The Real Philosophy Of The Dojo Training Program

The Real Philosophy Of The Dojo Training Program

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In this blog post, we'll address the main points behind our training program, why we believe them and how this could be relevant and helpful for the readers in their quest for chess improvement!

The Dojo Training Program was created by GM Jesse Kraai, IM David Pruess, & IM Kostya Kavutskiy as a result of a practical attempt to answer the question “Is it possible to create a universal training program?” This question itself was born of our awareness that many passionate aspiring chess players are confused by the vast quantity of resources now available, and flit back and forth repeatedly and ineffectively. They have fantastic learning materials, great attitudes, and often put in tons of hours, which would seem to generally be a guarantee of success — yet not always. The next important element that might be missing from this excellent recipe is a clear plan of what to study or practice, in what way, for how long, and in what order. That's something which we had each often provided to private students, but did not exist in a generalized form.

For 18 months now we have gone deeper and deeper into this project, sharing and arguing over our insights into the possibility for such a program. Although there are some details we disagree about, and we all acknowledge that every student is different and therefore an individual’s training program could be modified and improved from our universal program, we came to many important points of agreement (and a program which, in practice, has been useful for more than a thousand different chess improvers).

Meet the Chess Dojo's Training Program!

1) Goal

The goal of the program is to:

- have as many students as possible efficiently improve their game, as measured by their rating performance. 

- foster their enjoyment of playing and studying chess.

2) Do the "Sweat" Work

You will generally learn in proportion to the effort you put into the material you tried to learn. And in chess, skills are as important as knowledge; sweating hones our skills, which will often be more important than more quickly acquiring some knowledge we won’t be able to make use of. Don’t just ask stronger players for answers. Don’t do tons of passive learning. Don’t ask the engine for answers. We already know the answer: sweat!

3) Plus, Equal and Minus

The concept is this: a student (of nearly any subject matter, including chess) will benefit from someone with greater knowledge/skill who can give them feedback, guidance, and a higher view of their own strengths and weaknesses; from peers with roughly similar level and interest with whom they can practice and spend many more hours discussing; and from less skilled members of a community to whom they can practice teaching some of what they are learning. All three of these relationships and activities can be highly beneficial. In general, this is also part of a stress on working with others rather than alone, and being part of a community. We believe that discussing your ideas with others is one of the most useful activities for improvement.

What takes you to 1500 isn't what takes you to 2000, hence there are several training plans for all levels!

4) Accountability

The plus, equal, and minus, and more generally the community around you also have an important role in providing accountability. When you tell others you are going to do something; when you have someone to show your work to, when you know someone else’s work will be offered to you; when you have a date to do group work — all these elements increase the chances that we will actually do the work. Along with the accountability there is also an enthusiasm that grows when working in a community.

5) 2 Pillars: Play+Analyze --> Spar

Chess is a vast subject, with vast knowledge and varied skills. Great masters come up with different moves or the same moves by different processes. And players develop through many different training methods. However, we are clear-eyed about two central pillars of our training.

The first is playing classical time control games, studying them, and then repeating. There is nowhere you will gain more skill than in an actual game where you pit all your resources against those of a motivated adversary. And there is nowhere you will gain more knowledge than when working to answer questions about the games into which you have already invested so much effort and emotion. Over time, analyzing many of our individual games also teaches us about ourselves.

The second is sparring: playing out segments of games, repeatedly, from certain set positions, to acquire very deep knowledge in small areas. We use this approach to learn our openings, to learn endgame theory, to practice our general positional endgame skills, and to elaborate our middlegame understanding. This practice is a skill-oriented approach to developing knowledge, strengthened by the inclusion of repeated discussions with our adversaries. These cause our understanding to advance much faster by forcing us to articulate our ideas, exposing us to others’ ideas, asking us to argue about them, and evaluate how well they match the evidence from repeated mutual experiment.

Chess is an individual game, but you don't have to do everything alone! Joining a community helps to motivate you and to hold yourself accountable.

6) Task List

We use a task list to focus students on the most important and useful elements of training, and just as importantly to make clear everything that should be left out. Everything that will be distraction and dissolution, a pretense for shirking sweat work. Nowadays many people are losing their concentration, determination, attention span, and appetite for difficult work, even though that is where the most valuable rewards lie. With no frills or filler, we have laid out everything someone would need to do to get from knowledge of the rules to a Grandmaster level, split into twenty three 100-elo-point chunks.

The tasks are self-paced and un-ordered. A future update will include sample weekly schedules for those who want extra guidance on the order and pace, but generally speaking, the task list is adaptable. The suggested number of repetitions given in many tasks are generally “minima.” If a student really enjoys doing a certain task, or really struggles with a certain task, either can be an indication that they will benefit from doing extra repetitions.

You can keep track of basically everything, and follow how your fellow cohort is doing. It's much more fun when everyone is graduating together!

7) Place your trust in one plan

By doing so, the student unburdens themselves of tons of decisions around training. These decisions can be difficult to make, mentally fatiguing, and take a surprising amount of time away from actual training. Is any one training program likely to be perfect? Obviously not. But taking that leap of faith, and not wasting any more energy worrying about it is surely beneficial.

8) A personal coach is a great add-on

While the program was largely created to fill a gap for players who do not have access to individual coaching, the program does not clash at all with a personal coach; in fact the two can work together quite well. An experienced coach can make some tweaks in the program based on their specific knowledge of their students’ preferences, weaknesses, and learning styles. They can repeatedly provide the feedback of a plus on a student’s games and analytical work, and identify when psychological issues are impacting a student’s performance. (Much of private coaching can be psychological, and this is not an area that our program touches on at all yet). At the same time, we expect many coaches would love to have their students in a wonderful community with many excellent and motivated sparring partners, with a clear curriculum, and tracking system for the students’ work.

The senseis are very accessible, and can answer questions/provide feedback on one's progress.

Clarifications and conclusion:

The goal is strength gain in the student, not acquiring Dojo points or checking off every item on the task list. Strength is measured by rating gain; knowledge gain is part of it, and is approximately measured by dojo points/progress. Dojo points/progress bars on completing tasks are, ultimately, motivation and organization tools, and not the actual proof of the pudding. Graduation is achieved every time you gain 100 rating points in your chosen (FIDE, national, or online) rating, regardless of how many Dojo points you have.

Tasks are not requirements, and are not strict. It is possible to do everything on the list and not gain the necessary rating points; it is possible to do different things and make it; it is possible to do part of our list and make it. It is structured so that 95% of people will graduate by the time they finish all tasks. This means lots and lots of people will graduate 1/3, 1/2, and 67.2% of the way through the tasks.

It is a mistake both to think you need to do everything exactly as we say, or to think you can do whatever you like. You must be reasonable. Although we have tried to take the burden of decisions off your hands, we rely on you to exercise judgment around obstacles and possible modifications to the task list. Of course ourselves and many many peers are also available to help answer such questions as they come up.

The senseis: GM Jesse Kraai, IM David Pruess, & IM Kostya Kavutskiy

Hopefully, we've brought enough information for you, but feel free to contact us in case you have further questions! Make sure to follow us on Youtube, Twitch, Discord, Twitter/X, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Patreon. Our popular podcast Dojo Talks is available on Spotify, don't miss it! By the way, in our training program we have a free plan that you can try out, so you can see how it works before going for the full plan, you can find more details by clicking here.

Improvement begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

GM Jonathan Rowson.