I talk to Adisa Banjoko aka Adisa the Bishop. He is the creator of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, Author of a book titled Bobby, Bruce and the Bronx and host of the Podcast called The Bishop Chronicles.
The Hip Hop Chess federation combines the arts of Hip Hop, Chess and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and teaches positive life strategies to at-risk and incarcerated youth. We discuss how he formed the HHCF from an initial encounter in a juvenile detention facility where he found chess helpful to breakdown racial and social barriers, its development where traditionalists in each art were initially sceptical of the members of the other arts.
We go over practical examples of how chess, jiu-jitsu and hip hop can be useful metaphors for dealing with life’s struggles. Finally, how Adisa recently taught how to overcome creative blocks at a retreat with a Shaolin Monk hosted by the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan at his house.
Podcast Transcript – Episode 017
Sonny: Welcome to episode number 17 of The Sonny Brown Breakdown. A podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host Sonny Brown and in this episode, I talk to Adisa Banjoko aka Adisa the Bishop. He is the creator of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, author of a book titled Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx, and the host of a podcast called The Bishop Chronicles. The Hip Hop Chess Federation combines the arts of hip hop, chess, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and teaches positive life strategies to at-risk and incarcerated youth. We discuss how he formed the Hip Hop Chess Federation after an initial encounter in a juvenile detention facility where he found chess helpful to break down racial and social barriers, its development where traditionalists in each art were initially skeptical of the members of the other arts and we go over practical examples of how chess, jujutsu, and hip hop can be useful metaphors for dealing with life struggles. Finally, how Adisa recently taught how to overcome creative blocks at a retreat with a Shaolin monk hosted by the RZA of the Wu-Tang clan at his house. Now, let’s got to the podcast. Adisa, great to have you here mate. How are you today? How’s things?
Adisa: I’m really good. You know what I’m saying? Thank you for having me on the show. You’re really awesome. I love your videos and I can’t even believe I’m on the show. That’s totally true. I’m a little extra star-struck because I was listening to one of your podcasts earlier. I was literally eating lunch listening to it, and I’m still juiced from it. It’s weird. I’m having a star-struck moment. I’m just telling you.
Sonny: [laughs] The feeling is mutual mate because I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. I can’t remember exactly when I first picked up a book–
Adisa: It was two years ago or something. It seemed right. Maybe less. I don’t know.
Sonny: It seems a while but I can’t even remember exactly how I found out about your stuff. It was through good fortune, let’s just say.
Sonny: That I found out about you and your organization and have been fascinated with it ever since. I like reading about it. I like reading about what you’re doing. Basically, what you do is you run the Hip Hop Chess Federation which combines the elements of hip hop, chess, martial arts, particularly Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and you use that as a vehicle to teach, say, positive life strategies-
Sonny: -to kids, troubled youth, at-risk youth–
Adisa: Especially troubled youth, yes. Especially troubled youth. It’s for everybody. You know what I mean? Yes, Hip Hop Chess Federation was founded in 2006 but it had been something on my mind for at least 10 years, maybe 15 years before that. It’s little scattered fragments of wisdom are floating through your brain like, “Oh, that makes sense with that. That makes sense with that.” I think that was because I am a guy who didn’t graduate high school. I got a GED because I was really an alcoholic, a binge drinker. I didn’t graduate. I didn’t have any direction, let me be honest. Even if I’m honest about how I got into drinking was because I just didn’t have any direction. I dedicated myself to hip hop at a very young age and I was a journalist but I was also an artist. What happens is I started noticing when I was young that there were a lot of rappers that were mentioning chess and I love chess. I’m not a grandmaster. You’ve never seen me win any tournaments but I love the game. The thing that I always picked up from it was life decisions when I was either playing or when I was watching other people play. I could pull life things from other people’s games and that’s what my gift was like. You know what I’m saying? I’d be like, “Oh, in life … .” It would just stick with me. Long story short, I made a library of lyrics in my head that dealt with chess and it would be like from Public Enemy or it would be from EPMD. Obviously this is before Wu-Tang, but then Wu-Tang Clan comes out and they perfect that whole idea. The deal was that GZA from Wu-Tang and I, we met before Wu-Tang Clan. Me and GZA were cool before Wu-Tang Clan existed when he was a solo artist on a record label called Cold Chillin’. He’s hell of funny. We were always in tune. Basically, one day when I had put out some books on hip hop called Lyrical Swords Volume 1 and Volume 2, I was invited to be a guest speaker in a juvenile hall. It was career day. It was like, “We’re going to have this guy talk about journalism and … .” When I went in there, the kids was like, “Have you ever met Snoop?” “Well, I’ve talked to him on the phone for an interview but–” “Do you know Eminem?” “Yes.” “Do you know–” No one cared about what the hell I did at all. I was bombing. Quite frankly, I’m a good public speaker. I kill mics when I give lectures. I was completely humiliated just bombing in front of all these kids. That particular weekend I had bought a chessboard for my son who was four at the time. He’s 21 now. He just graduated. Congratulations son, I love you. I had this board and pieces and I was like, “Dude, you are bombing. You better figure out something.” I was only 10 minutes in and I was dying. I was like, “Teach them chess. You couldn’t waste an hour teaching chess.” I was like, “Quick show of hands. Who knows chess in here?” 85% of the room raised their hand. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Okay, that’s no good.” They had just ruined my plan because I was going to teach chess and now they all know it. Then I was like, “All right. All right. Who in here is really good though? Who thinks they are the best? Who can play in here?” A bunch of hands went down. Only a few went up and I was like, “We’re going to have a tournament. We’re going to have a tournament and everybody who wins I’ll give one of my books to. That’s what we’ll do.” Circle up. Two kids are playing. They are both black and there’s this one kid, white kid in the hall. He’s sitting in a circle. This dude’s getting ready to move one of his pieces and he’s like, “Don’t move that piece.” He turns to him and he’s like, “Shut up white boy. Ain’t nobody asked you about no damn chess.” He moves the piece, loses his queen. Everybody was like, “Oh, you lost your queen.” Now, the white kid’s getting all this respect. It’s like, “We’ve got to pay attention to the white kid because he actually knows better.” Then later, this kid play. He’s literally 300 pounds and I said, “Who’s the best?” He said,” I’m the best.” You know how juvie is man. Kids are really mean. This kid was like, “This ain’t no sandwich-eating contest fat boy. You can’t win.” Then he was like, “Haha.” They are laughing at him. I’m trying to guard my laugh. I’m like, “Leave him be. Leave him be. He can play bro.” He wins the tournament, the overweight kid. When I’m leaving I’m like, “Wait a minute. First of all, how do all these kids know chess but they make horrible life decisions and they are in here for robbery, murder, stealing cars? But they play a game that teaches how to think better?” Then I was like, “You just saw racial divide melt when the white kid said, “Don’t move your queen.” Made the mistake, whatever.” His pecking order went up and then the overweight kid who everybody was laughing at in the beginning ends up winning the tournament and his pecking order went up. I was like, “What if–” I’m literally leaving. I have all my stuff. I was like, “This was great . Cool.” I’m leaving. I remember where I was in the juvenile hall in the stairwell when it hit me because I’m like, “What if there was a way that you could teach kids about chess but make it cool?” In that very instant every rap lyric I remembered about chess, literally just rain. Came down on my head. It was like, “Wu-Tang, Public Enemy .” I was standing there at the top of the stairs and I was like, “Hip hop chess. Hip hop chess.” That was the beginning of it. You know what I mean? A year or so later, I ran into RZA through Sway and Tech from the Wake Up Show. They hooked me up with RZA and then me and RZA became really cool really quick. I met him when he was giving a talk at a place called The Commonwealth Club here in the Bay area. I went in with my ex-wife. [chuckles] We went in there and there was nobody in this room. It was just me, him, and her. It was just hell of quiet. You’re sitting hell of awkward. [laughs] I went to the event and he was not giving interviews, but my friend told me. He was like, “Go there and see if you can get in, but he’s not supposed to be giving interviews.” All these press people had come and the lady was like, “RZA is not giving interviews so everybody shut up and get out of here.” I took my book and I signed it. Then I said, “Hey, do me a favor.” She’s like, “What?” I said, “Give this book to RZA, tell him I’m a friend of so and so and tell him I’d like to talk with him.” She was like, “Okay but I don’t know why .” She goes back and she comes back. She’s like, “RZA will see you now.” I was like, “Woohoo.” All the press be like, “What the–” I was like, “Later boys.”
Adisa: I walk in. I sit in the back and it’s just some vegetables, some fruit, some water, and tea, and him. There’s no one else in the room. He’s like, “Peace.” I’m like, “Hey, what’s up, man?” Friend so and so. He’s kicking with Jay Z back in the day and he’s like, “All right, cool.” Then he looks at me. We’re just looking at each other. It’s hell of quiet and he goes, “You know who Tamo is?” I was like, “Who?” He was like, “Tamo.” I was like, “No, I don’t know who you’re talking about.” He was like– He had this really disappointed face and he was like, “He’s the guy that invented kung fu, man. Da, da, da, da.” Because he was like, “I thought you knew about martial arts kind of a thing.” I was like, “You know what? You’re right. You’re talking about Bodhidharma, and I always use that name instead of Tamo but I know.” Then, as soon as he realized that, we just boom. We click, and we’ve been cool ever since. I bumped into Josh Waitzkin. I was trying to interview Josh Waitzkin for my second book, but he never responded to anything. Then he responded. He was dropping The Art of Learning. He was like, “I got this new book. It’s called The Art of Learning. Can I send you an early copy? It’s not even ready yet.” I was like, “Yes.” I was like, “I saw you did Tai chi and stuff, but do you know about jujutsu?” He’s like, “Yes, I do know jujutsu, and I train jujutsu.” I was like, “What?
Adisa: You know what I’m saying?” It was just crazy. That was 2007. We did our first event in 2006. We did a quiet event with me, RZA, Josh Waitzkin, and DJ Cuba, and a few other people at the Omega Boys Club. Then after that, we did our big event and it just kept going from there, man. It’s crazy.
Sonny: Wow, that is a fascinating way that that’s all come together. I got to say.
Adisa: [laughs] I know.
Sonny: Especially for Josh Waitzkin getting involve. He’s someone in my other podcasts. He’s come up a fair bit and that book has come up a fair bit. It seems it was really just– I guess, you were putting yourself out there in that initial talk, and through a bit of fear and failure and improvisation. The creativity struck and it became clear that this is a great way to help people and break down racial tensions.
Adisa: Just help people discover themselves. After I did that, people were like, “Yo,” because when we did our second event, we were in The New York Times twice that year. We were in Good Morning America. The news was bonkers. I came across a grandmaster. We were talking on the phone, and he was like, “Yes, man, I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff about your org. I keep hearing a lot of hype.” He kept using the word hype a lot. I could tell that, “Come on, man. I’m not a grandmaster. I’m not– You know what I’m saying?” I think that certain people in the traditional chess world felt a little threatened, and they still do. You know what I mean? Because they’re like, “Oh, this fucking hip hop guy.” You know what I mean? “Get out of here.” You know what I’m saying? The truth is, a lot of the dudes in hip hop are beasts on this board. I’m not a beast. I’m all right, but RZA will drag you. My boy Rugged Monk, drag. Amir Suleyman, drag. GZA, drag. Kadir Latif. DJ Cuba on the clock, drag. I know it felt a little offensive because it was– If the traditional chess community is considered nerds. It’s like the cool kids just came over, pushed them off the “Look, look out the way. We’re going to play chess now.” They’re like, “We’ve been doing this. You don’t get to walk in and be cool. We’ve been here.” There was a little– I told that Grandmaster at the time I said, “Hey, listen, man. My job is to point people towards you. I don’t think that I’m you. Just like I know you don’t think that you’re me even if you like hip hop. My job is to point people towards the game and towards the people who make it great, and you’re one of the people that make a great. That’s all you need to understand.” I think over time, while I was able to talk to him, I think there were other people in the chess community that didn’t understand that and didn’t know that. You know what I’m saying? Jennifer Shahade who is a great ally and friend. Josh introduced me to her. She’s always been really– she wrote a book called Chess Bitch, and she wrote a really good book called Play Like a Girl! It’s really dope. It’s a history book of women in chess, but it also shows you moves that they specialized in so you can learn to actually think like them. It’s really dope. That is one of the best chess books on the earth for me because you learn about the history of chess, and the women who were dynamic in chess, and you get to understand their tactical specialties. It’s just a great book. You know what I’m saying? Over time, we got a lot of hype, but with that hype, and with that momentum came what? Comes responsibility. Then it’s like, “Okay, so what if Jay Z knows how to play chess? What if Public Enemy or RZA– What is that going to do?” That’s when I had to go inside myself and say, “Okay, what am I asking the game to do for these young people?” That’s when I started really doing the research that made the book, Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx happen. It has worksheets in the back helping people think about short-term goal planning, long-term goal planning, risk assessment. You know what I’m saying. Sacrifice. You know what I’m saying? You’ll do all of that in one five-minute match of jujutsu. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? These things are very integrative. I put the book together. It took some time to do it. In between that time, I was lucky enough to get invited through Jennifer Shahade to curate an exhibit on hip hop and chess at the World Chess Hall of Fame. My exhibit, the first day brought more people to the World Chess Hall of Fame than any other exhibit before it, except for Bobby Fischer. Unbelievable. You know what I mean? RZA came out and there were lines around the block to get into the World Chess Hall of Fame. In St. Louis, people were like, “I have never waited in line to get inside World Chess Hall of Fame.” [laughs]
Sonny: Sure. I can understand.
Adisa: “This has never happened, and I’m outside.” You know what I’m saying? It was just a packed crazy, beautiful event. I remember Bobby Fischer’s exhibit was upstairs. It’s a four or five-story building. There’s people, there’s music, the place is rocking. It’s me, RZA, all these people. It’s hell of sick. I go upstairs to Bobby Fisher’s exhibit, and it’s just beautiful. There was no one there because everybody– You know what I mean? I was upstairs and I was like, “I cannot believe I’m at the World Chess Hall of Fame. RZA is below me talking and there’s a film.” There was a film for it, all this other stuff, and it was very humbling. I was just grateful. You know what I mean? I was just grateful. We’ve been able to reach a lot of people, do a lot of stuff in juvies. Now, I’m here talking to you bro. I’m blown away.
Sonny: My honor, mate. My honor. Trust me [chuckles] . That book, I recommend everyone goes out and get a copy because I think it’s fantastic. Especially, maybe we’ll go through some of those stuff in the worksheets as well. I’m interested in discussing about that pushback you got when you initially started to enter into the chess world. Seems you’re taking those three traditional arts of chess, hip hop, martial arts, which stand on their own. I’m sure, there is those crossovers where people of course will do multiple things, but you’re then taking the three separate arts, repackaging them maybe, and presenting them as a cohesive whole.
Adisa: Yes, that is it.
Sonny: I can see how you are going to get a bit of pushback from the age traditionalist in those groups. How do you think that they can all work together cohesively into one unit?
Adisa: That’s a really good question. It is a question that I asked myself in the beginning because I was trying to figure it out. What I mean by that is, I knew how it was helping me. I understood how hip hop, chess, and martial arts especially jujutsu was helping me, but I didn’t really know what that would necessarily mean for someone else, especially someone that doesn’t do jujutsu or has no aspiration to do martial arts. Couple of things. How did my brain even work like this? Because it’s funny. I was recently talking with someone and they asked me– They said– Because they were from the hip hop community. Hip hop originality is everything. Originality is everything in hip hop, at least from my generation. I’m old school. You know what I’m saying? You needed to rap different, you needed to look different, you needed to have beats that were different. You stood out. He was like, “Were you trying to come up with some bonkers idea? What really was it?” You know what it was, man. When I was young, I was really small. I told you I was a binge drinker. You know what I’m saying? I had to sober up on my own because I didn’t even know AA existed. You know what I’m saying? Once I realized that I had a problem and I was like, “You got to figure it out.” I figured it out and I’ve been sober since I was 17 and I’m 50. You know what I’m saying? That’s a long ass time ago. My point is I remember when I was training with Ralph. I started at Ralph Gracie Mountainview. You know what I’m saying? I trained at Heroes Martial Arts who was one of Ralph’s top dudes but me, Gamby, BJ, Dave Camarillo. You know what I’m saying? We were all there at the same time. You know what I mean? I was just getting my ass kicked. They were champions. I was just getting my ass kicked. I was just a body getting dragged but in-between–
Sonny: No shame in that. Those are some big guys [laughs] .
Adisa: In-between bandaging my arm and getting ice for my eye, I remember one day I was like, “Yo, Ralph. How do you do this move?” I don’t really remember what the move was. I think it was an armbar from the mount. That you go here, here, here, here, and then boom, you take the arm and I was like, “Oh, that’s like chess,” in my own brain. I’m trying to know how to remember the move. You see what I’m saying? My brain starts using chess visuals to remember how things were. If he goes, “If you go here and the guy goes here, that’s like a chess puzzle.” I move, they go here and then you bink , and then checkmate, hurray. I was like, “Okay.” That’s how my brain was first integrating jujutsu and chess. When I started, people weren’t really digging it. Hip hop people liked it already because of Wu-Tang, but I came into this understanding before Wu-Tang. As someone who was a fan of Bruce Lee and the Chinese martial arts explosion with all those films. I was in the same vibe essentially as RZA and those guys. We just didn’t know each other. You know what I’m saying? The other part of it was coming into Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I remember I interviewed Helio Gracie in 1998 and I interviewed Hoise and we were at the Torrance Academy and I was hanging out with Rorian and– [laughs] I remember being like, “This is bonkers.” I was a white belt. I had been training with Ralph for probably about three months I think when it started. I remember going back home from LA and I was like, “The problem with Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that there isn’t a philosophy in it. It is a fantastic fighting style but it is not a martial art.” I was like, “Okay, what do you fill this void with of no philosophy?” My head was like, “You can create bulls and lions but you won’t necessarily create martial artists.” I still feel like that’s largely happened with what became MMA. Not jujutsu but MMA. I read The Book of Five Rings, I read The Art of Peace. I read all these different Darwinist. I’m a nerd so I’m diving into Darwinism. I’m diving into Confucianism. I’m a Muslim but I read everything. I’m reading the Bible. I’m reading the Torah, and I’m like, “Dude, there’s no philosophy for jujutsu.” You know what I mean? Then I stopped training with Ralph for a while and I was training with Charles, his brother. Then I stayed for a while. I left Ralph’s because I was taking my kids to one of my parents’ house after work and it was this whole thing, and then I started training with Charles because Ralph Gracie SF had started but it was too far in. I needed a middle joint. I started training with Charles. One day at Charles’ is this dude, he kept getting injured. He was a savage but he kept getting injured. He kept coming in. He tried to come in– He was a purple belt. I was blue at the time. I was sitting next to Oliver and Charles was sitting next to Oliver. It was like Oliver was sitting between me and Charles and the guy comes in and Charles is like, “Don’t train. You shouldn’t be here,” and he’s like, “No, because da da da da.” Those days Ralph had a shirt that said– I still have it. It says, “It’s better to die than not to train.” That was on the back of his shirt. You know what I mean? People would go in with busted arms. You know what I mean? This guy is trying to come in and Charles is like, “Get out, get out.” Finally, the guy leaves. He was trying to debate with Charles like, “Please let me train. Please let m train, ” and Charles was like, “No.” The guy starts to go downstairs. This is old-school Charles Gracie in Daly City which doesn’t exist anymore. Shout out to Oliver. You know what I’m saying? Shout out to Christiano. You know what I’m saying? Hymes. Anyway, Charles looks at Oliver because Oliver is like, “How come you won’t let him train? I thought you were supposed to train no matter what vibe.” Charles looks at him really casually and he goes, “Too much water it kills the plant.” I was like, “Overtraining.” You know what I’m saying? You can overwater the plant. I never forgot. I went home and I wrote it down. I wrote it down and then I had this idea to make a list of quotes that I thought were motivational for jujutsu even if it didn’t have to do with jujutsu. It would be a Charles Gracie quote. Something I remember from Ralph or something, then some Confusion quote, then something out the bible, and at the end of the year, I made a bunch of copies of it and I gave it to everybody I was close to in the school. In fact Oliver, he still has it. I called it The Writing of the Sages and it was just everybody’s quotes. He was like, “Dude, I still have that bro.” He was like, “I still read that. That shit is dope.” I became this quote dude. I realized at that point though that jujutsu had a philosophy, but it was not codified. It came from the training. It wasn’t bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. It was like you have to discover it and want to discover it. As I went forward, I started gathering all these things and I realized that what I was trying to do was help make it so that people could have some type of guide inside the sport and inside the art to improve themselves. As I started pushing these ideas, people in hip hop thought it was cool but they could only think of the Wu. They didn’t think deeper than Wu-Tang. They didn’t look into where Wu-Tang was getting their philosophies from. You see what I’m saying? They weren’t looking at Buddhism for real, they were just looking at Shaw Brothers Martial Arts. You know what I’m saying? The chess people thought that hip hop was cool, that they might like Public Enemy but they couldn’t look into the lyrics and see the value of what these lyrics were doing to motivate young people to play chess because they were much focussed on chess, they couldn’t see hip hop as a viable tool. You see what I’m saying? The biggest place where I got the support was in the martial arts community because these are guys that are listening to music to stay motivated and they might be playing chess to elevate their brain. You know what I mean? Stuff like that. The martial arts community actually had the most love for me, whether it was jujutsu people, kungfu people, karate people, judo, wrestling, whatever. Initially, I think everybody they were like, “Cool idea bro,” but they didn’t know what to do with it and I totally understood that. I didn’t take it personally because I myself didn’t have these answers but I was determined to find them. The first real breakthrough came when I realized that hip hop by all traditional East Coast perspectives says that hip hop started in August of ’73. Right before that, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky for the world championship title and people forget that chess was not this sidebar thing in America the way it is right now. When Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky, PBS had it’s highest ratings ever. Ever. It was not a sidebar thing, everybody was playing. Around the same time, Bruce Lee dropped Enter the Dragon. These things happened on top of each other bro. Bobby Fischer from Brooklyn and Cool Hat, the guy that really started making hip hop happen, he was in the West Bronx and then you got Washington Square Park where people are doing Tai chi and playing chess. You know what I’m saying? The chess hustlers are trying to get their money and that’s the same parks where people are trying to battle each other whether it’s in dance or in rapping. I could see the convergence but at that time, each segment was siloed, they didn’t realize what was happening at the same time because the chess people were like **** , and the martial arts people were like **** , and the hip hop people were like, “I’m doing something new. I don’t know what’s going on.” Everybody was different. Everybody was in their silos but they were influencing each other in some subtle ways. Once I figured that out, that was enough and I was able to build on that. I was really able to build on that. That’s how I ended up making my book. I was interviewing everybody. I didn’t care. I was talking to grandmasters like Maurice Ashley. I was talking to RZA and GZA. I was talking to anybody. That’s when I put– Before that book, I did a book called Lyrical Swords Volume II: Westside Rebellion. It’s not in print anymore. I don’t even know if it’s available anywhere. I don’t know. That’s the first book where I really– I even interviewed Denny Prokopos for that book when he was a kid. He wasn’t even– You know what I mean? I knew Denny was going to be bonkers. I knew he was going to kill the game with jujutsu, I knew it. I interviewed him. Do you know what I mean? It’s just crazy, man. It’s just crazy. I think I interviewed Rakaa from Dilated. You know what I’m saying? I interviewed RZA and GZA for that book. That became the seeds that became Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx down the line. You know what I mean? It was just crazy, man. It was crazy and then everybody started seeing the connections now and it’s funny because I was at a tech event and I ran into this guy from Google and he didn’t really know who I was, which made sense and then I mentioned something about chess and jujutsu and hip hop and he goes, “People say there’s a lot of connections between that. I’ve been seeing a lot more about it.” I was like, “That’s me.” [laughs] You know what I’m saying? I don’t care now that nobody knows that it was me dragging all this stuff together to help make it happen to see the connections. It wasn’t an easy thing to achieve in the beginning, but once people started seeing it, it started taking its own life and that’s why I don’t really care how much credit I get for it or not, I don’t care. There are other organizations that go, “We do hip hop and chess.” And stuff like that. It used to piss me off because I was like, “That’s all my stuff bro.” Then I was like, “You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re able to reach kids that I don’t have access to.” I don’t care. You know what I’m saying? Whatever bro. Everybody’s got to get the wisdom how they get it. That’s all I care about.
Sonny: I think everyone should know about what you’re doing. That’s for sure mate. That’s for sure.
Adisa: Thank you.
Sonny: I’m looking at it like you’ve got those three different arts blending together to create something a bit unique as coming from a martial arts perspective, could consider it like the arts of striking takedowns and submissions combining together to create MMA and to create something new on its own. I guess the thing with that example is that all three of those arts are useful in a combat setting. Would it be that these three separate arts, the thing that they share in common is how they can be used outside of their realm? They’re all enjoyable activities, but the common link is looking at it as a way to deal with other issues or other problems in life.
Adisa: Yes, that’s exactly it. The idea is that you’re dealing with a fusion of logic and art. You’re dealing with things that are all still sports, but what you’re really finding is that, at the highest level, how do you know who’s the best rapper? How do you know who’s the best in jujutsu? How do you know who is the best at Chess? They’ve got to battle. There’s something about doing it that has its own beauty, but battle is where you find the highest essence of that thing, whether it’s Eminem. If you look at Eminem battling people at Scribble Jam in YouTube. Go and look– He is marking people spontaneously. It’s not just that this guy can write songs. I realized early this Eminem kid is going to be a problem for the earth because I was watching him demolish people. You know what I’m saying? Before YouTube on Scribble Jam via chesses, but what I’m saying is, how do who’s the best in jujutsu? Because you’ve got to watch Abu Dhabi. You got to watch EBI. You got to watch– Because that battle it brings out the best in people. I realized that if they could use each thing to bring out the highest element of their artistic, logical self, they would always be really prepared to deal with anything that happens to them. Then I was working with a teacher at a school in San Jose where I first put my program together. When I put all the worksheets together, I was working at a high school in San Jose in a tough area and I was teaching– They were the first “Guinea pigs” of this whole concept once I put it together. One of the teachers there, he said, “Hey, man,” he’s like, “do you know about executive function?” I was like, “No.” He started talking to me about executive function of the human brain and how it is the air traffic control center of your brain that helps you multitask and all this other stuff. That’s when I really realized all three of these arts tap into executive function. They help exercise and strengthen executive function and he was like, “Dude, if you’re building executive function in young minds, they’re going to win regardless.” You know what I mean? Because that your brain will always be adaptable, always have a sense of fluidity, always have a heightened sense of how to problem-solve and once– His name was Dan Gilday. What up, Dan? He really changed my whole understanding of what this fusion could do for young people once I learned about the role of cognitive function. That’s really why people could talk about STEM education. This is STEAM, adding the art component. If you look at every culture in the world in its ancient setting, STEAM was always a part of it. It was only in– I would say, after the medieval periods where mathematics, religion, music, art all get separated. If you look at a pyramid, you’re looking at STEAM, that’s mathematics and art. That’s science aligning with the stars. There’s whatever stars up above. You look at the Kaaba in Mecca. It’s aligned with– I’m blanking on the star right now, I feel bad. If you look at a lot of the ancient Mayan and Inca structures, that’s all STEAM. Stonehenge, all this stuff. It’s a natural thing in us to fuse our science and fuse our art. It’s actually unnatural to separate it. When I do music, chess, and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and non-violence, that’s actually tapping into our natural, traditional self before all of these modern structures separated them.
Sonny: That’s actually one of the best cases of advocating, adding the art back into STEM that I’ve actually heard. It really makes it clear.
Adisa: I wrote an article about it, I’ll send it to you. I’ll send it to you.
Sonny: Because I know that when that was happening, not everyone was on board with changing the word and everything like that.
Adisa: No, no, truly. Truly.
Sonny: It’s a really good way of looking at it. I also like too that it doesn’t– I guess it can be advocated for without the need to just be purely a philosophical side of things but that cognitive function and executive function gives us something too that’s a basis in science that it can grab onto. I really like the way that’s all flows together in a nice mix.
Adisa: No, it does. It’s authentic and I know that it looks bizarre to a lot of people. I know, especially in terms of hip hop. People will be like, “Yo, man, I like the idea of chess and I like jujutsu, man, but hip hop’s crazy bro. I’m not really to–” I understand that on the surface because if all I thought– If all I knew hip hop was what I heard on the radio, I would believe it too. I would. I would totally believe it, but like any other given thing, if you tell people you do jujutsu, people initially assume, “Oh, Sonny must like to fight all the time. Maybe he’s got anger issues or whatever,” but they don’t understand that jujutsu is what makes Sonny peaceful. It’s what makes you relax. It’s what gives you your patience. They don’t understand that inner thing. Hip hop is the same way, man. There’s a lot of beautiful philosophical hip hop out there that has been there. Some of it’s really popular, some of it’s not, but it’s always been a part of the art of hip hop, but if you’re only focused on the music that celebrates the naked chicks and the drugs and everything else, I understand it. That too is a problem. That’s a societal issue. You know what I’m saying? Where people are just explaining what’s around them and sometimes they do celebrate it in unhealthy ways. What young people ever saw life correctly. They didn’t. [chuckles] These are kids. A lot of them don’t really know or young adults who haven’t really figured it out yet. I’m not advocating for all hip hop. I’m not advocating for every rap song and every rapper. I’m advocating for the ones that do show cultural, academic and moral wisdom in their art. I’m not an advocate for all hip hop. I am an advocate for the hip hop that champions unity, that champions non-violence, that champions the acknowledgment of other’s humanity. Because when you play a chess game with someone, no matter whether you win or you lose, you honor them as a person. . You know what I’m saying? That person could be a rabbi, or they could be a gangster. You’re going to honor that person. The next time you see another gangster, you’d be like, “Hey, you know what, I played a gangster and he smashed me on the boards.” That was crazy. You know what I’m saying? When you do jujutsu, there could be another race, another religion. They could have no religion. They could be a philosopher. They could be a carpenter. They could be a scholar on a college campus, and you have another level of respect for them. If you compete with someone artistically, whether it’s graffiti, or rap, or on turntables, or dance, you have a higher level of respect. What I’m hoping to do is to inspire people to first find their own sense of humanity through whichever one they choose. We don’t try to make people be hip hop artists, or MMA fighters, or chess masters. We want them to use these three things, and quiz them about what they want to do with their life and who they want to be so that we can help them be that. Some of the kids that I mentor they just– One of my friends, he’s a friend now. When he was a teenager, he was a little gangster dude who just really wanted to put up drywall. He’s like, “I don’t want to go to college. I want to go to drywall. I just want to do drywall.” I was like, “Cool.” He’s living a great life, not on the street Harlem business. Somebody else, he wants to go to college. “Okay, well, let’s hope you get some stuff.” He goes to college and does his thing. You know I’m saying? It’s not about anything other than using these things to find out who you are, acknowledge the humanity in others, and go be great. That’s it.
Sonny: Yes. I love that. Just using these vehicles, well-developed established cultures, and taking their teachings as tools to help you progress, and especially focusing on helping young people being able to tackle life’s challenges with it. That’s just awesome. I think too with taking the three parts. Each one has their own negative stereotypes that needs to be broken down. That each one looking at the other one probably thinks is the case. MMA or martial arts is thugs like you said-
Sonny: -barbaric thugs.
Adisa: Human chickens fighting, whatever. [laughs]
Sonny: Yes. Human cockfighting. It’s stupid as well. Ever they were dumb and then people looking at chess as just nerds who lack–
Adisa: Pure nerds who have no social engagement. You know what I’m saying?
Sonny: Hip hop would just be a glorification of drugs and violence.
Adisa: Yes, exactly, and sex and stuff. It’s like, “Why would I want that in my life?”
Sonny: Yes. Exactly. From the outside looking in people probably are going like, “I don’t want any of that. I want to– Whatever, different war.” [laughter]
Sonny: Probably people listening to me probably already have a good understanding of how that’s not the case in the martial arts side of things, I’d imagine. The chess I think we’ll probably get into with some of the chess strategies as well. What about specifically with hip hop? You mentioned when it’s broken down into the four elements of hip hop, and how that is more fully developed than just that negative stereotype. Could you let people know about that now?
Adisa: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. The main thing is this. One time when I first got invited to the World Chess Hall of Fame, I was speaking to Susan Barrett who was a director at the time, and Jennifer Shahade, and some other people. She was like, “Okay, I don’t know about hip hop. What is it like? I believe that you’re onto something awesome, but what is it?” What happened is, I had been on the cover of Chess Life in 2012, and then that’s what got me the invite to go to St. Louis and talk with the World Chess Hall of Fame. I said, “Okay.” I said, “Look at your hand.” I was like, “You have rap music, you have hip hop dance like b-boying stuff like that. You have graffiti, and you have deejaying. You have those four elements.” Then, I said, “The fifth element is knowledge. That knowledge is supposed to be the knowledge of yourself.” The idea isn’t that you come into hip hop pretending to be black, pretending to be a tough guy, pretending to be a gangster. You bring your knowledge, your wisdom, your culture, and you feed it into these other four things. That is the hand of hip hop. That is the hand of hip hop. I said, “Rap music is one aspect. If we just focus on rap, and we just talk about what rappers say and do and whatever, we’ll get lost in that all day, but hip hop is a beautiful art form where you’re painting, where you are dancing, where you are spontaneously thinking and doing poetry.” I said, “That’s really what we need to cultivate.” When people only mistake rap for all of what is hip hop, it creates– You what I mean? It creates some confusion. That’s fine. I understand why people don’t get that part, but that’s not what it is. Everybody has different modalities of learning. Some people are naturally more artistic. Some people are more vocal verbal. Some people– You know what I mean? Are more cerebral. All of these aspects of what constitutes hip hop helps you improve who you are. If you have knowledge of self. Again, meaning don’t pretend to be black. If you’re Native American, bring that. If you’re Japanese, bring that. If you’re Canadian, bring that. That makes hip hop better. It doesn’t help hip hop if you come in mocking someone else. As a martial artist, a lot of how you play your game is based on your body type. You can try to do a game like someone who’s short and stocky, but I’m 6’3″. I can’t do a short and stocky game, and vice versa. There will be aspects of the short and stocky game I can use, but there’s a limit to that, and then I got to start playing more like Heron. Then I got to start playing more like Nogueira, then I got to look at what is Keenan doing because he’s got a body type more like mine. Even whatever Keenan is doing, all that ain’t going to work for me. I still got to do my game. What I tell my students I said, “I’m going to give you jujutsu, and then you’re going to make it your own. Your goal isn’t to be like me. Your goal is to be you, and you may have different instincts intuitions, whatever, and I want you to do that. I’m giving you your baseline so that you can discover the jujutsu player that you are. Not to be a replica of me.”
Sonny: That’s beautiful. All those elements of hip hop too involve the nature of battle. There are breakdancing battles,-
Adisa: Yes, man.
Sonny: -graffiti’s people.
Adisa: Yes, they have graffiti battles all the time. You know what I’m saying? Graffiti battles are beautiful. One of the things I learned when I was going to St. Louis, I guess the biggest graffiti wall in the world I think is in St. Louis. It’s called Paint Louis. What they do is they have all these graffiti writers from– I think they’re all American, but they may be from overseas as well. They paint this mile and a half long wall. That’s huge bro. Beautiful work. You know what I mean? It’s competition, but the nature of that competition is what brings the best out of you. You know what I’m saying? I have this topic that I talk about in the book called How Your Enemies Improve You. How your enemies improve you and what is that about? That is someone who’s doing jujutsu with you. It’s his job to undermine all of your weaknesses. After the thing, you might be a good guard player, but you don’t know how to recover side control. The person that tells you that, and you might be like, “Damn these fools that I couldn’t recover side control.” Then, you think about it and you be like, “Damn, he’s right though. I really couldn’t recover my guard. I couldn’t really recover my guard.” That person has just improved you. Your homie you might know the same thing when he rolls with you, but he’s going to say. He’s not going to tell you. He’s like, “Man, I have fun. Sonny, this was great man. Let’s go get some Acai .”
Adisa: It’s because he’s your homie because you all at homies and you like, e ating Acai, . “What a great day.” He’s like, “Yes.” He may not even be doing it deliberately, but your enemy will tell you, “You can’t recover. If I pass your guard, you can’t get it back.” That is your enemy improving you, and that is his job. When you and your friend plays chess with you, and he mops you with his knights, that’s his job and it’s your job to be, “Okay, how do I neutralize the advancements of the knights or at least force him to lose one of them so that I can survive long enough to castle and get my game going because he’s killing me with these knights.” That’s how your enemies improve you. You deal with these kids who can’t deal with simple social pressures, simple issues, whether it is with their homework or this or that, and it’s like, “Man, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to weather the storm, find your moment, step into it.” That’s how your enemies improve you.
Sonny: Now, I really like that because especially it seems it makes sense then. You’ve got the enemies in life who can improve you, and we’re taking all those– The battle of chess, martial arts, and that battling side in hip hop, and we’re learning about ourselves and the outside world in those battles, and then we can take that and transfer it onto the battle of life, shall we say. The battle of everyday living. [crosstalk]
Adisa: You know what I mean? Of school. You know what I mean? You don’t take the pressure personally. That’s the idea that you don’t take the pressure that they put on you personally. That pressure that they put on you is what makes you better, is what improves you, is what helps you rise to the occasion because whatever you saw Muhammad Ali do, whatever you saw Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and any of these guys do, they could only do it to the degree that their opponent put pressure on them so they could “Oh, I got to go like that. Boom, he makes the shot.” That’s, right?
Adisa: If your opponent’s like, “Go ahead and make the shot.” You’re not going to get good. He’s got to make you feel you have to do everything in your heart to make it happen. That’s how those moments happen whether it’s– Was it Braulio Estima when he triangle choked the dude from Atos, remember? When he had that crazy–
Sonny: I’m not sure.
Adisa: I just, there’s a match that I’m thinking of. I think it was Braulio Estima and he triangle choked the brother from Atos. I’m blanking right now because my main… scattered. I know that that triangle choke didn’t come easy is my point. You know what I’m saying? He just didn’t give it to him. He had to figure it out. You know what I mean? He had to explode, he had to believe, he had to own that moment. You know what I mean?
Sonny: I get you. If every match is an easy match, then you’re never going to be great, right?
Sonny: You’re never going to reach that. Be forced out of your comfort zone where you’d pull off something once in a lifetime incredible if you’re just cruising all the time, right?
Adisa: [chuckles] Exactly.
Sonny: I get it. It’s a good point. I love that idea of the opponents because it’s something I’ve always thought about or I think I’ve read in a book by Kyle King. It’s the idea that you’re going around life and you’ve got a sign on your forehead or on your back or something that says something about you and no one is ever going to tell you what that is except your enemy. They’re going to tell you but no one– You got to say something but no one is going man. No one is going to say what it is. You’re just going to be left to stumble around but that in a battle, they’re going to let you know, right? [laughs]
Adisa: Yes, every time.
Sonny: You got to be grateful for that because “Oh thanks. Now I’m a little bit less ignorant. Even though maybe it hurt, but okay, we can improve on that.” I’ve always said, I’d rather people would joke to my face than behind my back. at least if they are joking to my face I know. It’s still cool. [laughs]
Sonny: Someone says something behind your back and then, “Oh God, why is it they’re not happy?” [laughs] I love it.
Sonny: When we then get into how you’re giving these lessons to kids, the actual– We know how it all works, how it all links up now. When the rubber hits the road, how we give the lessons to the kids. How are you actually going in and doing that? Then I’d love to get into some of the specifics that– I’ve got a list here but we can get into first just how you’re going through the actual emotions.
Adisa: The first job is to usually help them just love chess. I just got a message from a young lady who heard me on my podcast on Bishop Chronicles and I was like, “Look, just play chess. Don’t worry about trying to become a master. Just do that.” She was like, “Why are you encouraging people not to become a master? I don’t understand.” I was like, “Because you have to teach them to love the game first. You don’t want to master anything you don’t love. In order for you to love it, you have to like it.” You have to like it. If chess is a chore and it sucks, you’re not going to want to be a chess master. If jujutsu is just rowdy and you’re getting slammed and broke up all the time, you’re not going to want to master it. You see what I’m saying? This is why I love the dynamic role that drilling has played in over the years. I love how Heaton talked about keeping it playful. It’s not murder, murder, murder every round, every time. You have to have fun with it. It’s from that place of fun that you find your creativity. It’s from that place of fun that you find the time to think about a position in a way you couldn’t if the person was just trying to take your head off every time. The first thing I do is I try to just teach the kids to enjoy chess. Just to enjoy it. Then now that you enjoy it, now they want to be competitive. “I want to play you. You play me, blah, blah, blah.” Now I can introduce the last strategies. When I go in the juvenile halls, whether they’re in St. Louis– We have a program in St. Louis that’s gone on since 2014. Shout out to Michael Wessel . He’s the guy that works in the St. Louis. He’s running that on his own since 2014. He’s a martial artist and he’s a chess player. He just makes the kids fall– We can’t really show them jujutsu in the hall because obviously there are the people in the hall who can’t afford for kids to be knowing choke holds for a bunch of reasons
Sonny: [laughs] I hear you. [laughter]
Adisa: For kids who are in the hall, I’m just going to teach them chess and life strategies. That’s all they’re going to get. At schools, when I teach, it’s usually a mix of just chess fundamentals and jujutsu fundamentals, but a lot of the jujutsu fundamentals actually don’t really deal with submissions. They just deal with, how do you escape a headlock? How do you not get head locked? Your older brother grab you by the head or your homie grab you by– How do you get out of that? If you get pinned, mount escapes. You know what I mean? I really don’t show a lot of submissions in the high schools and stuff like that because I just– People–
Sonny: It makes sense.
Adisa: Even though you’re teaching these kids, it’s dangerous and especially if you teach in gang-related areas. You know what I’m saying. Stuff can get crazy real quick. Because I don’t know their temperament, I need to make sure that I’m giving them things that will keep them safe but not potentially harm others. It’s only after I know that, “This kid’s legit.” Now I can point him in the direction of a school, call the guy, I say, “Hey, this kid’s legit. Let him train with you.” Whatever. They may go on their own like, “I just joined a house in Barkley.” You know what I’m saying. “I just joined Heroes or I just joined Denis.” “Cool.” That’s how it really plays out. It’s not a one size fits all thing. I have to tailor-make my situation for the kids. My first actual student was a young man who in retrospect– I’m not really sure if he was autistic but he might have been on the Asperger spectrum. You know what I’m saying? He was very shy, didn’t have a lot of friends, et cetera. Actually, even though it sounds crazy, Hip Hop Chess Federation used to have a whole competitive cheerleading branch that competed all over the country and was good. [chuckles]
Sonny: It’s all battling. It’s all battling. [laughter]
Adisa: Exactly. They all played chess. They all played chess. His sister was a cheerleader. His dad was like, “Would you be interested in teaching jujutsu to my son?” I was like, “Yes.” He came in and he barely spoke. He barely spoke. When I say barely spoke, barely hello. You know what I mean? I said, “Can I show you what jujutsu is?” He says, “Okay.” I show him escape from the mount. I show him whatever, passing the guard. Then we sat down and I was like, “Do you play chess?” He’s like, “Yes.” We played a game of chess and I was like, “Now, do you see how that happened? That’s just like when this happened. Does it not make sense?” He was like, “Yes.” I was like, “Do you want to learn jujutsu?” He was like, “Yes.” He came through, he trains with me for three months and I think it was the US Open, comes. I said, “Do you want to compete. I think you could do good.” He was like, “Yes.” His dad was nervous because he’s like, “Yes, if he gets mopped. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my son’s brain. Is he going to be hell of sad? I don’t know.” I said, “Look, I think he can do it. I think we’ve run through enough whatever. The day of the competition, we show up. I think it was the first match of the day. The place is empty. We’re at the US Open in Santa Cruz, the place is empty. I can see the other kid in the bullpen and he’s looking at my guy, My guy’s looking at him and I can see he’s getting nervous. Now he’s like, “Dang, it’s getting real. I’m actually going to go out here and have a match.” I said, “Come here bro, come here, come here.” Then he’s like, “What’s up?” I said, “Do you know who Garry Kasparov is? The chess grandmaster?” He was like, “Yes.” I said, “Listen to me. He said, “Never let your opponent show you what they’re capable of.” You know what I’m talking about?” He’s like, “Yes.” I said, “Bro when that ref says go, shoot. Shoot. Don’t wait, don’t circle, don’t wonder. All you have to do is do what you’re trained to do. You know the route. You know what we’re trying to do, you know the positions. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing will happen to you that you haven’t already felt. You’ve been cross-choked before. You’ve been arm-locked before. People have had your back before. People have passed your guard, but you’ve also done the same. When that guy says, go, shoot, handle your business, and just listen to me.” He’s like, “Okay.” I said, “Remember what Garry Kasparov said.” He goes, “Okay.” Bro, I got the video. As soon as the dude says, “Go.” He just dropped. Boom. Gets the mount off top. The kid turns his back. [claps] Monteleone. Bro. He took silver that day.
Adisa: He took silver that day. It wasn’t about the medal, it was that he went out and he did it. His father could not believe that that was his son. He couldn’t believe it. That was a dope moment. You know what I mean? That was a dope moment. There were a lot of those little moments that come and go. To be fully fair, there’s a lot of kids that I lose to the streets. You know what I mean? You have a kid you’re mentoring, like one of the first group of kids I mentored at one high school, this one Latino dude, he’s in high school, I was like, “What do you want to be?” He’s like, “I want to be a scientist,” but he didn’t know any Latino scientists. So I would tell him about how the Incas invented the zero around the same time as the people of India, but they never had any contact. I was like, “Isn’t that crazy that two people who live so far away have the same idea, but they don’t have any contact? That’s nuts,” whatever. Anyway, get to the summer, bro, by the time I come back, he’s a validated gang member. He don’t care about chess, he don’t care about nothing but the streets, and I don’t even know where he’s at right now. There’s a lot more of them than the kid that I just told you about, but you have to go through these things and you have to depersonalize it, you know what I mean. It was hard for me, I got really emotional back in the day. I lost a lot of kids to the streets. A lot of the boys became bangers, some of the girls became prostitutes, some of the kids just got killed, you know what I’m saying, but then you have other kids who graduate. Like one of the kids who I mentored went to Pitzer College on a full ride, and now he’s going to medical school to be a dentist. You never know what’s going to stick, you don’t know what’s not going to stick, I just stick to my script. Kids stay, kids go, kids grow, kids get killed or fall off, and you just have to keep going.
Sonny: Yes, man, really puts it in perspective when you think a lot of people might complain about losing a student to go join another Jiu-Jitsu school or something like that. [laughter]
Adisa: Right, and he’s representing North Daniels.
Sonny: Yes, and that’s a big deal. It could be worse, yes.
Sonny: Okay, so when you go into the schools, you’re teaching the kids life strategies. I think a good place to start would be one of the things you promote is the idea of the chessboard and the open mind.
Adisa: Yes, the chessboard and the open mind, right.
Sonny: Is that a good place to jump off?
Adisa: That is because what I’m trying to teach people about is like the chessboard, obviously, is a checkerboard and it reminds me of the yin and the yang. You look at the Yin Yang, you’ve got the black with a white dot, you have a white with a black dot. Depending on how much you study Daoism, it looks like just a polar opposite thing, but also teaches people to see the good in something bad, or the bad in something good. To be less judgmental, but when you look at the chessboard, what you’re really looking at is infinite potential. When you look at the chessboard and you can look up the numbers for yourself, as soon as each person moves, all of the potential that’s on that board in terms of moves outnumbers the stars. When you can see that your own mind has that same flexibility, has that same potential, and all you have to do is tap into it, all kinds of new things happen. I think that one of the main reasons that kids, especially disenfranchised youth, fall for drugs, fall for alcohol, fall for pimping and everything else, and gang life is because they don’t see how many options are available. They think that, “Everybody in my family’s broke, so I’m going to be broke,” or “Everybody in my family bang, so I’m going to bang” or whatever and really, that’s not the case. You always have options. I like to teach people to understand that their mind is just as infinite in its potential as all the moves on the chessboard, but they have to trust it, and then they have to act on it.
Sonny: I like that a lot. Then it seems that one of the tangible ways you can put that into effect is you’ve got two kind of equations, one being the three PA is better than one NT, and then the PPC code.
Adisa: The PPC code, right. Three PA is greater than one NT. That means three positive actions are greater than one negative thought. What that really deals with is coming to grips with taking charge of your life. One of the things that I love about chess is that when you sit down at a board, that board don’t know whether you’re black or white, don’t know whether you got one parent, two parents, no parents. Don’t know whether you’re hella rich or hella broke. It doesn’t know. It’s only going to reward the person who brings the best moves. End of story. That’s it. That’s all. What three positive action is greater than one negative thought is about is a lot of times when people have anxiety, they’re concerned about the future to a point that they can’t control it and they’re stressed out by it. When people are depressed, they’re locked into the past. Whether they were abused or they made a mistake and whatever, but they can’t change that either. You can only change right now. What three PA is greater than one NT is about is about taking three positive actions in every day to combat a negative thought in your brain. I normally talk about it to kids in terms of an algebra test. Let’s say you’re three weeks away from an algebra test, and you’re doing okay, you’ll probably get a C based on where you’re at right now. What three things can you do today to be better at algebra? You can go on to YouTube, you can call your teacher say, “I don’t know what’s going on here,” or you could reach out to a student and say, “Hey, man, I noticed you understand some of these equations better than me, can you help me?” Okay, that’s for today. Now, tomorrow, you may do three totally different things. You may talk to a family member, you may go back and look in the book, the chapter before that you’re in just to make sure your fundamental understanding of algebra is okay. You may look at some old tests you did and try to correct them yourself, but these were measurable steps. Three weeks from now, if you do three things every day, you won’t be stressed out, you’ll sleep better, and chances are you’re going to get a much better grade, but not because you’re Superman, it’s because you took action. That you don’t let the world happen to you. That you take control. Look, there’s always things that you can’t control like if your principal, or your parent, or the teacher you’re dealing with isn’t cool with you, whatever, you can’t really control that, but they can’t stop you from studying. It takes 21 days to make a habit, it takes 90 days to create a lifestyle, and so if you can make a habit of taking movement, you’re doing chest. When you’re in a bad position in chess, like if you’re playing Scrabble, you can throw your bad letters back. Pick a whole new set of letters and try to play it off. Chess ain’t like that. You got to deal with the position as it is. If it sucks, it sucks, figure it out, whatever. That’s what three PA is greater than one NT is about. I usually, even for myself, when I’m going through really dark times, and really weak times that are bothering me, I figure out okay, what three things can I do today? What happens is, when you make a habit of doing three, then all of a sudden you’d be like, “That was easy, let me do a fourth thing. Let me do 10 things.” Then all of a sudden, nothing’s just going to happen to you because your default setting is to be like, “Oh, it’s looking bad. I bet I could do this, though” or “My boss is getting on my ass right now, but I bet I could do this though.” You become a solution-based person. That’s for short term goal-setting. Now, the PPC code is patience, planning, and courage. It’s like a triangle. At the base of the triangle, you have your planning because you can’t do nothing without a plan, then you have patience on the left side, and then you have courage descending on the right. Planning speaks for itself. If you don’t have a plan, you usually lose your way or whatever or waste a lot of energy even if you do meet your goal, but then we talk about patience. Patience I think is a misunderstood beautiful thing in the world. One of the last times that I was down in Toronto, which is a long time ago, but I was there and I was hanging out with a heater on and there was a shirt and it said, “Placencia” on the chest, and then under it,it said, “Lose this lose everything.” I love that shirt. I wore it out. [laughter] I love that shirt. The reason is because I had already had the PPC code when I saw that shirt, but I really wanted it, but the deal is patience. When I say patience to most kids, I go, “So what does it mean when you’re patient?” and they always go like, “I’m waiting.” Like you’re waiting in line for a hamburger or something. I said, “Yes, but that’s not what patience is.” Patience, going back to the PPC code because we’re going from short term goal planning to long term, is the work you do while you wait for your opportunity. People, it’s a sunny day right here, so if I go, “Hey, you all want to go play hoops?” everybody will come outside and play hoops, and you say, “I want to be a professional basketball player,” but then when it’s raining, and you say, “Hey, let’s go play hoops,” everybody’s like, “Man, I ain’t going outside, it’s freezing outside, man. It’s hella wet outside,” but that person who goes to shoot, he’s got patience because he knows through that diligence of coming out and shooting all the time, when the big game comes, when the Scout shows up, when the pressure is on from that other high school that they know they got a good defensive dude over there, he’s going to be ready. Patience isn’t just sitting around, it’s doing the work anyway when there’s really no reason to do it. Now, what is courage? Courage is about a lot of times, and I’m speaking for myself personally, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t do well because I was afraid to succeed, and so you see somebody who’s like a singer, and you go, “Oh, hey, Jerry, what do you like to do?” “I’m a singer,” da, da, da, da. So you go to see Beyonce sing, and then Beyonce is coming down the stairs and she falls, and they’re like, “Oh my God, we got to take her to the hospital. Who here can sing?” You go, “Jerry, you can sing, right?” Then Jerry’s like, “I can sing, but–” It’s like, “No, dude, you got to have the courage right now to step on that stage and be like, ‘All right, give me the mic, bro.'” “Oh, Beyonce fell and Jerry saved the day with his great voice.” A lot of us are afraid, and so we need that courage, in the long run, to finish what we start. It takes courage. I don’t care whether it’s Jiu-Jitsu, whether it’s just, like I said, my son just graduated college, my daughter just finished her first year of college. It takes courage to do all of that stuff. It takes courage to apply for a job you really want but think you might not get. If you can make these things a consistent pattern, you will get breakthroughs that other people just simply don’t get. Just like on a chessboard, pawns are short-range weapons, knights are mid-range weapons, bishops and queens are long-range weapons. Even the king is a short-range weapon because he can’t protect a pawn to get a new queen. There’s all kinds of weaponry, but you have to know what weapon do you need right now. If you use a knight to do a bishop’s job, you’re coming up short. If you use a rook to do a pawn’s job, you’re coming up short. You need to know what weaponry is best. Is it a Close Guard, De La Riva, Straight Open Guard, Rubber Guard? You got to have the sensibility to figure out for the short and long-term what’s going to get you through.
Sonny: I really like that. The three PA being greater than one NT, it’s like, man, that’s just good, useful, actionable advice that everyone can implement into their own life.
Adisa: It’s hollering because you realize that it doesn’t matter what happens, you still have options. That’s my thing is even when it looks like A and B is all there is, there’s always a C. There’s almost always a C, but you have to be patient enough and you have to train yourself to be creative enough to look for that opportunity, and then have to be courageous enough to try and close on it.
Sonny: Again, courage it’s huge, especially in martial artists. Sometimes you have people that go into competitions and, of course, some win, some lose. People try and put it down to win or learn or as long as you enjoyed it or everything, but it is just that, “Hey, you got out there while everyone else is on the couch, that’s enough, man.”
Adisa: It really is and it doesn’t feel like that when the other guy’s getting his hand raised, and it doesn’t feel like that when you didn’t make it to the podium or you’re not at the top of the podium, but the truth of the matter is it takes a lot of courage to get out there and compete in anything. Be it cheerleading, chess, Jiu-Jitsu, it takes a lot. You have to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to have that presence and that patience and your moment of victory always comes. It’s very rare that someone stays in the thing and stays horrible forever. It’s very rare, very hard to do, but you have to take the shots, you have to learn from the damage you take, and listen to other people, and you’ll be good.
Sonny: Yes, I like that and I think part of that is probably while you’re in the game of whatever it is you’re doing is paying attention to the details of what’s going on within that game and I think that’s something else that you talk about with the pawn structure.
Adisa: Yes, pawn structure.
Sonny: Can you expand on that a little?
Adisa: Yes, absolutely. I talked about pawn structure and paying attention to details. Pawns, as we know, are technically the weakest pieces on the board, but if you have what’s called the pawn chain, where the pawns are holding together and it’s connected in a diagonal, if anything takes that pawn, the pawn behind it will always capture whatever took it. I used to play with this one kid, he used to kill me when we were playing because we’re playing games, and he would always have this one pawn that he would push a little bit halfway, but then let him sit for the rest of the game. Then when you start losing, you know like everybody starts losing pieces, there’s this one pawn on like the A5 who’s like three squares away, and you have a knight, so you can’t get over there in three hops, he’s going to get a queen. It’s this attention to details. Understanding A, how connected pawns can protect you, and how little details in the pawn structure can be the difference between you getting a queen towards the end of the game, or being so far away you never have a chance to really get him over there. These are the things that we need to pay attention to in life. How many times have you almost had a clock choke, but you didn’t. Either you reached too deep or you were way too shallow. How many times you watch somebody do a cross choke from the closed guard and you’re like, “He is [crosstalk] , that’s not going to work.” You see him just burn his forearms out like [mimics] . You’re like, “Bro, you’re not getting that choke, it’s not happening,” but once you make a habit of like, “Where do I want my thumb? Oh, I turn the blade like that, he ain’t leaving now.” You have to understand those things, and so that’s all part of the pawn structure.
Sonny: Yes, I like that because I’ve been actually doing that a lot with my Jiu-Jitsu training, is focusing, especially with collar chokes because we have one hand here, one hand here, bring it together, but really just stopping to take a moment and think, “Hey, okay, I’m trying to lock the two carotid arteries that around this position of the neck, so where’s my pressure going? Is it on those carotid arteries? If it’s not, what can I do to fix it?”
Adisa: Right, “Does he have too much posture for me to really do this or do I have them close enough to me?” There’s all kinds of stuff, man. Those details, they make all the difference.
Sonny: That’s the difference. The difference that makes the difference, that’s what we’re all about here, mate.Going on with the pawns, there’s also an idea of the Pawn to Queen Threat Assessment, or was that covered in that as well?
Adisa: No, so Pawn to Queen Threat Assessment is a little different. I used to coach soccer for a bunch of years. If you’re playing soccer with someone and a teammate yells at you like, “Come on, man, get on the ball, bro. Don’t let him” da, da, da, and you start thinking about him yelling at you about the ball, you’re distracted. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that you just play your best game, don’t worry about that and keep it moving. If you stay on top of your player, or if you stay dribbling, and maneuvering, you’re going to win. That’s the queen. Focus on your queen and what she can do. You have to understand that you can’t be distracted by every little thing. What is the most important thing at this time? I remember one time when I was a white belt, this dude was trying to choke me. I think it was a cross choke or something and I was trying to pass the guard and I wasn’t defending the choke, and Huff was just sitting there shaking his head like, “What the heck?” I said, “Damn, I don’t understand what happened?” He said, “When someone’s choking you, deal with the choke, okay? Don’t try to pass a guy’s guard if he has your neck. That’s the priority.” It’s training yourself to see the priority of the moment rather than doing what you want to do when you really can’t. I want to pass his guard, I’m not going to because I’m about to have to wake up in a little bit if I don’t address the choke.
Sonny: Now, that makes a lot of sense. The same thing’s happened to me with I think a baseball bat choke or something. If I even bait the guard, pass.
Adisa: [laughs] Exactly, right? You’re trying to do something.
Sonny: There was a reason they allowed that. Yes, that makes sense.
Sonny: Too late for me, but well played for them. There’s also, with the pawn, the idea of the Poison Pawn.
Adisa: Yes, now, this is something that a lot of kids get. This is one of the things of all the things I came up with that I noticed they got quickly. A Poison Pawn is a thing where someone will put a pawn out there that looks really easy and you’ll usually have to use your queen to go get it, but then once you put that queen out there, your opponent can set up other pieces to trap her and then take her. What was the deal? In chess, a lot of people don’t know that all the pieces have value. The pawn is worth one, the Knights and the bishops are worth three, the rooks are worth five, and the queen is worth nine. Now, the king, he is priceless, so he doesn’t have because if there’s no king, there’s no game, but she’s worth nine. You just basically gave $9 for $1. I always equate it for money. You took $1, but then they took $9 from you. That’s a big loss. Nobody wants to deal with that. Don’t go out there. How many times in the day or in your life have you taken something that looked easy and cheap, but in the long term, it cost you? So what happened, this is a true story, there was a kid who I was trying to mentor, but I really didn’t mentor him. He lived in an area that was pretty boring and stuff like that. This is when the iPhones first came out. Him and his friends were totally bored. A guy comes down the street on a bike, a new BMX bike that looked hella sick, and he had an iPhone in his hand. They were like, “Let’s beat his ass and take the phone,” so they did. Ping-pung, took the phone. “This is fresh, what does this thing do?” Then they’re peddling around, whatever, they take off. When they come home, cops are waiting for them at the house. The DA charged them all as adults. The dude didn’t even graduate high school, he went straight to jail, bro. Didn’t graduate because they charged him with more than six felonies. Now they got it broken down to two, they were able to negotiate it down to two felonies. They still had to do time. Now, what was that about? In the short run, it’s like, “We’re bored, we want to have fun, let’s go slap this dude up, show them we’re the alphas, take his stuff,” but in the long run, you ruined your whole life. I tell people what is the Poison Pawn? Like when you’re hanging with the homies and they go, “Let’s rob that fool,” you should know, as fun as that might be and as much empowered as you’re going to feel in that moment, that is not a good idea. Now in business, I’ll show you how it also plays out. True story. A friend of mine, a VP at a Silicon Valley company, killing the game. He’s not a VP, he’s like a top director. They make him, they’re like, “Hey, do you want this position?” He’s like, “Yes, I’ll take a position.” So then he takes the position, they have a whole ceremony for him, whatever. Two weeks later, “Oh, yes, we have to cut all our executives, you’re out.” He was a VP for like two months. Now, when he took that position, he didn’t think about the idea that they might be getting rid of people. He wasn’t thinking about where’s the company? What is the trajectory of the company at? Now, the same situation, a few years later, another friend has a position at a growing media company, and they call him into the office one day and they’re like, “We think you’re awesome. We’d like to give you a promotion.” He sat back and thought of everything and he was like, “I don’t want that promotion.” They were like, “What?” We’re killing the game” and da, da. He’s like, “You know what, I just like what I’m doing” da, da, da, held on. Wave of layoffs came a year later. Whoosh, he’s kept his position. They want another promotion, he didn’t take it, another wave of layoffs. Once the company got stable, then he took the thing because he thought. These two people don’t even know each other. They’re unrelated people, unrelated industries, but this is about not taking what looks easy at the time. You don’t pick up the poison pawn. Anything that looks easy without contemplating serious reflection, you should just ignore it because, in the long run, it can cost you.
Sonny: Yes, I hear that. I won’t go into any personal stories of my own, but I get you. We’ve all done it, right?
Adisa: We’ve all done it.
Sonny: That’s a universal life experience probably.
Adisa: Sometimes the Poison Pawn is another pointer. [laughter]
Sonny: I know exactly what you’re saying. I guess that’s your idea of things being too good, they may be too good to be true, being careful.
Adisa: Yes, not really assessing the total value of what they’re offering. You don’t have to pick up everything that someone offers you, that’s the idea.
Sonny: Just knowing being able to step back and make a decision based on more than just the initial allure of something.
Adisa: Yes, and the excitement of that.
Sonny: The excitement, yes because everyone can get wrapped up in the excitement, that’s for sure. Then there’s another idea you talk about that might be the opposite of that, which is that people can actually block their blessings.
Adisa: Yes, it’s called blocking your blessings, and these are all worksheets by the way that are in the book. Blocking your blessings comes from a chess game that I saw where, basically, these two dudes were playing and one guy had another guy’s king surrounded pretty much. I was pretty sure the game was going to be over. Then when I bounced and I came back, the guy who had his king surrounded had won the game. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t understand how the dude who had his king surrounded had won and I was like, “Can we run it back a little bit? What do you remember about this position? Show me what happened.” He’s like, “We were here, then we were there, then we’re here, then we’re there. He did that, I did that, and he did this, and I did that.” What I realized is the guy who was attacking didn’t have any coordination of his pieces, and so many times, he was actually in his own way and the pieces weren’t protecting each other. So the king and some pawns were able to take some big pieces, and it totally ruined the initial advantage. That was probably the first life and chess lesson that I could discern. I remember saying, “How many times do you think you get in your own way in your life?” He’s like, “I don’t know, dude,” so we started thinking about it. It’s this idea like a lot of us we talk about haters, we talk about, oh, so and so at the job don’t like me, so and so in school don’t like me, or these fools at the Jiu-Jitsu don’t like me or whatever, but how much of it is really just you, bro, not training? How much of it is you, Mike, not really thinking about how your diet is, or how much cardio do you do outside of training? Or you’re in school, but how much homework do you really do? They say that you suck at math, but you don’t really study. Tell the truth, you’re not really studying. They’re not really hating, and so it’s about taking responsibility for your own shortcomings instead of blaming others.
Sonny: That’s huge, especially in martial arts training. It’s like you have to, it’s all on you. It’s easy to, “Oh, the training partners aren’t good enough, the gym needs better whatever.”
Adisa: Coach isn’t talking to me enough.
Sonny: That’s a big one, they should be paying more attention to me, which, in some situation, maybe that’s true, of course, but a lot of the time, it’s, hey, you’ve got to take charge.
Adisa: You got to step in, totally.
Sonny: You do break it down into the three phases of combat with that martial arts element. Combat safety, position, and finish.
Adisa: Right, safety, position, and finish. This was an idea that Gumby gave to me over a heroes martial arts in San Jose, shout out to Gumby. All the homies over there. He was like, “This essentially is the three phases of what a fight is, whether it’s individual or whatever. First you keep yourself safe, then you improve your position, then you try to finish your opponent.” I started thinking about that in chess, castling early. I like to castle early. Getting my king safe, then I can be more free to attack. Once I know that my castle is tucked away and he’s got some people in front of him, okay, he’s good, now I can go. Then once you get to the highest level of a positional dominance, now you go try to kill the king. Just like in Jiu-Jitsu, you take them down, try to pass the guard if you’ve got to pass the guard, get them out, and then once you get to the highest position, you go for a finish. You try to end the match. A lot of times if you’re trying to, like the time I was getting choked out but I’m trying to pass, it goes back to some of these things slightly overlap where you get like, what is my priority? If you’re trying to finish a guy but you don’t have the full position, he may escape the mount. If you try to checkmate a person but you haven’t really secured all the square cut-offs, you can lose your queen. In the course of it, there’s checkmate. Actually, no, there’s a knight right there, boop. Now you just lost your queen because you didn’t really have the position the way you thought you had it. It’s about really understanding the totality of which phase you need to be in through the course of your battle.
Sonny: That makes sense. I think everyone in martial arts will relate to that for sure. There’s another idea that you’ve got, worksheets, which I’m going to recommend everyone gets the book too to go through them is who controls your illusion of options.
Adisa: Yes, totally. I spoke about this a little bit before when people try to make you think it’s A or it’s B, but there’s a C. Really, it’s A to Z. There’s all kinds of options. Look at this situation we’re in right now. Life worked really different just a few months ago, and now it’s totally different, but guess what, people still got to go to school, people still got to try to exercise, people still got to try to get information. I hate not being able to train right now, but what do I do for cardio? I’m jumping rope, I do solo drills, and that’s going to be what my Jiu-Jitsu is for a while. Even when things look broke down and shut down, that more often than not, there is an opportunity for you to step up, to step into something, to find a way. Again, if you use your Jiu-Jitsu training, you use your chest training, you use your artistic training to look for new opportunities, you usually will, but if you believe that people say, “No, it’s just A or B.” No, it’s not A or B. If technology and the history of technology in the last 30 years has taught us anything is that we can find a way. Look when nobody used cell phones at all. Remember when people used to be like, “Oh, why do I need a personal computer? Why would I ever need a computer in my home?” Yes, let me take a computer from your home right now and you can just start cooking meat like a caveman because you got no options because you don’t have a computer in your home. Things change quick. It’s about look at all that innovation, look inside Jiu-Jitsu. Look at how the Japanese take Kodokan Judo to a point, Maeda goes to Brazil, Helio takes what they gave him, builds on it. His sons come to America, American wrestlers and people like Eddie Bravo. What if we did this? What if we did that? Because we already have a big wrestling tradition here. The way that we approach Jiu-Jitsu is way different just because of Graeco-Roman and freestyling folk traditions. Then Jiu-Jitsu gets a whole new spectrum of positions. Then you look at all of that and then the internet happens. Because I remember when certain moves were rumors before YouTube. “Hey, have you heard of the reverse standing reverse standing omoplata?” “Yes, I don’t know how it works, but I heard it’s pretty dope.” “You can go find out in YouTube five minutes, bro.” In competition, see it played out. Whereas before, a lot of techniques were secret. Half will show you something, “Don’t nobody show this, but check this out.” There isn’t that anymore. Every school had that, had a certain series of moves or a concept that they kept to themselves. Now because of the internet, some blue belt can do something spontaneously and we all see that and go, “I’m about to add that to the Foot Locker repertoire, that was hot.” Now we’re all doing it. This is how quick innovation happens, so we always have that.
Sonny: Oh, man, it’s changed so quick. The last month or two, over the last couple of years, everyone started putting techniques online. If it came before, no one would do it and now, everyone’s got instructionals and world champ’s got their YouTube
Adisa: I remember when MG and action hit. Remember when Marcella was like, “Yes, you can just come in and I’ll just show everything,” and we’re like, “Whoa.”
Sonny: Then everyone was still like, “Oh, you can’t learn Jiu-Jitsu online.” Now in the last couple of months, man.
Adisa: We’re doing it.
Sonny: In the last month, you better be learning your Jiu-Jitsu online over YouTube, otherwise, everyone’s going broke.
Adisa: That’s right, and you ain’t going to survive, homie.
Sonny: That’s it, which I’m fine with because we’ve got to make those.
Adisa: Right, exactly.
Sonny: It is funny how quickly attitudes and opinions can change on something like that.
Adisa: Remember when Jiu-Jitsu guys would be like, “Katas are trash. Who needs katas? I need real people, bro. We just got to be out here. We’re running the shoots, dog, running the shots. That’s what it is.” “Yes, I won’t be seeing you for like two years, so enjoy the katas.”
Sonny: Everyone’s still on katas now. Everyone wish they had more katas. People at home coming up with katas.
Adisa: You know who the first person I knew who had katas in Jiu-Jitsu?
Adisa: Denny Prokopos because even though he trained with Eddie, he lived here in the Bay. When Eddie would show him stuff, he would invent solo drills on his own so he could remember all that stuff, and then he’d come back and still be as good, if not better, than a lot of the dudes that were training with Eddie all the time, and it was because of those katas, those solo drills. Then a lot of other people eventually started doing, I think, on their own, but I’m just saying in my life, I remember Denny being the first, too.
Sonny: It’s funny how much Eddie Bravo and 10th Planet is coming up in my conversations just because of how many areas they did seem to innovate. I was talking to B Mac yesterday, Brandon McCatherine. I don’t think I got the name right, but we was talking about how the 10th Planet warm-ups are really katas, that those guys do now, they’re totally katas.
Adisa: Right, and that was something that was unthinkable because really, if you look at the 10th Planet, the way that they run this stuff now, those are just katas now chained.
Sonny: Exactly, right.
Adisa: They’re just chained katas as opposed to random individual katas. Armbar drill, guard pass drill. Now armbar, pass, da, da, da, and that’s what those things become and it’s beautiful, man. That’s a blend of Jiu-Jitsu culture with technology culture that makes all of that possible because if you rewind the game 15 years, it’s impossible. It doesn’t exist.
Sonny: That’s right.
Adisa: Even if you have it, you have it in some fragmented segment that’s not applicable on a global level.
Sonny: In terms of blending it all together and bringing it all together, even 10th Planet when they were coming out, there was a lot of pushback against how they were doing it, taken off the gate that’s going to ruin Jiu-Jitsu.
Adisa: Yes, exactly.
Sonny: That deviations, creating more diversity was actually going to be terrible to these traditions, but you’ve also got a worksheet talking about how this unity and diversity.
Adisa: Yes, unity and diversity. That idea is that it’s got several layers to it like most things in chess or Jiu-Jitsu or hip hop, it’s got several layers to it. The first is that you have a specific way of playing your Jiu-Jitsu game. Are you more of a passer or are you more of a guard player just out of curiosity? What are you?
Sonny: A passer now, white belt, blue belt [unintelligible 01:35:59]
Adisa: When I started, I was more of a guard player, then I became more of a passer, but the idea is you evolve and you have different strengths and the other people have things that you just don’t have. The idea is, mentally, you need to surround yourself with people who don’t think like you because if everybody thinks like you, you’ll fall victim to the same traps. On the streets, why do gangsters always fall and people who be in gangs fall for the same stuff? Because no one tells him, “You know what, this gang shit’s trash, actually. I’m going to quit and go get a job.” Because they fall victim to the same thing, “Oh, I’m on a gun charge.” Then things add up and the next thing you know, the DA done thrown hella stuff at you and now you’re doing hella time. You need to have someone who thinks different than you and not be mad at people who think different than you. It’s good that Eddie Bravo thought different, it’s good that Helio thought different than Maeda. If everybody just would’ve stuck with what came out of the Kodokan, we’d literally be doing Japanese techniques from a long time ago, but we have to think differently. It’s also about unity and diversity, it’s about having different kinds of people around you. I’m an African American Muslim, but I hang out with atheists who are white from Germany, or I might hang out with a Canadian Catholic. It doesn’t matter, bro. You need different people around you so that you can be growing because if you don’t have different people around you, they’re going to give you ideas that are going to change your life. They might give you ideas that save your life, and it doesn’t matter where these ideas come from, it only really matters that you get them and you’re able to exercise them. I try to not have too many people that think like me around me as a general rule because I think it’s dangerous. Just in the old days, like I talked about, dudes from Gracie Barra would never train with 10th Planet. Dudes from Nova Uniao, what? Training when Gracie Barra, that was blasphemy of the highest order, boy, you come up missing. “Oh, I was just training with Nova Uniao last week.” No, you get dragged into the basement. No, dude, you take it all, man. It’s all beautiful, it’s all Jiu-Jitsu, man, we need to relax. We need to relax and understand that every innovation is good for the game. Every innovation is good for the game even if it’s not for everybody. That’s the vibe.
Sonny: I love that, the point about having different viewpoints and bringing other people’s perspectives in, and making friends with people who have different thoughts and ideas, or just coming from a different background because especially in today’s world where people get into their silos driven by online social media, where the algorithms stuff, making sure you only ever see people you agree with and you can just click away.
Adisa: It’s not good, man.
Sonny: I think that’s a big problem.
Adisa: It is. It’s a huge social problem, man. It creates illusions of just being right all the time, it creates illusions of superiority, whether that’s racial, political, social. It’s not real, man. Again, Hip-Hop Chess Federation, first and foremost, about any of the stuff is really about nonviolence, man. About being a peaceful human being, about not using the martial arts. I’m always sick and saddened when you see somebody who comes in and, let’s say, they’re an off-brand nerd because so many of us are, and then they start learning Jiu-Jitsu and they become the bully that they said they hated, and you’re like, “Whoa, so you get a blue belt now, you’re coming in a leather jacket, shoving fools? What happened, bro?” Getting back to the philosophy lacking in Ju-Jitsu. That’s how that happens because the guy comes, he sees Colby Covington, and then he thinks he wants to be like Colby. You might want to wrestle like Colby, but there could be some other aspects of Colby that are socially troubling and not good for a greater diverse society, but you can like his wrestling though. Take his wrestling, trash the rest of that, bro and keep it moving. I remember there was a guy who does Ju-Jitsu who is Jewish and we were talking about Allekan, he played for the Germans World War II, a kind of a Nazi and whatnot. He told me how much he liked certain things from Allekan and I was like, “You study his work? That dude was a Nazi.” He was like, “Yes, but he was good though. I can see he was a Nazi, see what he took tactically, and then trash the rest of them because he was a Nazi and I hate him.” [laughter] I was like, “That’s awesome.” I’ve really striven to develop that where I don’t let any really bad aspect of a person keep me from seeing the good value in a lot of whatever else they brought to the game. That’s all.
Sonny: That’s a big topic of conversation, that one alone, if you can separate the art from the artist or if it’s possible.
Adisa: Yes, it’s a grimy, grimy thing. It’s not always possible, to be frank with you, but where it is and you can, you should.
Sonny: I hear that, especially that illusion of being right all the time now, it’s just so frequent.
Adisa: It’s going to be a cancer to humanity if you can’t chill out.
Sonny: So bad.
Adisa: It’s going to be a cancer to humanity.
Sonny: Yes, you can go through now with your world views and never be proven wrong if you don’t want to. It’s totally up to you.
Adisa: It’s true, you can just be in your bubble.
Sonny: Do you want to be right all the time? I’ve got the world view for you, just click come over here. There’s lots of them too. It’s not one or two, there’s little sub-groups. That’s a topic for another day.
Adisa: Yes, but you’re right though, it’s real.
Sonny: Because this has been a long discussion, but it’s one that I really wanted to have.
Adisa: I’m really grateful, man. This is fantastic. I appreciate you for having me on.
Sonny: My pleasure. As I’m thinking about the clock, maybe you can tell me about what the chess clock represents in the Hip Hop Chess Federation?
Adisa: Man, I’m really glad that you asked that as one of the last questions because it’s a really big deal. In chess, there’s a clock. Basically, let’s say, we’re going to have a five-minute game. I start and I hit the clock and what that’s going to do is when I press the clock, it starts your time, so your time starts ticking down from five. When you move, you hit the clock and my clock starts ticking down from five. Now, if neither one of us checkmate each other, whoever ran out of time first, loses. This is a big deal because in life, all of us only have a limited amount of time and we don’t know. Like America’s lost like 80,000 people from COVID at this point, right?
Adisa: Four months ago, they were thinking about what they were going to do 20 years from now, and they’re not here for real. The only difference between them and us is that our time hasn’t come yet. Every time our heartbeats, every time we blink, that’s one last blink, that’s one last heartbeat. The chess clock represents the finality of death and maximizing the use of your time on this earth while you’re here. If anything, COVID has helped refine my Islamic and stoic self to be all of who I really want to be and do all of what I really want to do. I had a situation where a friend of mine spent most of their time just looking for the right person. After a bunch of years, they found this person and she was like, “Yes, I’m about to get married in a couple of months. I’m moving over to this one stake, we’re going to get together. We’re engaged.” He’s dead. I was like, “Yo, that is some heartbreaking triple tragic stuff right there.” To finally find the love of your life, be getting ready, got your new job, everything looks good, and now that person is dead. This is why the chess clock is here. It is a reminder of death. It is a reminder of the finality, not to be morbid, not to be crude, not to be cold. Everybody hearing this at some point will no longer be here and at some point, I will no longer be here. What are you doing today to bring yourself joy? What are you doing today to enrich your higher physical, spiritual, mental clarity? Because we all, and I’m triple guilty of it, that’s why I built a lot of this stuff, it’s to break my own cycles of laziness, to break my own cycles of being caught up and down on myself, break my own cycle of creating more stress around things I had more control of than I understood. That’s what the chess clock is about, man. The finality of life and having gratitude from that place. Later when I learned about stoicism, the stoic said memento mori, remember death because it’s a purification of your gratitude. If you understand memento mori, you’re going to go hug your mom. If you remember memento mori, you’re going to tell your wife, you’re going to tell your husband, you’re going to take a minute and tell your son, “Hey, come here, man, I love you, bro. I love you and here’s why” because you know you could walk out that door and might not come back. We’ve never been in a time where that’s been more real for all of us than right now, so the chess clock is real.
Sonny: I hear that, memento mori. That’s beautiful. That’s a good point to finish this up on. I think I’d love to have you come back. We can do another one.
Adisa: I would love to and I got to have you on Bishop Chronicles because I got a lot of questions for you, man.
Sonny: It would be my honor, trust me.
Adisa: We’ll hook that up real soon, I’m going to get you on.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. I think you’re wonderful. What you’re doing is great work. I’d love to talk about stoic philosophy, Islam. I’d love to talk about your history in the music industry as well because I know you were friends with Eazy-E, Tupac.
Adisa: Yes, back in the day, me and Eazy, me and Pac. I got crazy stories, boy.
Sonny: I’m sure you do. I want to hear them. I think your run with Mac Dre was around. That whole movement must have just been fascinating.
Sonny: I want to hear about that and how these movements happen. That’s a great story.
Adisa: So yes, I’m going to have you on Bishop Chronicles, bro.
Sonny: Please. I know you were even at a retreat with RZA last week you said, and was it a Shaolin monk teaching martial arts or–?
Sonny: So cool.
Adisa: I got invited by RZA to do a thing with TAZO Tea, it was called Camp TAZO. We did it in Shaolin in New York on Staten Island. I was in London at the time when I got the invite for my 50th birthday, and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to spend my time saying yes to more things. Who is the 50-year-old Adisa?” I’m asking myself. “Does he still do Jiu-Jitsu? Maybe, maybe not. Does he intermittent fast still? Maybe, maybe not. Is he a vegan, is he a meat-eater, is he carnivore? What’s happening?” I was like, “Whatever else I’ll figure out, for right now, I’ll just say yes more.” I get a message and this lady is like, “Hey, RZA, I wanted to know if you can come teach at this thing,” and I’m on vacation, and so I say yes. Now, I haven’t even got back to work yet and I just committed to going somewhere else. I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I had a ticket from New York before I even left London. I get back to work and my boss is an 80-year-old physicist who knows nothing about hip-hop and cares much less about it. I pulled him into his office and I said, “Hey, how’re you doing?” He’s like, “Great, man, how was London?” I was like, “London was great, I had a fantastic time, but I got to run something by you. You know who the Rolling Stones are, correct?” He’s like, “Yes.” I said, “I want you to imagine that Mick Jagger wants you to come to his house and talk about physics for a day. What would you say to that?” He was like, “I would do it.” I said, “There’s a group called the Wu-Tang Clan and they’re the Rolling Stones of right now and their Mick Jagger, a man by the name of RZA, who you need to know, has invited me to come speak about chess.” He was like, “You should go do that then.” I was like, “Thank you.” [sighs] So I go and it’s me, RZA, and a Shaolin monk named Shi Yan Ming. I taught about chess and life to a group of young professionals who were hitting creative walls in their life. Some of them were in tech, some of them were rappers, some of them were dancers, some of them were comedians, and we spent a day. Camp TAZO went for several days, but on my day, I met with Shi Yan Ming and RZA and there was meditation. Shi Yan Ming taught Kung Fu, I taught about chess and life, and it was bonkers. It was a beautiful thing, man. It was a beautiful thing. That was like in February. I’m very grateful to RZA for always having been a strong supporter of Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and me personally, he didn’t have to invite me out, bro. He could have invited anybody. He could have invited any grandma, he could have invited Magnus Carlsen, he could have invited all these other people, but he chose me. That was a very beautiful thing. I actually talk about that on my podcast. I have a thing about the whole Camp TAZO experience. Then actually, when I got back, I was so blown away I started thinking about all the time that me and RZA have done different stuff and I found audio of me and RZA speaking to incarcerated kids in St. Louis, I had lost the file. So I added that file to another show. You hear the kids in the crowd, you hear we’re talking to incarcerated boys and girls during the Ferguson uprising. St. Louis was on fire and we were literally in juvenile hall talking to kids on lockdown. This is the kind of stuff that if you tune into Bishop Chronicles you can check out, but I feel blessed to have this life, I feel blessed to have this opportunity. I do want to give a quick shout out to my brother Paul Moran who passed away from Open Mat Radio. He passed away not too long ago. When you talk about unity and diversity, that was an event that he came and spoke at a couple of years ago. His idea was to work with me to make unity and diversity something that we did everywhere. I don’t have the footage or the audio from that, but I’m in search of it. I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I’m grateful for my friendship with Paul and all the people in Jiu-Jitsu. If I ever trained with you. If you were ever my instructor because I was the ultimate crunch and lazy person, I am grateful for you and know that I have never forgotten any of you, whether you were my training partners, or you were my instructors. I appreciate you all for improving me.
Sonny: That’s beautiful, man.
Adisa: I appreciate you, Sonny for improving me and giving me this opportunity and that’s true.
Sonny: I appreciate you, man. I appreciate you too. Don’t worry, straight back at you. Don’t worry, the feeling’s mutual, mate. That’s great. Check out your podcast, Bishop Chronicles. I’m going to go do one on there as well, so we’ll hook it up. We’ll put the links into show notes for that. There’ll also be the links to buy the book, Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx.
Adisa: On Amazon Kindle. Kindle and paperback.
Sonny: There you go, so you don’t even have to leave the house, you can get it. You got the worksheets in there, you can go through it. It’s a great book. Also, you’ve got some Jiu-Jitsu instructionals that I’ll put links into the description of Iron Hook Scroll and the Cloud Scroll.
Adisa: Yes, the Iron Hook Scroll and the Cloud Scroll. The Iron Hook Scroll are advanced closed guard techniques that’ll really help you. It’s an over hook system, an advanced over hook system. Technically, it’s a long man’s game, but I have short man’s adaptations. It’s a free PDF that you can download online. If you just put Iron Hook Scroll BJJ you’ll find it and you can download the PDF. I have some videos on YouTube from when I first did the Iron Hook Scroll, then later I did the Cloud Scroll, which is more advanced over hook techniques. The armbar from the iron hook, I think I can say, virtually, that is the strongest armbar from the closed guard in terms of not getting socked while doing it and in terms of being able to finish uninterrupted. The cloud scroll are things that developed from people trying to defend the iron hook. Like you know how if you lean too far one way it gives you option in another way, it’s that kind of thing, but I think that you’ll like it. Keith Pallegro, a fan of the Iron Hook Scroll, Denny Prokopos, a fan of the Cloud Scroll. There’s a lot of top tier dudes. Gumby from On the Mat Machine over at Gracie. A lot of other people have given me thumbs up for the stuff that’s in there and I have to say, and we’ll talk about this on another day, but every technique from the Iron Hook Scroll, was born from Transcendental Meditation.
Adisa: None of it came from my mind.
Adisa: That’s God’s truth. That’s why I haven’t written nothing on Jiu-Jitsu no more because it hasn’t come to me.
Sonny: That’s right, we’ll get into that on another one for sure.
Sonny: 100%. Because this has been great, I’m going to go now play some chess.
Adisa: Whoohoo, he’s getting that chess groom in, I love it.
Sonny: Play some chess, put some liquid swords on, maybe go for a run, do some katas.
Adisa: That’s right. Sonny: Get into it.
Adisa: Word. Hit the swords, boy.
Sonny: We’ll do this again, Adisa. Thank you.
Adisa: Yes, man.
Sonny: Thank you so much.
Adisa: Thank you so much.
Sonny: I really appreciate your time. You take care.
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