-jitsu both reminded me of yoga. Little by little I felt like each one taught me a little bit about the other. For instance in jiu-jitsu people might try to put you in a tough position on the mat and use their pressure to induce panic. If they can make you panic then you are much more likely to make a mistake. A fatal one.
However, in yoga, I realized it’s like doing chess puzzles. You put your brain (on the chessboard) or your body (in jiu-jitsu) “bad”, or complex positions. At first it seems daunting and mentally and really can be a bit painful at first physically. Nevertheless if you can relax, control your breathing and focus on the nuances of the position you can find peace there. Later during jiu-jitsu sparring you might find yourself in a similar position. Rather than panic you will relax, find the roots of the position, breathe and likely find a way out. The exact same is true in life. If you can learn to panic and breathe with clarity through intense situations- you will always have a stronger chance of overcoming what is in front of you.
In the Hip-Hop Chess Federation we encourage all of our students to at least try yoga to supplement their chess and jiu-jitsu training. A lot of young men (especially the men) always think of yoga as a “soft” thing. It is however, very hard to do in actuality. After their first class, most of those in doubt have a new respect for yoga.
I hope you try it out in your area whether you are a student with HHCF or not. With Hip-:Hop and yoga on his side, Fabiano Caruana has a strong chance of bringing the title back to America.
Adisa, The Bishop is author of Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess. He also teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, CA and the UFC Gym in San Bruno, CA (Friday nights only). Listen to his weekly Bishop Chronicles Podcast on www.pharcydetv.com . Learn more at www.hiphopchess.com or follow @realhiphopchess on Instagram.