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Hip Hop, Chess and Martial Arts

September 29, 2007

Power Moves: Combining Hip Hop Chess and Martial Arts
By Kwan Booth
Staff Writer

Ever since the 1993 album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” brought kung fu samples and chess metaphors into hip hop’s vocabulary, the culture has harbored a deep fascination for both martial arts and The Game of Kings.

“There are so many rappers who play chess, its mind blowing,” says Adisa Banjoko, a journalist, martial artist and co-founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation. Last Saturday, the federation sponsored “Hip-Hop, Chess & Life Strategies II” an exhibition which brought youth together with martial artists, athletes and hip hop heavyweights such as RZA from Wu-Tang Clan and 8-time national chess champion Josh Waitzkin.

“I believe that positive aspects of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts can effectively empower young American minds,” said Waitzkin, whose early life was the inspiration for the film “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

Banjoko, who has been writing about hip hop, chess and martial arts since the early 90’s, says the event was inspired by a visit to the doctor’s office that ended in him playing chess with a couple of senior citizens. The encounter got him thinking about the connection, or lack thereof, between generations and he says he sees chess as a way to connect youth to the elders so “that they understand and don’t have to make the same mistakes” as previous generations.

The all day tournament, lecture and workshop included a panel discussion between Banjoko, RZA, Waitzkin, DJ QBert and DJ Kevvy Kev that elaborated on the connections between the three disciplines.

“The most valuable lesson in chess is the opening,” said Kev who says the game reinforces the importance of strategy in everyday life. “You learn to be open to really see things with no prejudice. You have to watch what’s going on. Be open to what’s going on, in the fight and on the board.”

The Stanford grad and KZSU DJ admitted he was initially drawn to the game because of its combination of creativity, passion and intelligence and drew a laugh from the room when he drew the connection between chess and intelligence. “We’re all nerds up here” he said smiling. “I was in the math club.”

Waitzkin, who said his first chess instructors were “the hustlers in Washington Square Park,” emphasized the importance of practical education and learning from a “street savvy” as well academic perspectives. “It’s important to have that dual element” he told the crowd.

RZA said he first started watching martial arts films at 9 and used them as a way to experience other cultures and learn about the history of civilizations outside of the US. “I didn’t have history past the 400 years (black people) been in the US,” he said. He then drew comparisons between the number of squares on the chess board-64-with the number of diagrams in traditional Chinese philosophy with 1964, the year Clarence 13X founded the Five Percent Nation, a spiritual movement followed be many people involved in hip hop culture.

The Federation’s inaugural exhibition was held in February and there are plans to take travel nationwide. “Our purpose is to encourage young people across the country to infuse their artistic and physical gifts with chess tactics and strategies to enrich their lives for years to come,” said Banjoko, who says that while he plays more for life lessons than the competition, his son is shaping up to be a formidable player. “He has a good mind and a creative spirit.”


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