Just read this excellent interview from On The Mat after seeing it mentioned on Formosa Neijia. It seems perhaps the world of people cross-training “internal” and “soft” arts is expanding or at least getting a higher profile due to famous people practicing and talking about them. Always great to see despite the head in the sand crowds who can’t see any value or parallels in the other arts. Some people will always see the glass half empty but this interview gives some reasons to see the glass as half full. Waitzkin draws the connections between chess, tai chi, and bjj more eloquently than anyone else probably can, given his perspective training with and competing/winning against some of the best in the world in all three fields. Some excerpts from the interview:

Comparing tai chi to bjj:

OTM: What benefits from Tai Chi do you bring to BJJ and vice versa?

JW: Well, the learning process begins from different places but arrives, ideally, at a similar feeling. In BJJ, you tend to begin with technique, and through repetition you come to a smooth, efficient, unobstructed body mechanics. In Tai Chi, you begin with body mechanics, get a certain internal feeling over months and years of moving meditative practice, and then you learn the martial application of what you’ve been doing all along.

The essence of Tai Chi is sensitivity to intention. Turning force against itself, overcoming power without meeting it head on. Of course these principles are at the heart Jiu Jitsu as well. In my mind, the arts are completely intertwined and to be honest, the purest Tai Chi I’ve ever felt has been getting my ass handed to me, over and over, by John Machado and Marcelo Garcia.

Philosophy in martial arts:

Also, could the absence of the philosophy in Brazilian jiu jitsu serve as the direct link to the blueprint of the essence of martial arts?

JW: That last point is deep, man. Alright, this is how I feel. I’m a student of philosophy and engage that element of my being in everything I do. As individuals, we have the choice to go down this road or not. I think the vast majority of people, in all disciplines, tend not to. You asked if there were any spiritual/internal limitations to BJJ. My feeling is that BJJ is a beautiful martial art that can take an individual as far as he or she is prepared to go.

I don’t think that BJJ imposes any limitations—some practitioners might, but the art itself does not. I’ve met plenty of meat heads in the Jiu Jitsu world, but I’ve also known them in chess, tai chi, academia, science, religion…we can screw anything up. And there is no easy answer. If there is too much of a spiritual structure in an art, we may become dogmatic and not take responsibility for our beliefs. If too little, we can fail to even consider the critical questions.

Chess and martial arts:

What would you say are the core similarities between chess and martial arts?

JW: People tend to answer that question with clichés. They talk about the need to think ahead, to combine strategy and tactics–those parallels are critical but obvious. To my mind, the interesting connections reside in the learning process. Both chess and the martial arts involve internalizing tremendously complex information into a sense of flow—I call this the study of numbers to leave numbers, or form to leave form. I love the play between the conscious and unconscious minds in the creative moment, and for me chess and the martial arts are both about developing a rich working relationship with your intuition.

Wow, he really has a way with words, too. These arts seem more interesting and inspiring after reading his chessmaster and ph-master perspective. I also blogged some posts about Josh Waitzkin here, here, and here earlier. Here is a link to his book, The Art of Learning, on Amazon.