Mastering the Art of the Chess Match

I have two approaches to teaching the martial arts that I follow. Most of this blog will deal with the lesser of the two, as I feel that every Master–myself included–should have something he is retaining for his own students. Therefore, there are many things that should be earned, and not learned. The martial arts student of the West must understand that there are aspects of this art that may not be bought, and these lessons are paid with one’s loyalty and commitment–not dollars. The greater school will be introduced with this post, and those willing to learn more must study with me in person.

The two schools of teaching philosophy are:

  1. we are training fighters who are physically superior to his counterparts (the lesser school)
  2. we are training more intellectual fighters who are philosophers as well as strategists (the greater school)

I am a loyal follower of the first school of thought, yet I subscribe heavily behind closed doors to the second.

There is a saying I learned from a man named Abraham “Ham” Johnson (father of former IBF Flyweight champion, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and trainer of my first high school sweetheart, Lisa “Too Fierce” Foster, former IFBA Flyweight women’s champion and old friend of my grandfather’s), that there is always someone bigger, faster, and stronger than you, so you need to have a superior fight plan that will transcend any physical advantage possible opponents may have. A fighter may have no control over his height, his genetic inheritance, little control over his natural abilities, but he can control the knowledge he has to defeat a seemingly physically superior opponent. This has less to do with tactics than it does being able to outthink an opponent.

“Chess Match” vs. “Weapons Cache”

Arming a student with only stronger punches and kicks is similar to giving a soldier a bigger gun or knife, and hoping he will know how to use it. At the same time, arming a student with tactics and techniques alone is the same as showing a soldier how to attack without showing him how to counter. The fighter, then, must have a combination of bigger “guns”, a better way to use the guns (“gun-foo”), and the art of using strategy to beat the opponent who is better prepared.

In other words, teaching a guy how to use pawns to defeat a Queen.

This skill is not easy to learn, and is even more difficult to pass down to those with different experiences and levels of learning and utilizing the art. I have a few tips:

  • study the patterns of fighters, and learn all you can about them. I do not advocate observation alone; you really have to get into the trenches and mix it up with these men yourself in order to teach with a higher level of understanding. otherwise, you may be simply teaching theories. we have too many theories in the martial arts as it is!
  • teach your students how to fight different body types, attributes and fighting styles. not every big guy fights the same way, and not every boxer fights the same way, and not every man with a knife or stick will fight the same way.
  • study how to force an opponent to make the same “mistake” you need him to make in order to initiate a preferred attack. far too often, fighters are victims of circumstance in their fights; they only react to what the opponent does, when they should be controlling what happens in the fight. when you learn to force your opponent’s hand, you become the superior fighter. this is what is meant by the saying that you don’t fight the opponent’s fight–you make him fight your fight.
  • teach your students how to attack and counter from an open position (both opponents have the opposite foot in front) as well as a closed position (both opponents have the same foot in front). they should know how to deal with the gamut of situations, as it seems that no two fights are similar–to the inexperienced fighter. to the prepared fighter, there are actually many familiar circumstances, and he is able to use the same tactics against a plethora of fighters and positions.
  • allow your fighters to have many chances to try out their knowledge and become familiar with the possiblities; therefore, they rarely become surprised.
  • your students should train their techniques, strategies and tactics enough that responses to attacks and changes in the altercation become second nature. as the saying goes, a young fighter trains until he remembers all of his lessons, then he trains until he becomes a master of those lessons, then he trains until he forgets his lessons. this is referring to the automatic response the master fighter has to his opponents, that the tactics and techniques seem to flow automatically without thought… therefore the Master forgets what he has done, or what can be done. this is the point that ability, knowledge and experience converge and manifest in the form of mastery. we cannot train for this level of skill–nor can we become “promoted” to this level:  it is a by-product of proper training, commitment to understand of the art, and dedication to living and breathing the art for a lifetime. this is perhaps the greatest lesson one can bequeath to a student, the path to mastery in the art. however, before being passed down from teacher to student, it must be lived through the teacher himself.

Please ponder over these lessons, and think about incorporating them into your martial arts program. The student/fighter must learn to become intellectually superior to his opponents and learn to use his attributes and knowledge against whatever he faces. This allows him to rise above all physical skill and to be able to win fights “in slow motion”. As in chess, the fool rushes to move the next piece on every turn he receives, while although the master player has already planned his next move three moves ago, he pauses before execution, and obliterates his opponent’s army with a patient storm.

This will allow your fighters to use the same technique against every opponent, the same style against every form of fighting, and to use fewer weapons against more enemies. Contrary to the popular martial arts idiomatic expression, we should be teaching our fighters to win gunfights with a knife.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please come back and visit us… and please spread the word!