Thursday, September 13, 2012

Great tutorial from

HHCF Interviews John Smalls

Jiu Jitsu is a sport. The word jiu jitsu is Japanese for "the gentle art". Others argue that chess a sport and  art. Hip-Hop for many is seen as an art and sport. But what about Its so beautiful and important. One of my favorite Japanese woodblock print legend Hiroshige. He has a piece of a woman doing jiu jitsu on three men who attacked her. One is thrown into a river, one is running off and one I think is on the ground. I have it in a book on Aikido. I've never been moved as much as seeing martial art in art until I saw the work of John Smalls.

John Smalls is a NY based artist who has recently gained a lot of traction in the jiu jitsu world with his art. He is a talented, thoughtful man and he was gracious enough to let me speak with him. Here is our conversation. 

HHCF:  When did you begin your pursuit of art?

John Smalls:  I began this journey back in 1996-97, I started my professional career in 1999. I always had a passion for art but not until a teacher mentioned that I should pursue it as a career I never thought of it as a possible career. I only heard of comic book artist and deceased painters, but graphic arts was something new to me so I started to focus on that. From there I began to really study art and learn technique and the history.

HHCF: What were your biggest obstacles you had in discovering your favorite, medium, personal style etc? 

JS: My biggest obstacle is being colorblind. Being colorblind has advantages but can also throw a wrench in things. For example, I think I'm using gray but it's pink, things like that. I'll work with any medium, so far I haven't found a favorite.

HHCF:  Who motivated you to do art (in terms of other artists, and who inspired you within your family or extended family)? 

JS: My family has always encouraged me to create art, my mom especially. Growing up she would come home with these children sketchbooks(I was a teenager) but I would still rock them because I knew she paid for them. I have one friend who pushed me to the limits I'm at right now. Jesus Sifuentes, He was the main person who guided me along my path. Introducing me to books on artist not mentioned in the lime light but still where able to leave an impact on generations. I was fortunate to be able to learn from other artist along the way. 

HHCF: When did you first learn of jiu jitsu?

JS:  I started jiu jitsu almost four years ago. I learned of it from a documentary I saw on martial arts.

HHCF: When did you being to train in the gentle art? 

JS: I began training March 2009. I was studying kung fu for a few years but wasn't please with it do to the fact it was unpractical. I enjoy martial arts for many reason but in the end it has to be practical for life.

HHCF: What inspired you to choose jiu jitsu as a theme? How easy was that?

JS: It's not that I choose jiu jitsu as a theme I was just messing around and decided to do some artwork for some friends. I saw how people reacted to it, it was nothing like how people react to my normal everyday art. It just grew from that point. I generally paint or draw whatever interest me at the moment and jiu jitsu has become a main part of my life.

HHCF:  What piece of jiu jitsu art are you most happy with? 

JS: That's hard to say, but I started a book a few years ago. Every now and then I do a piece in it. Some are single page, some are double pages. It's all done with ink brush. It's a personal project I'm pleased with. When I flip thorough it, it tells a story about my journey with jiu jitsu and art.

HHCF: What jiu jitsu artists inspire you to paint?

JS: None. I know of a few artist that motivate me through there work. Like photographers, graphic artist and illustrators.

HHCF: Do you have any upcoming exhibits and where can people find you online to view and purchase your works?

JS I have no schedule exhibitions at the moment. People can find my and latest editions at and for purchasing artwork visit

HHCF: Any last words? 

JS: Keep moving forward.

Monday, September 3, 2012

In The Shadow of Sun Tzu, Chess & Jiu Jitsu

I train at Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose, CA. Its a very cool school. I don’t say that from a place of arrogance. We have some tough dudes there. Some true champions, some national champions and some unknown, ridiculous rugged folks on that mat.

Our head instructor Alan “Gumby” Marques is pretty amazing. He’s a quiet dude. Very deep intellectually and technically. He never says or does anything more than he needs to. I don’t say that lightly to suggest he’s lazy.

On the contrary he’s got a serious work ethic. One so big that when his instructor Ralph “The Pitbull” Gracie handed him a black was the one Ralph took off his waist, that he handed to Gumby.

On your first day of class at Heroes, you’ll be taught the essence of what Gumby things jiu jitsu is about, and life: Safety, Position, Finish.

That's it.

Sounds so simple but its so complex.

Essentially Gumby feels your first job in any conflict is safety. Get yourself safe from whatever is coming at you. After that, do what you must to improve your position. It can be a quick substantial movement, or it can me in incremental inches. Once you have achieved the best possible position, end the conflict by finishing them. In jiu jitsu, it would be a submission hold ( a choke, armlock, wristlock, kneelock, footlock etc.). On the chessboard, its checkmate in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Gumby believes that this method is whats best on the mat, in the boardroom, on the chessboard etc. No matter your conflict, you can use the “filter” of safety, position, finish to assess, reevaluate and elevate your situation with great clarity of mind and purpose. Its so beautiful, I believe it shines brightly in the shadow of military minds like Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.

One of the clearest connections between jiu jitsu and chess is a chess theme called zugzwang. It's a German word, made specifically for the game of chess.  It means "move compulsion". I first learned of this going through the Ubisoft Chessmaster game in the Josh Waitzkin academy. For those unfamiliar with the term, zugzwang is when you place your opponent in positions that force them into positionally or materially worse positions, irrespective of what move they choose. Each move leaves them worse for the ware until there is nothing left but the checkmate.

In jiu jitsu, one of the most ideal positions is called The Mount. I’m not really sure who “discovered” the power in this position, but Helio Gracie (founder of the Gracie Jiu Jitsusystem) created an entire methodology  based on its importance.  From this position you are pinning your opponent with your hips, and arms (kind of like the skirmishes you might have gotten into with your older brother or sister. Once there you can change the pressure on the chest and the belly. You can threaten the neck with chokes or torque the shoulder. Or, you can just smother your opponent with pressure and clean movements until panic sets in. The onset of panic forces them to make mistakes. Most often they move right into another position called The Back Mount. Now the opponent is not facing you, your chest is on their back. Your legs hook their lower torso and your arms clasp the upper torso. From the Back Mount, there are a limited set of effective defense responses from the opponent. At that point a choke called “The Lion Killer” is most often applied and the match is over.

Of the many similarities discussed between chess and martial arts, specifically jiu jitsu I find zugzwang to be the most profound. But even more profound is how zugzwang can be masked by different players. Especially according to their psychology. A seemingly silly blunder by your opponent incites you to quickly snatch up a knight. Now you discover the horror of a discovered check as a penalty for your lack of observation. That discovered check soon unveils a series of checks. Soon we see the king escorted slowly to the gallows- zugzwang.  

The first step in developing zugzwang is really just doing one move checkmate puzzles that help you see the reality of the situation for what it is. In jiu jitsu it would be studying the nuances of a cross choke form the mount to ensure all the elements of your base are in tact, the depth of the choke is proper etc. This is clearly a benefit of chess that helps martial artists as well as average citizens.

The clarity of mind that comes from doing one move checkmates is almost unreal. You think you see all the entries and exits that are blocked for the king but the mate is not there. On the mat you squeeze with all your might but the wrist position is off. You try to move the bishop when its the rook that gets it done. You might apply the choke with all your might but give no regard to the placement of your feet- allowing him to escape. You over think the position on the board and try to smash with the queen when its the pawn that lands the final blow.

That last scenario is so crucial to understand. Its why my instructors personal way of always using exactly the right amount of effort for any job is so mind blowing. Not as much a mind blowing idea, but a mind blowing function in reality.  The Confucian teachers from the Ming dynasty had a quote that resonates with me when I think of those situations. “To go too far, is just as bad as not going far enough.” Balanced effort, the right tools for the job, proper planning, zugzwang- learn to apply it on the mat, on the board and in life. Please look into these ideas and let me know what you think. I encourage you to share your thoughts directly with me at

Sunday, September 2, 2012

HHCF Tournament at Rock The Bells!!! RZA Makes Special Appearance!

                                         Adisa with Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazines Gene Ching
                                         Don (2nd pl), Adisa, Scott (1st pl), A-Plus from
                                          Souls of Mischief
                                         after the HHCF Rock The Bells Chess Tournament!!
                                          Carlos Rodriguez, Yin Diesel, Immortal Technique, Adisa
Adisa and Immortal Technique play a game!
                                         RZA before playing two people at once, and winning...

                                        Adisa setting up to battle RZA....I lost horribly...LOL

HHCF was invited to Rock The Bells tour by RZA of the mighty Wu-Tang Clan. At our booth the boards stayed packed ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT. We even had a chess tournament on the second day....So dope...So many people from Norway, Canada, Texas, NY, all over took time to hang on the boards. I will give more details soon. But here are a few photos. RZA and Immortal Technique even took the boards for a bit. This was historic in so many ways. Much thanks to RZA, Tam, Divine, Joe and Carla, everybody on the Rock The Bells staff....Carlos (both of you), Helene, Eli and all  my Reyes Muertos Klothing familia for teaming with HHCF for the booth. It was great.  For more photos check out

A look back at HHCF Chess Summer Camp

This was the best summer ever!! So much fun, so many kids...So many lessons taught, and learned....Enjoy your school year and we'll see you next summer!

                                         Every Friday we had a tournament...
                                          These two had some epic battles...
                                          This is how chess makes them feel!!
                                         Much thanks to everybody at 9 Queens!!

                                         HHCF kids, keep us smiling!

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Much respect,

Uproxx Covers HHCF Founder plus, FREE PDF download of Bobby Bruce and the Bronx Available

The book Bobby Bruce & the Bronx by Adisa the Bishop is now available from this day forward FREE in PDF form. Please enjoy it and share ...