Chess and Jiu-Jitsu: Destruction of A Guard

Chess and Jiu-Jitsu: Destruction of A Guard

Apr 24, 2014, 9:50 PM |

Chess and Jiu-Jitsu: Destruction of A Guard

By: Adisa Banjoko, Founder of Hip-Hop Chess Federation  


I play chess, but my past is checkered/ The mic and I are like staff and sheppard/ When I apply science, my maths perfected, gotta move with proper tools for task selected - Ka, Peace Akhi

In the interest of furthering the discussion on chess and jiu jitsu, I wanted to share a reflection I've given thought to for quite some time. I find the connections between chess and jiu jitsu fascinating to the mind and enlightening to my heart. The interconnectedness between these arts and sports has given me much genuine inspiration over the years.


Recently I have been combing through tons of old DVD’s and  of VHS of classic jiu jitsu matches from the late 1990's. I’m talking about early matches with legends like Roleta, Marcio Feitosa, Mario Sperry, Terere, Jacare, Saulo Ribero, Fabio Gurgel, Gordo- all the OG’s. Its really exciting to observe how certain techniques disappeared while others stay or evolved. I have to assume that looking back in chess history certain evolutionary themes rise and collapse over time. Nevertheless some elements never will never die.


In chess, there is a theme called Destruction of a Guard (or removing the guard). Essentially it’s a tactic where you focus on attacking the pieces that are protecting the bigger pieces you are going after. Maybe its a knight in front of a queen you hope to capture. There might be two pawns and a rook preventing you from getting to the king. The process of capturing those pawns and rook, or getting them to move off of the squares they are on- is destruction of the guard.


Jen Shahade has a great chapter on this topic in her amazing book Play Like A Girl.




When people watch MMA and BJJ, there is a correlating physical position call “the guard”. Traditionally it's called "the closed guard" where one person is on their back (with a person on top of them, who is attacking) but the person on the bottom has both of their legs wrapped around their opponents torso. This takes a lot of mobility away from the person on top and leaves them vulnerable to direct attacks and reversals. For the person on top, until he or she gets past the person on the bottoms legs, it will be almost impossible to win. They must “destroy the guard”, commonly referred to in BJJ as “guard passing.”  I should note that there are many guard variations outside of the closed guard including "open guard", "butterfly guard", "X guard" and "rubber guard" among others. Each have their own nuances that turn every match into a positional  minefield (much like chess).

The jiu jitsu player on the bottom wrapped his legs around his opponent's torso securing the closed guard.


Here are some easy to understand examples of the countless elements of guard passing in jiu jitsu.  Jason Scully also has a cool video about guard passing that shows you many of the positional variations  when passing someone's guard. Having clarity in the full balance of power within the position, understanding threat assessment and your opponents  potential counters are key. Destroying the guard on the chessboard or the mat can be tricky at best, dangerous every time and if done without full focus- absolutely fatal.


A secondary theme in the concept of “destruction of a guard” in jiu jitsu is when one opponent is on top (after passing the guard and transitioning to the mount) and is trying to secure an armlock. However, his/her opponent (knowing they  are in danger of tapping out soon) defends the armlock by grabbing their opposite arm, or gi to prevent hyperextension of the elbow joint. Ryron and Rener Gracie have a fantastic presentation on various tactics people use to defend the armlock. Their video is a perfect illustration of the destruction of a guard.


Womens MMA sensation Ronda Rousey breaking the defending grip of her opponent to finish the armlock.


Without question the parallels between chess and jiu jitsu are as numerous as the potential moves within the two arts. I will post more on this relationship soon. Feel free to email me about your thoughts on chess and jiu jitsu at!