Learning Chess using Martial Art Disciplines
Perfecting the Mind and Body
Paraphrased from the book Samurai Chess
This book is a great read. One of the authors has studied at great length on what makes a good mind. The other is a chess Grandmaster since 1976. Neither is a Samurai Master, but have studied very in depth the techniques provided to Samurai masters. It is a wonderful combination. One author is very accomplished in the martial arts.
Chapter 10 is titled “Perfecting the Mind and Body”. Samurai train all the time. Not part of the time, all of the time. Does this mean they never sleep and are always in a dojo? Hardly. It means one thing. When they wake in the morning, they start thinking about getting better. When they go to bed, they are only ready if they have mentally made the last move.
Now I can hear the moaning out there --- I cannot spend 24 hours a day on chess. That is not the point. They point is that you are thinking about chess. Memorizing a new opening. Thinking about the last game you lost and how you can improve it. This you can do while studying, playing with your kids, working, etc.
Of course, more time in the Chess Dojo, the better. I have seen people with a 600 rating not get any better. It is a hobby - maybe. Others, like a 13 year old kid who entered a tournament I hosted who started the tournament at 660. He finished the tournament and won it. His rating was 1150. It is now around 1300. By age 14, the late great Bobby Fischer had already beat the best players in the US.
He dropped out of school. You can begin to see why when he “went to war” with the Soviet Machine that they were only mildly worried. A High School dropout? No doubt this kid was a natural. But in his spare time he practiced, and read, and practiced and read.
Or how about the Polgar family? The father was a Psychologist in a Communist controlled Hungary. Susan and Judit Polgar became Grandmasters. Their dad knew they had the mental power, they just needed a break - and to work at it. They worked hard and both became Grandmasters. More on that in my upcoming book.
Practice is a power harnessed by Grandmasters. The Samurai know this too. Either mental combat or physical combat will make you better. Dinner is done. A good chess player will think of that as the opposing King is dead. I spent all afternoon moving ingredients around the kitchen “board” until checkmate, dinner is done.
“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet, it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents as well”
-- Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do
But how can we memorize thousands of thousands of openings. Or two of my favorite books on tactics: Find the Checkmate by Gary Lane (and IM, who married a WGM). Mr. Lane never became a Grandmaster. Instead, he was an IM with a talent for coaching. He wrote books, and coached teams.
The second was Susan Polgar’s book Chess Tactics for Champions. The first woman to earn the Gradmaster title the traditional way. Both books explain what you are looking for and then provide what seems like endless puzzles. My rating is much lower than those with natural ability. But I am starting to see lines I didn’t see before.
Great things are are to be won by resolute self-confidence and daring.
Emanuel Lasker - World Champion for 27 years!
The legendary karate Gradmaster Suzuki Sensei was fighting for the Japanese title. They only way most opponents figured to beat him was an all out attack early. His opponent did just that! He landed a powerful front snap kick and Suzuki hit the floor. He was unconscious or close to it. He started up thinking how to win and then fell again. The next time up, he regained consciousness. He got up and with one full counterpunch laid out his opponent. Match over.
When you hang your queen or a rook, do you give in to the attitude that I am done? As this last true story shows, what happens if you capture a hanging queen. Some figure they have a rabbit and can win easily. The counterpunch kills them. Notice Suzuki was thinking how to win when he was barely conscious.
Some chess players you say “boo” to them and they are done. Play against some players and your sword had better be very sharp to win. You sharpen your sword by practice.
Even great Lasker (27 years as World Champion) lost at times. What do you LEARN from you matches? You must learn SOMETHING from every loss.
Whoever moves his hand and does not draw back is a great man!
-- Inscription on many Chinese chessboards
Little doubt we must have a balanced life. Eat well, exercise, do our jobs well, raise great kids. If we do not do these things, our chess will suffer, because our minds will be on the spreadsheet at work. Do it and do it well -- and put it behind you.
Direct and violent attacks must be carried out en masse with full force, to ensure their success. The opponent must be overcome at all costs;
the attack cannot be broken off, since in all such cases that means defeat
-- World Chess Champion - Jose Raoul Casablanca
There is of course, much more to this book, published in 1997. It is out of print, so I recommend AliBris.com which specializes is special out-of-print books.
In summary, to be a good or great player, you must study. Two of my finest friends here at Chess.com say they never studied. They are naturals. If they never get past 1400, I will believe them. One guy in our group has won several of our small tournaments in a row and had gone from around 700 to 1400 or so. He says it is due to the fact he has taken time off to study. I hope that is true for him -- for if it is not he will get slaughtered later in life.
(Note: a few weeks after writing this blog entry, the person I was talking about was banned. His extraordinary rise from 600 to near 2000 was almost humanly impossible).
Think, read, study, learn, and play. It is a great person who wins with humility. In the martial arts, the bow was necessary. In my martial art career (before a car accident nearly ruined my life) our instructor would kick you someplace it hurt if your bow was not genuine. He said the same thing. If you cannot fight with honor and grace, there is no honor or grace in victory.
Josh Waitskin has in his young life mastered two disciplines his book The Art of Learning Josh had this to say (if you are not familiar with Josh Waitskin, his story is the story for the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) paraphrased:
A 230-pound giant stood in entered the ring. I had decided to move up to the super-heavyweight division for practice to defend a middle-weight U.S. Champion. In Tai-Chi the artist learns to turn aggression back onto itself. This is easier said than done. This was round two of the finals. I avoid several blows and then landed him 8 feet away. He finally caught me and this time I new I broke my shoulder. I fought to the bitter end with one hand ... it was pure flow, like a chess game.
Josh talks a lot about chess and Tai Chi. He attributes he success in both due to his learning power. But both disciplines are very close. If Mr. Waitzkin had mastered the cello, that would be incredible learning power. No doubt in my mind he is a great learner.
In my doctoral program, we got doctorates in Educational Psychology, Research and Evaluation or EPRE. You emphasized in a certain area. I emphasize in research and evaluation (statistics). We were also required to study in depth the field of graduate educational psychology. Josh was young and took on two similar disciplines. No doubt Mr. Waitzkin is a great learner -- but I learned my martial arts while studying for my doctorate. They are similar. I also kept up my music training.
The Samurai talk a lot about the sword. So to Christians. The Bible is your sword, without it, you will lose your spiritual battle, and you will not know what it says. Many of the early masters at chess where clergy. Why? Because both chess and ministry required immense discipline to study.
So do you want to get better? Buy books, read, pay attention to your loses. It is always your move. They same is true in church, or martial arts. It is your move.
Addition 1/4/10: I have come conclusion to learn the most from your wins and mistakes is to keep a diary. Write what your learned and go back and read it from time to time. It helps your discipline.