Chess Strategies That Apply Directly to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Chess BJJ
Chess BJJ

I’ve been an avid practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ever since I was 13 years old. Badly beaten in a street fight when I was defending myself from a group of young ​thugs, I decided to pick up the art to better defend myself.

Attending a government school in the 2000s could be pretty rough due to the presence of many ​gangs in the school system. Given that I was a skinny boy who loved punk rock, I found myself at the mercy of many of the so-called triad members in my school who took an interest in me.

As a result of that, I usually found myself getting ganged up and/or chased by gang members looking to prove themselves by beating up the outcast kid. After one beating too many, I decided enough was enough and headed down to my local gym to get myself into fighting shape and to learn a move or two.

My instructor was Julius Park, the founder of Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts and former student of Renzo Gracie Academy, where Renzo Gracie himself awarded him with the purple belt.

He taught me how to make use of my elbows and knees to devastating effect, how to win street fights with a single decisive move and also how to remain cool and under control at all times.

A game of chess is just like any other street fight, with the goal being the quick and efficient destruction of your enemy with a minimum amount of effort.

While many martial artists often speak about how their martial art of choice is the deadliest and most effective, hard experience has shown me that most of the time, victory often belongs to the fighter who has a strategy for winning a fight. This conveniently brings us to our first point:

Always Have a Backup Plan

Let's Roll
Let’s Roll

Remember that whatever the situation, it is crucial that you have a backup plan of some kind to fall back on. One of the most common mistakes made by amateur Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters is becoming over-reliant on a particular move or a combination of moves.

For example, while the rear-naked chokehold or hip takedown is great for dealing with a single opponent, what are you going to do if you find yourself against multiple opponents, or you’re in a crowded location with no room for the takedown?

Instead, you should always have a backup plan ready for any situation that you find yourself in. Remember, street fights are not one versus one fights, where the opponents are evenly matched and you have the option to throw in the towel.

Most of the time, confrontations on the street are sudden brutal affairs that rarely go according to plan. This is why you should train for a variety of different scenarios where you can respond in a manner that allows you to keep your options open.

While I may not be a BJJ expert, I have been in my fair share of scrapes and brawls throughout my youth and I can definitely say that having a backup plan has served me well on several occasions.

For example, years of practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu allowed me to dominate most of the fights that I found myself involved in.

However, when I got into a brawl with an opponent who was an experienced streetfighter, I was caught off-guard and nearly got smashed in the face with a wooden chair for my troubles.

Make Use of All of Your Pieces

Check Mate
Check Mate

In chess, all of the pieces on the board need to work together harmoniously in order to overwhelm your opponent. This can also be applied to the world of BJJ, where a myriad of techniques can be used to confuse and take down your opponent with overwhelming force.

I don’t mean that you should learn just about every arm bar and throw that BJJ has to offer. What I mean is that you should ideally spend time talking to more experienced fighters who have actually made use of BJJ in real life.

From here, this allows you to expand your horizons and provides you with a deeper understanding of BJJ and its applications.

Just like how a Queen can be taken down by a Pawn, each and every chess piece has its own application and can be deadly when properly employed.

The same applies to BJJ and martial arts in general and supposed purists who refuse to expand their horizons are setting themselves up for failure.

As can be seen in the UFC, MMA, K1 and PRIDE circuit, the most successful fighters are those who are able to harness a variety of techniques to destroy their opponents.

Control Your Space

Control Your Space
Control Your Space

Chess experts often talk about the importance of controlling your space, which is defined as positioning your pieces in a manner that allows you to attack the greatest number of squares, hampering the position of your enemy as a result.

This can be translated into BJJ in terms of your ability to attack and counter-attack your opponent from the most effective position.

Royce Gracie, one of the most influential figures in MMA history, was able to take on a much larger and stronger opponent, Kimo Leopoldo, in UFC 3 and won by submission after 4 minutes and 40 seconds.

While Leopoldo was nearly 34 pounds heavier than Gracie and much stronger, Gracie masterfully locked down Leopoldo and prevented him from using his striking power to win the match.

Eventually, Gracie wore him down and forced him to submit. This illustrates how dictating the pace of the fight allows you to take down much stronger and larger opponents without having to resort to making use of brute force.

From Julius, I learnt the importance of planning your battles and the importance of strategy in a street fight. These skills would serve me well during the years of rough and tumble growing up in a rough high school.

While I would never advocate violence, I am sure that without those Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lessons, I would have found myself on the wrong end of the boot.


Ben Hannson was raised in the Baltimore area. He is a Blue Belt in BJJ.  He worked as a Publishing Manager and a Fitness editor in Chicago.  Currently, he is a freelance Health Blogger.

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