Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hip-Hop Chess Federation 2013 Year in Review

Hip-Hop Chess Federation Year in Review 2013

Gumby, Asheru, Honorable Jimme Edwards, Adisa Banjoko, WCHOF Dir. Susan Barrett, Dr. James Peterson and Mike Relm

2013 was a busy year for the HHCF. We just wanted to take a minute to think some folks who helped make 2013 a year of growth despite the struggle. If you for some reason do not see your name, you have to know that the HHCF is deeply appreciative of every person, for every ounce of help given. Know that if you need us to return the favor we will be there.

This was a project created by HHCF and video wizard Mike Relm to illustrate the connections between chess and jiu jitsu. Even got some cool support from Jesse Cale, Gumby, Henry Akins, Rener Gracie and Rakaa Iriscience. When it first dropped, I knew as peoples understanding of chess and jiu jitsu grew, the video would grow with it. We’ve got just under 40k hits and growing! The beat bangs, and moves are crispy. We will plan to have more experimental vids about Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts coming in 2014. Shout out to the World Chess Hall of Fame for supporting us pushing the artistic envelope on that one.

This was shot at Are 51 (aka secret location at Youtube film center in LA). They were amazing and everybody who helped make it happen- we love you.

Anita Abedian did a great story on HHCF in the SF Examiner. It opens with a story that illustrates the extent HHCF Founder Adisa Banjoko is willing to go to get a message to kids who are forgotten by many.

HHCF having fun with the youth at Innovative Concepts Academy in St. Louis

Because of the kindness and open mind and spirit of Jennifer Shahade, we got an invitation to do some education events in St. Louis by the World Chess Hall of Fame. WCHOF Director, Susan Barrett has an amazing team (shoutout Laura, Shannon and Amanda) and amazing vision for how chess can help kids. The HHCF brought a team of folks including Gumby from Heroes Martial Arts, rapper Asheru, from the Boondocks Theme Song, Dr. James Peterson and Mike Relm. We went to Judge Jimmie Edwards Innovative Concepts Academy, Confluence Academy and St. Louis juvenile hall talking about how chess and enrich young minds and lives.

Beyond that, we got to work with and learn a lot from Jen, Maurice, Yasser and all the other cool folks from the St. Louis Chess Club (what up Mike and Matt!). Plus the food was off the hook.  

It was like going to the Mecca of chess. It really helped us understand the purpose of HHCF and the heavy lifting that must be done to save American minds. We look forward to doing more amazing things with WCHOF in 2014. We can’t wait to get back out there.

This year Rakaa Iriscience ( a tireless warrior for Hip-Hop Chess Federation) connected us to magnificent art and mind Blayne Barlow. He runs a clothing brand CTRL Industries. They promote self control and showcasing the beauty of jiu jitsu subculture. We did an ad together with one of the best jiu jitsu raps ever done by Kalhi . Shout out to Chris and Christine Nguyen, David McLeod and Yin Dumela for making such a great commercial for CTRL’s Rook II jiu jitsu kimono.  You can listen to an extended version of the song with an intro from Ryron Gracie right HERE! Just click the player to the right.

This was a talk our Founder, Adisa Banjoko gave to more than 300 students from across San Jose. It got a fantastic response and it illustrates why HHCF is leading the charge for education innovation.

HHCF Breakdown of Methodology

Adisa Banjoko and music producer Ronnie Lee at Hiero Day holding down the 64.

A lot of what we do, specifically has been kept in the dark by design. It was not done to be sneaky, the HHCF methodology has been being tested for the last 7 years now. But this year, HHCF Founder decided to share more of what is happening and why this odd fusion of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts works. These were things beyond 3PA > 1NT and the PPC Code. Articles like One Big Chess Game, A Techincal Flow and Chess Clock began to highlight their unique approach to how chess and life are connected. Some of these articles will be published in full form in Adisa Banjokos’ upcoming book Live The Game slated for release in May of 2014.

HHCF ended the year releasing a FREE profanity free mixtape. Twenty-five powerful songs from artits from all over the world that deal with peace, love, unity and having fun. DJ Rob Flow and Ronnie Lee led the music charge on this project. Songs like Chess Clock, One Big Chess Game, 64 Squares in the Cipher and others really showed that HHCF is on another level and unlike any other organization out there.  

There was much more to say, but we wanted to just thank all the people who made the above happen. We’d also like to acknowledge some of the following people and institutions for their help and support in 2013 : RZA, GZA, Rugged Monk, Tam, Rakaa Iriscience,, Paul Moran and everybody at Open Mat Radio,, Tom Callos, everybody at Heroes Martial Arts, Chasing Lions Cafe in San Francisco, Joe Schloss, John O’Connell High School (Mark Alvarado, Mr. Flores, G, Mama Bev, Steve, Bonacorso, Moskowitz, Kay Hones and Goldstien) , Demone Carter and Future Arts Now, Zak and Salwa of Northstar School,  Andrew “Society” Bigelow, San Jose Universal Zulu Nation Chapter, SF All Tribes Universal Zulu Nation Chapter, Brycen, Rahman Jamaal, Daaim Shabazz, The Shakoor Family, Santini Family, Kurt Osiander, Nick Greene and Ralph Gracie, Ryron, Ralek and Rener Gracie (you guys rock), Seven Trees Music Center, Ed and Kiersten from Seven Trees Community Center in San Jose, Clyde and everybody at Flux Research,, Kristen and JP, David Bitton and EVERY artist and producer for the HHCF Mixtape.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One Big Chess Game

Here is a special essay I wrote as a guest blogger on New Black Man, ran by super historian  Mark  Anthony  Neal. 

My first few days teaching life strategies to at-risk and gang impacted youth using chess, I met three Latino boys. The first was heavyset with black marble eyes, dark curly hair and a body like Baby Huey. The second was super thin with reddish brown Aztec skin, small beady eyes and an unusually slim face. The third, at first glance you might miss really easy. He had an average build, average height but a very sweet smile. Oddly though, his eyes had no emotion- like a snake. It was deeply unsettling. That’s what I remember about meeting him for the first time. I recall going home and telling my wife “I think I met a killer today.”


Monday, October 21, 2013

NEW EXCLUSIVE MUSIC: A Technical Flow by Kalhi feat. Ryron Gracie

Check out the latest track to be shared from HHCF Street Games Vol. 1. This track is called A Technical Flow and it features Ryron Gracie breaking down what the essence Gracie Jiu Jitsu is.

LISTEN HERE: A Technical Flow

Read the annotated lyrics at Rap Genius!

HHCF Philosophy: A Technical Flow: Chess and Jiu Jitsu

A Technical Flow: Chess and Jiu Jitsu

By: Adisa Banjoko

On the mat I battle cats, the same way I’ll take your back/  A strategized a plan of attack- Kalhi  A Technical Flow


   [tsook-tsvahng] A noun
In chess a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

For many years people have discussed the connections between chess and martial arts. I’ve been a casual student of chess and jiu jitsu for a while and I have seen many overlapping themes. My earliest memory of the correlation is watching Rickson and Royler Gracie play chess before one of Rickson’s matches in the movie Choke. In recent years we have seen the emergence of the Checkmat team (known for being very aggressive and strategic in competition) and recently an instagram photo of champions Roger and Kyra Gracie playing chess in their gi’s popped up on the net. If that was not enough, jiu jitsu clothing brand CTRL Industries has dropped a limited edition set of gi’s named after chess pieces. “The Rook” and “The Knight” have gained a lot of internet buzz among jiu jitsu players online. Little by little the connections seem deeper and more authentic.

In his book Black Belt Techniques, Jean Jacques Machado wrote “As in a game of chess, you don’t simply concentrate on taking one piece; all your moves contribute to an overall plan. An advanced student already has engraved in his mind a set of positions, along with the natural reactions that these positions will induce in his opponent.”  

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 world champions, some national champions and some unknown, ridiculously 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 on Ralphs waist, that he handed to Gumby.

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

That’s it. Sounds so simple but it's 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 be 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 what’s 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, re-evaluate 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.

So much of what we learn about jiu jitsu is related to the chess theme known as Zug zwang. I first learned of this going through the Chessmaster game in the Josh Waitzkin academy. For those unfamiliar with the term, Zugzwang means to put your opponent in positions that force them to make positionally or materially worse position again and again until there is nothing left.

In jiu jitsu, one of the most ideal positions is called The Mount. I’m not really sure who “discovered” the immense value this position, but Carlos and Helio Gracie (founders of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu system) 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 clean movements until panic sets in and they move right into another position called The Back Mount which essentially assured almost no effective defensive responses. At that point a choke called “The Lion Killer” is applied and the match is over.

This video of Helio Gracie’s grandsons Rener and Ralek Gracie is a clear illustration of zugzwang elements within the jiu jitsu methodology.

I caught up with Josh Waitzkin,  the American chess icon and Black Belt in jiu jitsu under Marcelo Garcia . I asked him about zugzwang. He told me “A lot of heavy guard passes play on this principle. Fabio Gurgel [legendary BJJ fighter and coach] embodies it hugely. In chess, the dynamics of "opposition" with king and pawn vs king are the easiest way to help people understand it. Adding  “King  and pawn vs pawn positions are mutual zugzwang.”

Rey Diogo Black Belt Oliver Reich says he sees the connected themes of zugzwang and jiu jitsu as well. “When guard passing leads to positional control,  guiding their opponent  into chained submission attacks- its almost identical to zugzwang.”

Observe Henry Akins perspective on guard passing. The positional shutdown illustrated here screams zugzwang to me.

As much as I love chess, I’m nowhere near a master level of playing. I needed to talk to someone who could help me drill down a bit on the concept. I called Dr. Daaim Shabazz, founder of the chess news and culture  website The Chess Drum to ask him his thoughts on zugzwang.

“Seeing zugzwang emerge in a chess game takes quite a bit of understanding and experience” said Dr. Shabazz. “Many world-class players can see certain patterns emerging that restrict an opponent’s options. It may be capturing control of squares or restricting the opponents ability to execute their own plans. In jiu jitsu you have many of these scenarios where submissions are set up because the opponent no longer has any viable options to escape. “

“Thus it is not the submission itself that is the focus, but the way it is set up. In chess, it is similar. The process of restricting an opponent until they cannot move any pieces is an intricate one and one that totally demoralizes the other player. Usually when the player is suffocating, they will try to break free all of a sudden. In chess, as well as jiu jitsu, this is a mistake since that person leaves themselves exposed while trying a sudden tactic or escape. However, in chess it is also easy lose concentration and allow an opponent to escape from your vice grip and turn the tables. Sun Tzu taught that you should always provide an opening for an opponent so that they will not fight so ferociously. However, in zugzwang, the opening also leads to an immediate loss.”

To share a clearer idea of how this plays out positionally in chess, Dr. Shabazz gave a great example.

“I recall former World Champion Garry Kasparov playing the computer Deep Blue (developed by IBM) in 1996. In this game, Kasparov developed a lasting space advantage with a simple opening called the Reti. In those days, you could play positionally and watch the computers go astray because they lacked deep positional understanding. Slowly, but surely, Kasparov continued to grab more and more space from the computer. It is like being in a dominant position in a grappling sport. He then closed the position giving the computer fewer options, but appeared to give the computer a way out by sacrificing a pawn. However, this sacrifice gave Kasparov an even tighter grip on the position. In the final position, the Deep Blue team resigned since the computer had absolutely no moves, yet many pieces were still on the board! “


Of the many similarities between chess and martial arts, specifically jiu jitsu I find this to be the most profound. Zugzwang is always masking itself. On the board a seemingly silly blunder by your opponent incites you to quickly snatch up a knight- only to find the horror of a discovered check. Prepositioned pawns and bishops cut the board off, giving the king little room to breath. Its almost as if your opponent is saying “I am everywhere.” That discovered check soon walks the king slowly to the gallows- zugzwang.  

Daaim trains in Capoeira but his understanding of chess and jiu jitsu methodologies make him sound like a seasoned guy on the mat. “The ability to create a zugzwang takes positional understanding, knowledge of opponent’s tendencies and excellent planning. These skills are developed by a depth in the understanding of the middlegame where advantages are lost or gained. This is also where one’s wealth of experience comes in. Again zugzwang maneuvers are rare in chess and often occur in the endgame, but when they do occur in the middlegame, they are instructive since it usually shows complete mastery over an opponent.”

The first step in developing zugzwang is really just doing one move checkmate chess puzzles that help you see the reality of the situation for what it is. This is clearly a benefit of chess that helps martial artists as well as average citizens. Once the reality of the situation is clear, you can then observe and innovate on the potential future in the game,a jiu jitsu match or your life in general.

RZA from Wu-Tang Clan is one of Hip-Hop’s most talked about chess players. He writes about the many connections between chess and life in his book,The Wu-Manual. I’ve played him and lost twice. Most recently we played at the Rock The Bells tour when it came to The Bay Area. The thing I noticed about his game this: He sees a greater potential threat in your moves before you do. He slowly cuts them off. By the time you realize what could have happened, you’re immobile. Its almost like for him zugzwang is in play from the first move. Reminds me of rolling with my instructor, Gumby. Its impressive.

The clarity of mind that comes from doing one move checkmate puzzles is how I try to cultivate my eye for zugzwang. I get the most fun reading Eric Schillers One Move Checkmates or Play Like A Girl, by Jen Shahade.  A few times a year or so I test my “chessvision” with those books . Another great one is the Chessmaster video game puzzles.  You think you see all the entries and exits that are blocked for the king and its not there. You try to move the bishop when its the rook that gets it done. You over think the position 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. 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.” Focused effort, the right tools for the job, proper planning, zugzwang.

Adisa Banjoko is the founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. He holds a purple belt at Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose, CA. For more information visit

Sunday, October 20, 2013

HHCF Philosophy: 64 Squares in the Cipher

64 Squares in the Cipher
By: Adisa Banjoko
    This set can be purchased at
“I don’t play either side or the king, I play God / Heavenly wars played out on hand carved boards / Rakaa’s many moves ahead, learned to sacrifice to win / Angels share the tables with the ones that lived a life of sin.” - Rakaa Iriscience, 64 Squares in the Cipher

        People close to me know that my chess-playing skills are nowhere near that of a master. My friend once rightly joked “You are easily the worst chess player to ever make the cover of Chess Life magazine.” He’s right though. My game is at the level of a guy who likes chess, but never really pursued it on a competitive level. My addiction to the game came from the philosophy I got from the outcomes of the games I played and watched. That, and the fun I have irrespective of the outcome.

     For some intermediate and advanced chess players this seems to be a source of deep frustration. No matter what I do, or the members of this organization there is constant complaining about my rating, or the ratings of the rappers,  MMA fighters or jiu jitsu players who support HHCF.  I think the thing many of the chess players from this group lack is a greater understanding of the game on a social and cultural level. They are so obsessed with the game they love that they see any attempt to “alter” its true nature as an offense to something they are deeply passionate about and skilled at playing. In their obsession however, they miss the cultural essence of chess on a global scale. The international appeal of HHCF confuses so many “serious” chess players. So let me share my vision more fully for those  unclear on thee concept. Let me also say that I realize this is not an easy concept to grasp and I don’t fault anyone for not knowing the converging histories of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts in America. But I lived this, with millions of other people, so, I know its real and I have seen the fusion enlighten and inspire.

    I think I saw something that said a little more than half a billion humans can play chess around the world. Now sit back and think to yourself, “How many of those people are active competitors who plan on become masters?” The answer after a few seconds should be a resounding “Almost none!” People love the game of chess because its fun. The games you play with your brother before leaving to school. The game your grandmother won that made you cry when you were 9. One night my wife and I were given a free weekend at a lavish hotel in the silicon valley. We were going to go to a restaurant, hit the club and stay out till dawn. That is what we initially told ourselves. We spent hours of it sitting in a hot tub locked in 23-hour chess battle on the 64 squares. The water got cold.  We took the game to the main room and stayed up till after 1am trying to win—that’s the chess I’m about. That’s the chess this planet enjoys. So few can remember if granny was breaking out the Kings Indian on them. Nobody remembers if they used the Sicilian Dragon on their opponent in that lunch hour. They just remember the fun. The purity of the fun and personal connectivity in that moment means more than any sheet of algebraic notation.
    At the same time, let me say without reservation that if it were not for those that seek to take chess to the highest heights from a competitive and academic perspective, the casual players of the world would have nothing to aspire towards. Players like Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Jennifer Shahade, Irina Krush, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley are the living cornerstones we stand upon even when we don’t know it. They must all be properly acknowledged for what they have achieved. It is no small thing.
          Nevertheless, I’ve played games with Hip-Hop stars Casual, RZA, Traxamillion, Amir Sulaiman I will never forget (I often came up short). One time Big Rich and Balance brought some husky Russian dude to play me at a restaurant. It was electric. This summer I played an amazing game with a young San Jose rapper named Society. It was such a positionally close game II named that match The Battle of Tai Chi. Our positions were so mutually intense and the pressure so high, we were both sweating and thinking and rethinking our moves. It was like a  match between Tai Chi warriors in a Jet Li film. The HHCF tournament at Rock The Bells ended with a street dude from Compton challenging a classically trained player who had just ethered everybody and the dude from Compton won. Off the hook. You can’t make these things up. It’s real life, its real chess and just because the players or fans can’t list the name of every opening or endgame strategy does not make it less legitimate.
         At Hiero Day 2013 in Oakland, HHCF had a table of chessboards set up right next to the All Tribes Zulu Nation booth. After Ronnie Lee and I set up the tables, we just walked away and it automatically was packed with players. Boyfriends lost to their girlfriends, strangers clashed leaving fallen opponents lost in mental anguish and some just passed by to learn the game. I played  nasty battle with rapper/educator Jahi. We had been trying to catch up to one another for years (life gets in the way, things fall apart) but on this day we vowed to play. It was stressful for both of us. Crowds swelled to get a peek at the tactical exchange. When it was over, we were all laughing and talking about opportunities taken, missed and lost. Then an Ethiopian college girl walked up and asked me how much it cost to play. I’m like, “Chess is free.” She just nodded and pointed as if to say “Move then.” I knew she was a killer from her question. She came after me like the blood of Queen Nzinga pulsed in her veins. I was a goner for sure. Then, daybreak! A missed opportunity to check me put me in a position where I had to check her repeatedly into a mate or perish. I  pulled it off, but my mind was jello after. I needed a sandwich and some ice tea to recover from those matches. Whoever said chess is only a game for your brain, surely lied. Your whole body feels the stress.  
I saw rap producer Ronnie Lee go head to head with some Latino street dude just as my game ended. Ronnie is a way stronger player than I am. This dude came in and started throwing pieces at Ronnie so hard (it was his last game of the day) and Ronnie was positionally on the ropes. Slowly though, the guys aggression caused him to poke holes in his own structure trying to eat Ronnies pieces. I saw him snatch a piece of Ronnies with a grin that soon dropped his jaw. The guys knight was now too far away to protect his king. He knew Ronnie was going to ride his castes down the H file and end it. He shook his head, laid his kind down. “Good game, man” he said with a smile and shook Ronnies hand. Thats the chess we seek to promote. That human chess.
          Observing the landscape of the jiu jitsu and in the Hip-Hop world, I find people of similar mind states. They are so in love with the purity of jiu jitsu, Rap or b-boying that they cannot see the connections to chess and respect it lightly because of a line from RZA or Jay Z or 50 Cent. I have said from the beginning that this organization is not for everyone. Not from a place of arrogance or exclusion, but, from a place of intellectual insight. The self-discovery that comes from playing chess, listening to Rap music and training in jiu jitsu and studying the philosophies from those paths has already altered how we see ourselves, humanity and art. Who knows what this fusion will unveil to us through consistent exchanges of intellectual, artistic and physical improvements?
    You gotta have an open mind to roll with HHCF. If you are locking into the path of the 64 squares only- the HHCF may not for you. If your love for the gentle art or MMA is too narrow to see anything else- I encourage you to keep walking. If you are all about your rap ciphers but you can’t see past the 5 elements of Hip-Hop- HHCF might not be your thing. We are an organization of people who know they are not one trick pony’s. We know that we are all connected.
This fusion of art and logic, of mental and physical combat was meant to unite people within. Then that unity should flow outward their local and global community. It was meant  to unify the minds of young boys and girls to inspire them. We hope to enable them to be able to  manifest whatever vision of themselves resonates within their heart. That is it. So if you want to know who the members of the HHCF are- look out your window. Now look in the mirror. Welcome to the HHCF.  For more information on what we do and how we do it, visit . Educators who would like an HHCF branch in your area please email

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 ...