The Chinese Connection: Hip-Hop and Martial Arts

The HHCF’s fusion of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts has always been about the blending of art, science and subcultures. A lot of people laughed at us in the beginning. But after hosting the biggest opening exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame this October with RZA, our impact was undeniable. In the streets, juvenile halls and colleges, our method is working and the demand is growing across the planet.


As our organization got on the radar of various news and education outlets, our calls to promote STEAM over STEM began to gain a following. My obsession with these three arts and sports were built on a previous foundation.

The two most influential people on my approach to writing are Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Joseph Campbell. Dr. Clarke was great at being able to say in a sentence, what many folks need paragraphs to write. Joseph Campbell taught “perennial philosophies.” It is defined as “a perspective in the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.” While my work to date has not been as concise as Clarke or expansive as Campbell, this is my ultimate intent. The goal of this piece is meant to show how the Asian Kung-fu Cinema impacted African-American culture deeper than other minority groups.

Bruce Lee’s logo for his innovative art, Jeet Kune Do

August 17th 1973, Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon opened in NYC. On November 12th 1973 a gang leader from The Bronx unified the street arts of rap, DJ’ing, graffiti and various forms of dance as Hip-Hop. He founded the Universal Zulu Nation that year to preserve and maintain the subculture on a global scale. A year before, Brooklyn’s Bobby Fischer beat Russia's Boris Spassky in a game of global importance. In September, a new film called Pawn Sacrifice will drop about that chess match and everything that was at stake culturally and politically. These three moments of the early 1970’s impacted American chess, martial arts and Hip-Hop in ways none of us understood at the time. Today we are still discovering its impact. Unveiling these connections are still a beautiful work in progress.


he original logo of Mixmaster Mike (of the Beastie Boys) was based on Bruce Lee’s logo for Jeet Kune Do

While exciting entertainment to many, for African American males, Asian Kung-Fu Cinema opened a new door to the Black mind and spirit. Having had our warrior culture removed from us during the transatlantic slave trade though our experience in America, these films gave Black people new ideas and a new ways to reclaim what had been lost 400 years before. Outside of Bruce Lee’s movies films like Shogun Assassin, 36 Chambers of Shaolin, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, and Drunken Master had immense impact. The David Carradine show Kung-Fu (while riddled with many racist elements) also gave weekly wisdom in prime time to those who were smart enough to pay attention.

It is hard to say how many of the African-American’s embracing these films really understood the cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese culture. Obviously on some level this surface understanding could lead to huge generalizations. On the other, this lack of cultural clarity created a space where all of it was taken in, accepted and appreciated. Those that were sincere, took the time to learn the truth. Over time those numbers grew.  


Though many of the movies by Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers were not of the highest production quality, the wisdom shared was on point. Despite whatever flaws may have been in the overdubbed voices or the corny outfits at times, these films became an obsession in Black America. It appears the ancient wisdom, the discipline and the quest for universal truth all filled a hollow space in many African American hearts, minds and bodies. It is hard to imagine the rise in Blacks practicing Buddhism, the number of Blacks doing yoga and all of the Taoist references in Hip-Hop without Kung-Fu films. It is also hard to envision the rise of the vegan movement in Black America without the rise of Kung-Fu films. These movies changed minds, bodies and spirits. Rappers, DJ’s, Bboys and graffiti writers were all affected and reflected the wisdom in their artistic expression.

I don’t think anyone at the time, knew what a benefit these movies would be to Black America. It’s hard to say if Black America itself knew what was taking place and why they were drawn to the films so deeply.

RZA, actor and rapper of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan explained the NY scene in the early 1970’s “In Manhattan on 42nd street they had movies. They had a whole slew of shows. We would watch them every weekend. That was around the age of nine. By the time I was twelve or thirteen I started getting fascinated. I would go into Chinatown buying everything. Kung-fu books, slippers [the flat black shoes made famous by Bruce Lee). You name it, I was on a mission.”


RZA of Wu-Tang Clan AKA The Man With The Iron Fist with Adisa Banjoko

Reflecting on the impact of the films he says “The good thing for me was growing up in America, there wasn’t much history, outside of the 400 years that I was taught. The only thing they told us back to was Greek mythology, the colonial days, or cowboys and Indians. But I had a chance to watch the martial arts films.  You get to see stuff from the Tang Dynasty, Sung Dynasty, you are seeing 1500 years of history. It kinda opened my mind to a whole new world.... It kinda changed my whole philosophy on life. I started buying books on Buddhism and Taoism. Plus I was studying Christianity, and Islam at the same time. It all translated into my music.”

In the early era of Hip-Hop the teens and young adults gave themselves titles like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster D and so on. It is still unclear if these were names that were inspired more by Kung-Fu films, or chess, but something new was happening. Rap crews named themselves the Wu-Tang Clan and DJ’s like Mixmaster Ice (of U.T.F.O. towering on stage above the rappers in a ninja outfit. It was all very hard to ignore, and hypnotic to almost anyone who saw it. Other Hip-Hop artists out there notable for showing an influence of martial arts philosophy and culture include Andre Nickatina, Jeru The Damaja, Afu-Ra, DJ Q-Bert and Beastie Boys DJ Mixmaster Mike.


Rap crew U.T.F.O. with Mixmaster Ice in front rocking a ninja suit, 1985.

Chess, first and foremost in many people's minds is about strategy. The word strategy comes from the Latin root word strategos meaning “leader of the army”.

The logo for revolutionary rap group dead prez is the I-Ching. The I-Ching (The Book of Changes)  is an ancient divination text going back to 1000 BC. It is  a book of various symbols that have rich meaning and various interpretations. The Dead Prez logo is of  hexagram, shi, meaning “Leader” or “the army”. Each hexagram is composed of “inner” and “outer” trigrams. The inner trigram represents water and the outer represents earth.

This idea of being grounded like earth, but flow like water was made popular in America by Bruce Lee. Within the world of jiu-jitsu, they have positions known as closed guards and open guards. In chess, there are positional developments known as open and closed games. In both arts, one must be clear about the differences and understand the importance of how and where to be strong and how and where to flow. These are continuous themes within martial arts and chess.

In part two, we will look more into this relationship between Hip-Hop and martial arts.  We have much more to explore.

Adisa Banjoko is Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF). The HHCF is the world's first non-profit 501(c)3 to promote music, chess and martial arts to teach nonviolence at-risk youth. RZA is the organization's HHCF Chess Champion and Director of Outreach. For more information visit .

FULL DOWNLOAD: Street Games Vol. 1





Hip-Hop Chess Federation Street Games Vol. 1 Mixtape Drops Nov. 15th




Contact: Meek Gaborski  

Hip-Hop Chess Federation Street Games Vol. 1 Mixtape  

Rakaa Iriscience, Sunspot Jonz, Zion I and Tajai Speak on Rap, Chess and Life   

October 21st 2013 San Jose, CA - The Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) is happy to announce it will release its first mixtape album Street Games Vol. 1 will be available for FREE download on November 15th 2013 at Street Games Vol. 1 mixtape will highlight the connections between music, chess and martial arts and their connections to unity, strategy and nonviolence. It is 100% curse free which making it an ideal teaching tool for urban education programs.

A Plus from Hieroglyphics hosts Street Games Vol. 1 and DJ Rob Flow oversaw the production. Additional production was provided by Ronnie Lee of the Seven Trees Music Center in San Jose as well as contributions by Mike Relm and Rhapsodist. Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples, Sunspot Jonz of Living Legends, Zumbi of Zion I, Black Knights, Quadir Lateef,  Jasiri X, Asheru (Boondocks Theme Song), Tajai from Hieroglyphics are all featured on the HHCF compilation. Additional wisdom illustrating the power of chess, martial arts and Hip-Hop are given by authors Jeff Chang and Dr. Joe Schloss, Jiu Jitsu master Ryron Gracie and Women's chess Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade.   

Part of preparing for the November 15th release, a series of songs and articles illlustrating the connected nature of chess and life will drop:

LISTEN TO: 64 Squares in the Cipher (Sunspot Jonz, Zumbi and Rakaa Iriscience) complete with Rap Genius annotations. THEN READ: 64 Squares in the Cipher Essay by Adisa Banjoko.

LISTEN TO: A Technical Flow (Kalhi with Introduction by Ryron Gracie) complete with Rap Genius annotations. THEN READ: A Technical Flow Essay by Adisa Banjoko

Adisa Banjoko, Founder of the HHCF stated “ Street Games Vol. 1 was made with no budget. All of the rappers, engineers and producers gave their time and their art to make this compilation possible. This is a project done funded with love only. Neither the HHCF nor any of the artists involved will profit from Street Games Vol. 1. This compilation is a testament to the power of art over aggression. In it we illustrate life strategies through chess, illustrate triumph of patience through the pain and a showcase a wisdom beyond war. We are thankful to all the artists, martial artists and educators who helped bring this idea to reality. It was orchestrated with the hope that teens and young adults trapped in American urban war zones will be inspired to actualize their potential.”

HHCF’s Street Games Vol. 1 Mixtape was made possible in large part because of the support from companies like, The Chess Drum,,, CTRL Industries clothing, Hip-Hop Revolution on Facebook, Seventh Son Tattoo, and Open Mat Radio. A special thanks to Tools of War Jams,  Hip-Hop Congress, All Tribes Zulu Nation, San Jose Zulu Nation and 206 Zulu Nation chapters.   

Street Games Vol. 1 will be available for free download November 15th at !  

About HHCF: The Hip-Hop Chess Federation is the world's first nonprofit (501c3) to fuse music, chess and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and nonviolence. They host lectures, panels, and celebrity chess events to help at-risk, gang-impacted and gang intentional youth make better decisions in life. The HHCF has been featured on Good Morning America, Forbes, Chess Life, VIBE and Rolling Stone.  

HHCF Philosophy of The Chess Clock


HHCF Philosophy of The Chess Clock

By: Adisa Banjoko, Founder Hip-Hop Chess Federation

Walking lost in the hood, like what are you looking for?/'Cause when you got a second to live, you want a second more- Quadir Lateef feat. Jasiri X, Chess Clock

The first HHCF event was held February 23rd, 2007 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose, CA. A lot of really amazing people from the Hip-Hop and the chess and martial arts world were on hand. Some among them include then IM now GM Vinay Bhat, rapper Casual from Hieroglyphics, filmmaker Kevin Epps, and jiu jitsu fighters Paul Schreiner , Alan “Gumby” Marques and Denny “300” Prokopos.

One of the things that I recall most vividly (outside of the moment we all got kicked out for making so much noise- I love it!) was DJ QBert and Yogafrog walked in. QBert has a chess clock in hand and was like “This is the only way I like to play!” At that time, I had never really played on a clock , but I knew it turned up the pressure on the players. Later in the afternoon Vinay and Q were playing a series of games. At the close of one of them Vinay and Q were locked in a frantic focus and as he checkmated QBert and slapped the button there was one solitary second on the clock. Qbert was laughing almost in extacy holding the clock “Look!!! One second man, this is amazing!’” We were all in a balance of shock and awe. It was then that I realized the importance of bughouse and speed chess. It altered my cultural understanding of chess in America and the world.

For me chess is about fun more than anything. From the fun and the joy, everything else can evolve. But if you try to enforce kids to live and die by the checkmate in the beginning, kids burn out. I’ve seen parents grind their kids  through the chess tournament circuit in just a few years. Its like the kid was cursed for having a skill. For having a deep love for the pieces, their young minds were imprisoned on 64 squares. No philosophical angles can thrive when this happens. It is a tough line to walk on how hard and when to push your kids through the eras they want to quit any given sport (especially if they show promise).  As a spectator sport, chess games that go on for more than ten minutes lose the attention of all but the most hardcore lovers. While there is an authentic long term wisdom and straegy in the traditional longer games, in a fast food, smartphone, instant message America- most lose interest and in turn lose the wisdom and power of those games.

But almost all of us love a good game on the chess clock. It turns up the heat on our ideas. It forces us to show and prove our skills in 20, 15, 10, 5, 3, 2 minutes. Even the greatest classically trained chess players melt under the rays of the clocks heat. Its as equally beautiful as it is ominous. The clock reveals us. Time reveals all. The dedication you claim to whatever you say you are about will all be played out in time. Time ruins religious hoaxters and political jokesters. It reveals frauds in finance and faith. Nobody can escape its effect, but many try.

    Essentially, in the HHCF methodology, the clock represents the finite reality of time. It symbolizes the reality of death. When we are young, it is so hard to imagine the frailty of life.  We are running around the earth at warp speeds. We get injured quick and heal quicker. Food is fast, information bombards us in nanoseconds and its hard to make sense of it all. The planet is in a deep series of transitions. Our current rampant wars sparked over land, religion, political, racial and social ideologies are a clash of old and new ideas initializing a ripple effect of separation I believe will lead to a new unity. Our individual lives are a beautiful moment to soak in the beauty of infinity.

    On the chessboard, eventually even if you have the best idea on the planet- once time is up it does not matter!! Your best ideas can no longer be actualized. Its over. How tragic to see the clock is done and see the potential victory of the next moment knowing it will forever remain unrealized.

Real life is like that. Many of us, myself included, abuse, misuse and lose time tricking ourselves about what tomorrow we will do. Hours, months, years, decades go by and we find ourselves still talking about the same things we have not yet done. This is a game we only play in our own mind. Look at the graves near you. We all have a day to be born and a day to die. Time is REAL. More real than your egos illusions of what it is capable of. Once your time is up, nothing can bring you back.

       I don’t say this to be morbid or negative. I tell you this because I hope to inspire you not to be afraid of death. But not to waste time with your life either. Have fun. Feel the suns rays on your body. Laugh under the clouds. Enjoy the rain on your skin. But know that you must balance your time relaxing with consistent days, months and years of deep focus. Take  the enlightenment of your brain and the physical  building of your body seriously. If you have an idea about a business, an artistic project, a musical masterpiece, an accomplishment of any kind you want to see happen get on it now. Tomorrow may come, but it may not. Not just for you, but for anyone.

Trust in the power of now. Don’t let fear of failure, an unsupportive family, or fear of success get in your way. Beat the clock. The only way you beat the clock is to not waste your time. Even if you can’t hear it- its ticking right now. Its your move.   

Adisa Banjoko is founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) and author of the upcoming book Live The Game. The HHCF will drop its new Street Games Vol. 1 Mixtape Nov. 15th  2013. For more information visit the HHCF Facebook page.


Rapper Ka, Drops Nights Gambit LP and Shakes Up The Game

Some albums just touch you. In Hip-Hop there are a few albums that, from the first second you knew they would be forever impactful. For me It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Illmatic, Straight Outta Compton, Livin' Like Hustlers and Enter The Wu-Tang and a few others strike your soul almost immediately. 

NY rapper Ka, has accomplished the same with Night's Gambit. Unlike the bulk of rap music today this album is quiet. He does not yell, he almost whispers. Ka's beats have minimalist drums. They are instead haunting melodies with soul moaning elements woven between the rhyme. 

This album is dark. He's from Brooklyn so the reality of violence and the psychology of the streets is in here from front to back. At the same time though, there is an authentic spiritual accent to his work. Not spiritual as in "I'm trying to convert you to what I believe." Rather he just shares indications of how he interprets what he has endured spiritually. 

If you are not up on the meaning of his name, its kinda simple:

"The Ka (kꜣ) was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body."

That explains the spiritual edge. Snippets from Bruce Lee films, Fresh and Sherlock Holmes are placed here and there. He directed all the videos for this album. You can find them on Youtube. I've said too much. Sit down, and soak it in. Kids get your parents permission before you listen. This is where art imitates life. So, the violence of the times is reflected here. It is not celebratory. Still I don't wanna get blamed for corrupting humanity with rap. PEACE!

Great Story in Inc. about Peter Thiel, Chess and Business

Some CEOs love chess; others…not so much

Seth Bannon, the founder of Amicus, a start-up that helps non-profits spread awareness--and raise money--by tapping volunteers' social networks, is in the former category. He likes to boast with a soft humble-braggy smile that during college he spent so much time playing speed rounds of chess (called "blitz") with the hustlers around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he nearly had to drop out of school. 



The Art of Chess and Business (a short keynote)

Audio from  The Art of Chess and Business given at San Jose City Hall to more than 300 teens in the silicon valley: 

6th Annual Youth Conference 056.jpg

Top Ten Rap Lyrics About Meditation (published on Rap Genius)

More than a decade back, I interviewed Russell Simmons, Afu-Ra, Shaolin Monk Shi-Yan Ming and others for Yoga Journal about the impact yoga and meditation were having in their lives.

Shi-Yan Ming told me, “When people dance and listen to Hip-Hop, they are happy. This is also meditation. RZA, when he writes songs, uses philosophy to help people. He is giving people meditation.”READ THE FULL STORY HERE!


June 14th Keynote: The Art of Chess and Entrepreneurship

Adisa Banjoko will be speaking June 14th in San Jose to teens about technology and strategy.  

What: The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services’ (PRNS) 

Youth Commission hosts the 6th Annual Citywide Youth Conference. 

When: Friday, June 14, 2013 
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 
Where: San José City Hall Rotunda 
 200 East Santa Clara Street 
 San José, CA 95113 
Who: 300 high school students throughout San José 
Norberto Duenas, Deputy City Manager, City of San José 
Kansen Chu, Councilmember, District 4 
Ash Kalra, Councilmember, District 5 
Donald Rocha, Councilmember, District 9 
Johnny Khamis, Councilmember, District 10 


The 2013 Youth Conference theme of “Dream It, Live It”, will focus on the

unbridled spirit of entrepreneurship, with a goal to educate, empower and

inspire youth to pursue future endeavors of building a successful business.

 The conference connects our future generation with some of San José’s

prominent leaders and successful business owners.

By choosing the topic of entrepreneurship, the Youth Commission hopes to
motivate the next generation to actively pursue opportunities in business, in
order to create a robust economy for their city, state and nation.
 The conference is fully developed and implemented by the Youth
Commissioners and is centered on empowering our future generation to be
leader of our local communities and beyond. Teens from all different walks of
life actively participate in workshops, discussions, debates and hands-on
learning that have a direct impact on their daily lives. In addition to workshops
correlating to the annual theme, the conference is attended by elected
 Citywide Youth Conference  officials, local leaders and business owners who fully support the
 Commission’s vision of playing a vital role in shaping the future of San José
and our nation. 

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services’ Youth
Commission is an appointed body of eleven youth, 14 - 21 years of age, and
is modeled after the San José City Council. They are recognized as the
official youth advisory group to the City Council and the Department of Parks,
Recreation and Neighborhood Services. Youth Commissioners are involved
with policy recommendatiions concerning youth and support the development
of youth who desire to serve their community through active civic participation
and constructive decision-making. 

Local media is invited to attend the conference to interview Youth
Commissioners and available speakers immediately following opening
remarks on Friday, June 14, 2013 from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.


San Francisco Examiner feat. on Hip-Hop Chess

Senior Raheem Payton was oblivious to the students crowding around him, sitting on a bench in the middle of the quad, deep in thought about the consequences of moving his knight forward. His opponent in this chess game, security guard Adisa Banjoko, waited patiently for him to meditate on making his move. Suddenly, the silence was broken as the front doors of the school burst open.

“They got guns!” A student screamed, as four males brandishing handguns rushed through the lobby, their voices barking orders at the students to move out of the way.


Lets Teach Our Daughters Jiu-Jitsu

When I was a child, I was raised in a very unusual home. At the time I did not realize it was unusual because, from what I saw on TV, everybody lived like me. I had a mother and a father who loved me and looked after me.

My dad worked as a mechanic at an airline company and eventually went on into management. My mother was an at home mother for most of my young life then went to school and worked in mutual funds.

Not one time in the course of their life together (they are STILL TOGETHER- 41 years) have I ever seen my father physically threaten or intimidate my mother. Not once! At the same time, I’ve never seen my mother throw plates or attack and berate my father verbally. Don’t get me wrong, they argue from time to time. But even when they argue they do it from a place of love.

I really thought all kids lived like me until I was about 15. I went to visit a friends house not too far from where my home was. I walked in to say hello (“Eddie Haskell style” as his mother used to say) and the instant I walked in, I knew it was a different world. His folks were together, but it was clear it was pretty loveless. It was more like how you might imagine visiting Smokey’s mom from Friday might be like.  Over time I learned that his house was very different than mine.

His folks fought a lot (not just argued), and there was a lot of abusive drinking and drug use in the home.

Over and over again in my teen years I quickly snapped out of the idea that most kids lived and learned like I did with two parents who loved one another and worked hard for their kids.

I’ve been lucky enough to be married 17 years to a beautiful Black woman and our kids are growing up fast. Its instinctual as a father to worry about your son as a teenage boy (because you know how quickly they might get shot or killed in some random situation). But it was not until my daughter was about 4 that I saw how hard life was for little Black girls.  

Later, after starting HHCF I saw much more in depth issues Black girls face in the inner city. I wrote a two part series last year about kids I knew who suffered from gang violence in Oakland and San Francisco. You can read PART 1 HERE and PART 2 HERE .

There is a deadly cocktail of cultural exclusion, identity based depression, verbal and physical violence that almost dooms Black girls to an early demise. When I say early, I mean by age 12 or 14 its already a wrap. When I say a wrap, I don’t mean to imply that anyone give up on them. I’m saying that the issues are so deeply entrenched within them that they may not be able to recover (from pregnancy, drug abuse or alcohol abuse effects). Not because they don’t want to. There are just so few systems of support in place. They can't do it alone. Most die quietly or are put in jail before we even really knew their names. Its sad, but very real.

This is part of the reason I fight so hard to promote chess to Black and Latina girls.

But you see, I quickly understood that this issue was not an issue for Black and Latina girls alone. This is a global crisis. Since starting HHCF I have seen soulbreaking documentaries about human trafficking . I have also watched many girls at the schools I work at fall victim to the streets. Many were Black or Latina, but some were White and some were Asian. I quickly realized that the mistreatment and abuse of women is not an American thing, its a male thing and it has manifested itself under every religious, political and social system we can think of. It is the duty of the men of the men of wisdom and truth to protect the women of this planet. Sadly though, we are failing to do that in large numbers. This is why I think all women of the world should learn Gracie aka Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or any other martial art they can.

About two years ago I taught a womens self defense class to girls at a high school I work at. It was so amazing to see their faces light up when you showed them how knowledge could overpower strength and speed. I told them about the creator of Gracie Jiu JItsu  and how he was a small man. I explained that they deserved to be defended, but they had to know that they were the first line of defense for themselves. They soaked it up and some still thank me for what I showed them. Even more impressive, not one of them used what I taught to fight another girl on campus or bully another female.  

Another thing is that watching girls who do judo and jiu-jitsu I have noticed a totally different level of confdence in them (on the mat and off the mat). Its a great thing to see.

Bottom line is that working at high schools has taught me one very specific thing: Many of the boys of today have no respect for girls. This is not just a teenage immaturity that needs a little guidance. These boys (most without fathers) are physically aggressive and feel little remorse for their actions. It is very scary to watch. The only thing more scary than the boys violence, is the girls acceptance that their being beaten is just “how it should be”.

Last year a girl I’m trying to reach out to asked me if I ever hit my wife.

“Never” I said.

“G.O.D.?!?!” [they spell God out meaning “swear to God”]. She searched my eyes for any level of weakness or faultiness.

“G....O....D!” I shouted with a smile. “I don’t hit my wife. She’d leave me for real if I did. But, I don’t even pretend to. I don’t threaten her. I never have.”

She shook her head, faithless of my words and said “I’m gonna ask her.”

I encouraged her to do that. The point is, what bothered me in the exchange we had that day was just that it was inconceivable that a women live her life without being beaten by the men in their life.

As men, I take on the duty to change that trend. I can’t save the women of the world. But I can work within my sphere of influence to help young girls physically and mentally. Mentally I believe all the women of the world should learn chess. Physically, they should be training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I favor Jiu-Jitsu because its made for people without lots of strength and speed to win. Also, woman cannot be raped if they cannot be grabbed and pinned down. This is super crucial to understand. If a women cannot be pinned or grabbed they are safe. If they can keep themselves safe, they cannot be trapped and if they cannot be trapped they can escape!  

If Jiu-jitsu is not available, I suggest judo (especially because its usually cheaper than jiu-jitsu). But if Kung-fu or kickboxing is near you- take that.

Girls often talk about how fighting is not like a lady. I remind them that the female lions of the pride are the ones who do the hunting. I remind them that the mother falcons and eagles are super dangerous and it makes them no less beautiful. Kyra Gracie, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and many other women out there are very lady like (however you define that) but are clearly amazing at self defense.

If I could, I’d take every girl on the planet to learn Women Empowered by the Gracie Family.

But I can’t. I can only encourage every girl, parent, uncle, aunt and cousin to take a female they love to a class on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for no less than a year. Help them learn to have faith in their body and mind.

Military strategist Sun Tzu said something like “Don’t count on the enemy not coming, be prepared for them when they arrive.” My hope is that most of the women I know never have to use Jiu-Jitsu. But if they do, I want them to be calm under pressure and use what they were taught to be safe and return to their families and friends.

This summer my oldest daughter who is 11 will spend it learning jiu jitsu and boxing basics. This is because I know that I won’t be around forever. Her brother won’t be with her in every situation. When something happens, I want to know I trained her right- regardless of the outcome. As a father and a friend of my daughter its my duty to prepare her. I’m not preparing her to be a fighter. I’m preparing to make her a woman of the world, who is confident within her own mind and body. Whatever else that is born from it, is her choosing. If you live in the Bay Area I suggest taking your daughter to and letting them take a free introductory class. I encourage you to share this with other women and girls you know.

Much Respect,

Adisa Banjoko

Adisa Banjoko & Mike Relm @ The World Chess Hall of Fame May 8th!

Live the Game: National Experts Convene in St. Louis

to Highlight the Powerful Fusion of Chess, Hip Hop, and Martial Arts

March 4, 2013 (St. Louis, MO) -- Look closely and you’ll see it at the beginning of the new Justin Timberlake video featuring Jay-Z. Read the lyrics of “General Principles” by GZA. Check out the album cover for Pawns in the Game, the 1990 album by Public Enemy emcee Professor Griff. It also shows up with RZA in scenes featuring hip hop characters on the hit TV show Californication.

It’s chess. And at first glance, it doesn't appear to have a link to hip hop. Throw martial arts into the mix and you really have to have your finger on the pulse of popular culture to know about the connection.

A group of national experts who really do know do “have their finger on the pulse” – and know the impact that this combination can have on young people – will meet in St. Louis on May 8 to present to students of the Innovative Concept Academy. A second session with local leaders will be held at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library.

“These presentations will illustrate how chess and martial arts have been woven into the history of hip hop. Further, it will show how the blending of art, logic, and physical fitness guide young people to self-discovery, self-mastery, and nonviolence,” said Adisa Banjoko, journalist and founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation.

Banjoko, who has been tapped to present at institutions like Harvard University and Brown University, assembled the group and will moderate discussions. Panelists include Dr. James Peterson (founder of Hip Hop Scholars, LLC, and director of Africana studies at Lehigh University), Mike Relm Youtube video remix icon and co-founder of Bishop Chronicles podcast show, Asheru (Peabody Award-winning journalist, creator of The Boondocks theme song, educator, and youth activist), and Alan "Gumby" Marques (Black belt in jiu-jitu and founder of Heroes Martial Arts).

The presentations are sponsored and coordinated by The World Chess Hall of Fame.

“Our focus at the World Chess Hall of Fame is to show how the game of chess has an impact on society. The work of Adisa and the other panelists has been life-changing for many people. The examples they will share will show how this change can happen in St. Louis as well,” said Susan Barrett, executive director of the World Chess Hall of Fame.


Date: May 8, 2013

Presentation 1: 10 am, Innovative Concept Academy

Presentation 2: 3:30 pm, Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library

About Adisa Banjoko

Adisa Banjoko is a respected journalist, lecturer and the founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation. His organization has appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, and Vibe magazine. He’s also been a guest on NPR and Good Morning America.

About Dr. James Peterson

Dr. James Braxton Peterson (Duke ’93, UPENN 2003) is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He has been a visiting lecturer and preceptor in African American Studies at Princeton University and the Media Coordinator for the Harvard University Hip Hop Archive. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Scholars, LLC, an association of Hip Hop generational scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of Hip Hop, urban, and youth cultures.

About Mike Relm

Mike Relm is a pioneer video remix artist who has toured with The Blue Man Group, Tony Hawk and rocked stages at Coachella, Bonnaroo and The House of Blues. He has more than 13 million hits on Youtube. Notable remixes include Iron Man 2Old SpiceScott Pilgrim Vs. The World,Doctor Who, and Harry Potter. His Punisher/Spirit/Transporter remix won the 2009 Webby Award for Best Mashup/Remix.

About Asheru

Asheru, born Gabriel Benn, is a hip hop artist, educator, and youth activist. He is widely known for performing the opening and closing themes for the popular TV series, The Boondocks, as well as his pioneering and innovative efforts to forward the Hip Hop Education movement.

About Alan “Gumby” Marques

Gumby is a second degree black belt in Jiu Jutsu and is best know as the co-founder of OTM, one of the world’s leading sources for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He is an author, commentator, coach, referee, and instructor.

About the World Chess Hall of Fame


The World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) is a nonprofit organization committed to building awareness for the cultural and artistic significance of chess. It opened on September 9, 2011, in St. Louis’s Central West End after moving from previous locations in New York and Miami.

The WCHOF is housed in an historic 15,900 square-foot building that includes three floors of galleries, the U.S. and World Chess Halls of Fame, and the stylish Q Boutique. It provides visitors with a unique opportunity to use chess as a platform for learning, exploring, and seeing their world in entirely new ways.

It is the only cultural institution of its kind in the world and the only solely chess-focused collecting institution in the U.S.

For more information, visit

Interview with "Is That Breakdance Fighting: My take on Capoeira" Author Dan Tres Omi

From the early days of Bboying (what many continue to call breakdancing despite how much it hurts my ears)  has always been compared to the martial art of Capoeria. It is a Brazilian fighting art and it is very beautiful and dangerous. Here I speak with respected Bboy and Capoierista @DanTresOmi (follow him MAN!) about his thoughts on the connections. I learned a lot from him. I'm sure you will to. 

BC: What was your introduction into bboy'ing and when did you go from fan to participant?

DTO: I was first introduced to b-boying way back in 1979 when I was 6 years
old. During that time in NYC, only crews were doing it. It was right
before b-boying started to die down  in NYC and a few years before it
got big with all of the Hollywood movies. My mother wanted me to sing
and dance merengue but once I saw some brothers getting down, I wanted
to do it. In 2012, I went to a workshop conducted by Alien Ness of the
Mighty Zulu Kings (MZK) and he pointed out that back then, we didn't
really have names for movements. So I learned alot of stuff by
mimicking the older cats and just practicing. By 1982 to 1983 though,
b-boying was considered played in NYC. If you were seen doing it
people joked you. By that time Hollywood really started milking
b-boying and you know how it goes in the 'hood. Once everybody starts
doing it, we tend to give it up.

It was around 1986, right before I went to high school, where I
started freestyle dancing. Freestyle was the stuff that dancers like
Scoop and Scrap Luva were doing for Big Daddy Kane. I was a teenager
by then and was able to go out more and learn from folks across the 5
boroughs. I would hop on the train and dance at house parties. Back
then, we would hang out outside of Union Square to see what the older
cats were doing while waiting on line. I was too young to get in.
Around 1988 and 1989, I started sneaking into clubs since I had facial
hair and would battle cats. That was also the time house music became
really big and alot of clubs in NYC didn't want to host hip hop events
since they said it was too violent. So for many of us who wanted to
dance, house music was the place for us to really get down.

I literally stopped dancing at all after my first year in the U.S.
Navy in 1991 when I was stationed on board a ship and just didn't have
room to practice. I picked it up when I got out and landing in
Virginia in 1997.

BC: What was your introduction to Capoeira and when did you got from
fan to participant?

DTO: I first saw Capoeira on the street in 1988 in the East Village. Back
then, we used to walk up and down the Village and dance ciphers would
open up. So we would go down there, buy some gear, check out the
ciphers, get in, and maybe battle. This was pre-Guiliani NYC so folks
used to loiter all the time and gather in large crowds. One time, we
saw this really big crowd and we heard people saying "ohhh" and
"ahhh." Usually during a dance cipher people just watched and didn't
say anything. The crowd was huge and it took us a while to get to see
anything. The cipher was small. Well in this case, the roda (circle),
was small. There were to guys in there just throwing kicks. They were
moving fast. The thing was no one knew what they were doing. I kept
asking and asking. I really wanted to know what they were doing. On
Monday, when I got to school, I continued to ask and someone finally
said "thats Capoeira."

Remember, this is before the internent. We had phone books but I never
found Capoeira in those things. Back in 1988 there was only three
schools. Two in NYC and one in Berkeley, California. The thing about
the ones in NYC is that they were on college campuses. So as a
teenager in NYC, I didn't have access to getting any kind of
information on it. I didn't know about those schools until about 15
years later! That's how scarce Capoeira was back then. So I always
wanted to do it. Then "Only the Strong" came out in 1991. Back then, I
was stationed in San Diego, CA where there was no Capoeira at that
time. When I got out of the Navy, I still couldn't find any Capoeira
in Virginia. It wasn't until 2001 when I was finally able to find a
class locally.

BC: For many years people have debated the connections between Capoeira
and bboy'ing, what is your perspective?

DTO: I get into that in the book of course. I have gone places and done
demonstrations where the host will claim that b-boying came from
Capoeira. This is not true. B-boying and Capoeira while having similar
movements and focus all of their activity within a circle, they are
not from the same branch. This happens in dance and Martial arts all
the time. When the Spanish encountered Filipino Martial Arts, they
assumed that someone must have taught them fencing. They couldn't
believe that these brown people were so good with the sword. I
remember meeting this cats that do celtic dances. They traveled to
South Africa and encountered these boys that did a dance that was
similar to what the Celts did under British occupation. What was crazy
was that when they bought this back to the UK, people were saying that
these South African boys must have learned this dance from the Celts
by watching TV or something. These cats had to keep correcting the
audience and the media about that.

We have to remember that dancing and martial arts develop according to
the people's needs and their environment. Don't get me wrong. Many
b-boys and b-girls later took moves from Capoeira in the late 90s just
like Mestre Bimba took moves from other Martial Arts in Brazil. So
while there are influences and similarities, Capoeira did not birth

I know when people see the roda they will say, this reminds me of a
cipher. That's probably the most striking similarity of them all. We
have to remember that when a fight breaks out at a schoolyard, people
instinctively make a circle. If there is an accident and someone is
hurt, bystanders usually circle the person who needs medical
attention. Now I can't tell you why that is, but the cipher is
something that seems natural to almost everyone. So a cipher or a roda
makes sense but it doesn't mean that one came from the other.

Don't get me wrong, having a background in b-boying has made my
transition into Capoeira very easy. I have learned that the same
muscles are utilized. Then again, b-boying like many Martial arts, you
have to use a large portion of your body to execute several moves. I
know people who move in both circles. It's easy to switch back and
forth. So when I started Capoeira, I was ahead of the learning curve.

BC: Tell me about your new book?

DTO: "Is That Breakdance Fighting: My take on Capoeira" came from several
conversations and debates that I had with several capoeiristas. The
book really focuses on my personal story with Capoeira. When I first
got into Capoeira, there was no Youtube, Facebook, or twitter. We were
still using VHS tapes. There were very few schools throughout the
United States. It was a different time for Capoeira. I am sure many
Martial Artists can say the same. So a good portion of the book
discusses how my ideas about Capoeira changed not just with technology
but with my encounter with different schools and styles.

I also wanted to do three other things with this book. The first is
that there aren't too many books on Capoeira as it is. One would think
that with more schools and more students there would be more books.
With just a little over $250.00, anyone can own all of the books on
Capoeira written or translated into English. I didn't want to write
another history book on Capoeira. The second thing was to change
people's perception of Capoeira. While the title may sound funny,
people do ask this question. Quite a few people who ask this question
don't see Capoeira as a Martial Art. I want readers who aren't
practitioners to see this.

Finally, I want Capoeiristas to really debate their approach to
Capoeira. I want to further that discussion and debate. The book is
specifically written for Capoeiristas. That's why I didn't put a
glossary at the end of the book. While it is an easy read, it's
written for the practitioner. I find that  too many Capoeiristas see
Capoeira as a club. And look, for many of us Martial Arts is about
family. Many of us come up in this and treat our instructors and
fellow students like an extended family. This is wonderful but it
isn't always a party. Like life, things can get ugly and people get
hurt. That's the reality of it. We really need to take Capoeira more
seriously in that respect.

BC: What do you want people to walk away knowing that they did not
enter knowing.

DTO: This may sound silly but I really want people to see Capoeira as a
Martial Art. Part of it is our fault. When we do demonstrations, we do
flips and tricks. People want to see us tricking. They don't want to
see the science of it all. It's like Jiu Jitsu. I notice people want
to see guys getting slammed around. I don't want to see that, I want
to see the science. I want to see locks and people getting out of
locks. I want to see folks work the triangle on their backs. It's
those little details that in my opinion that determine how good that
person is. Unfortunately, people don't pay to see that. They want to
see folks get thrown around, overpowered, and beaten into submission.
In Capoeira, its the same thing, folks just want to see tricks.

So when we do demos and we are doing take downs, people are like, "is
that Capoeira? that looks like judo." They are shocked. They thought
they were coming to see us do tucks. Or I have people come to class
and ask "when are we doing flips?" Or I might have a student who just
wants to focus on that. While there is a place for that stuff,
Capoeira is still a Martial Art. That should be our approach to it.
There is combat Wing Chun and then there is the kind that is done for
demonstrations. I want people to see Capoeira in the same manner.

BC:  What is the bboy scene like out where you are? What do you love
about it the most?

DTO: The b-boy scene in the midwest is amazing. Shout out to Tyquan, the
vice president of MZK, who really linked everyone together and put the
midwest on the map. When I moved here, I saw alot of cornfields and
really slept on the midwest. It's crazy out here. There are so many
battles to go to you really have to pick and choose. You can't make
every one of those things. I truly did not expect that.

What I love is that cats out here know they have to pay dues. They
know that battling comes part and parcel with b-boying. That's
probably why it's my favorite element. You can't just come out and say
"I'm a b-boy" or "I'm a b-girl." The other day, I saw this cat with
this custom made X-Men jacket. I joked and said "yo, son, let me get
that jacket." He responded with "I'll battle you for it." I realized I
could have won a customized X-Men jacket. That's just a small example
of how folks get down. That's a great thing because it forces people
to really learn their stuff. It forces people to go to the lab and try
new things and develop new moves.


Most of all, the babies have an opportunity to come, watch, and learn.
I for one am proud that all of the b-boys and b-girls I know aren't
even old enough to vote. They learn the music and they study it well.
That's amazing. I encourage parents to take their children to b-boy
battles. They will not regret it. I have the honor of knowing folks
who are in their twenties who get down and started because they came
to an event I organized or hosted when they were still in middle
school. That blows my mind.

BC: What is the coolest thing the art of bboy'ing and Capoeira have given you?

DTO: I come from a big family and family is something that has always been
important to me. Being a member of the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN) has
opened many doors for me. B-boying and Capoeira has helped to extend
my family further. I think that is probably the most important thing
of all. Both have given me many fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts,
and sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers. B-boying and Capoeira have
also given me the secret of youth. They both keep me young and fresh.
You know when someone is doing a b-boy workshop, with the exception of
Alien Ness, all those folks are young enough to be my child. I have a
son who is 18 years old. So many of these cats are that young. The
same goes for Capoeira. And they always ask  "what can I teach you?"
Let me say, they teach me so, so much. There are times when I realize
I have been doing something wrong for several years and never knew it!
So as an older cat, I still have much to learn. So at the end of the
day, Capoeira and b-boying keeps me physically and mentally young.

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Chess: A Game of Faith NOT Religion

Chess is not an inherently religious game. But it is indeed a game of faith. Looking at almost any chess board from any period of time there may be religious symbols on the board, or the pieces. Most games today have the king wearing a Christian cross atop of the crown. Pieces from the Muslim world might have no specific outward form. The bishop, knight etc. may just be various heights but not really resemble anything specific. This is due to the Prophet Muhammad's stern warnings against idol worship.

Anyone looking at the games global impact would be hard pressed to ignore the roles that so many religions have had on the game. On the Islamic impact of chess during the Moorish rule of Spain, author David Shenk wrote “The game seemed to speak directly to the new Muslim ideals- and found its way into the progressive rhetoric of the day”. Indeed, the first complete book on chess was written by a Muslim in 840 AD. 

Judaism has a rich history with chess as well. Abraham ibn Ezra was a Spanish poet and medieval Jewish scholar. He wrote a beautiful poem about the game saying “I will sing a song of battle...Yet no swords are drawn in warfare”. Jewish contributions to the game are many. The hypermodern theme of controlling the center comes from Hebrew chess masters. It was written that “Rabbis have incessantly debated the game’s virtue, some objecting that it took too much time away from scholarship but most praising chess and encouraging it among youth as a tool to focus the intellect.”

Christianity brought its own contributions. From the introduction of the queen (replacing the Muslim Vizer/General), to the introduction of the move called the Ruy Lopez (named after the Spanish priest who invented it) chess been a long time fixture of western culture and art. 

Still, chess is a game beyond the dogma of all the religions that have affected its global footprint. Without forcing a specific doctrine onto the mind of the player, one is still forced by the rough and tumble nature of the game to believe in a positive future. Then ones faith is challenged to make that positive vision of the future a reality. I believe that the natural spark of faith that chess inspires influenced almost all religions to embrace the game. But again, chess does this free of dogma.

I often played some of my best games at O’Connell High with a student we will call Che. He is a  tough kid from the hard streets of San Francisco’s Mission District. He has a beautiful smile but rarely displays it. Che talks less than he smiles and dresses in a way that makes him easy to loose in a crowd. Its deliberate. Che won’t let me take his picture. I don’t know if that request it because of his shyness, or he does not want enemies on the street, or police, to have a clean look at him. Most of the people he hung out with a few years ago are in jail, or were expelled from O’Connell. He walks alone a lot, keeping a low profile from students as well as teachers.

Everything you’ll never know about Che’s psychology not found through conversation, are displayed in his play on the board. His style is aggressive and deceptive. He never backs down. Any game with him is pure pressure from start to finish. I actually stopped playing with him for a bit because it was demoralizing. 

But two weeks ago, for reasons I cannot explain, I decided to go head to head with Che. The woodshop teacher asked me to watch his room for a minute. Soon as Che saw me his dark eyes smiled as he spoke “Yo Deez (my nickname is O.G. Deez- a shortening of the Disa in Adisa) lets play man. C’mon man, lets play a game real quick.” The teacher was like “I don’t care, here is my board, I’ll be back.”

I could not duck the challenge in front of so many other kids. “Thats the chess dude, lets see if Che can beat him” one of them said as he pulled up a chair. 

I said “OK, but Che usually kills me, so this should be a short game.”

As soon as I sat down though, for reasons I cannot explain, I had faith that I would win. Without planning anything I just dove in, and did a variation of what they call the fried liver (so-called becoause it a nasty attack). This forced a bunch of holes in Che’s pawn structure that allowed me  to follow it with a punishing queen raid. He was shocked...I was shocked.
But now I had to follow my shock with some awe. I surgically removed his pieces and threatening repeatedly. Che stayed focus, but the initial queen raid did too much damage. He refused to die quietly though. Before the finish he snagged a knight of mine I left hanging in the fog of stress that it took to win. “Good game man, I cannot believe it” Che said as he shook my hand. The bell rang as we shook hands. “I want another game tomorrow” he said as he walked out.

A few days later we played after school. It was about an hour long game. Che was his usual, non-emotional self driving in for the kill. I secured an air tight pawn structure that locked down my control of the center. As I did that I lined up a rook on the A file trying to bash in his fianchettoed pawns and bishop. As I distracted him with the pressure on the A file, I played a risky game of chicken with my king, knight and rook on the E file so I could free up my rook on the G file. Eventually, I ran that rook to the 7th rank. In the middle of his stifled attack on my king with his queen I ran my G file rook behind his pawn and now had two rooks on the A file breathing down the neck of his king with deadly intent. He never saw it coming. Faith had got me through, again! 

After my rooks won the day we laughed a bit. He promised me another game. I reminded him he wins seven games to any two I win so he should not feel too bad about it. Che told me in whispered tones after the game that he stopped smoking weed and he’s taking after school classes to ensure he graduates this year. Thats the most he’s told me about his life in a long time. We walked away from the board that day with a new sense of faith in what we could do on and off the board with our lives. Faith in winning a game with little chance of victory, opened doors of the heart, giving way to new levels of communication.  

In English the word we use is Faith. In Arabic, its Iman. In Hebrew, its Aman. However you say it, in whatever language resonates best with your heart- hold onto it. But don’t be afraid to share some with those in need.

Hip-Hop Chess Feature in Black Enterprise

Every once in a while a really cool thing unfolds and it feels great. When I was a kid, my parents used to have Black Enterprise in our house since I was about 11 or 12. As you can imagine it was a big deal to my parents. So, my dad was pretty pumped when he saw this. The HHCF was recently featured in BE and its pretty cool. Much respect and thanks to BIG CED, my NY connection to all things amazing :

You have to wonder what the person who thought of combining peanut butter and jelly was thinking when they did so. Did they know that many years later, it would be a winning combination that is still enjoyed today?

Maybe journalist/author Adisa Banjoko has the same thought process. Well, of course, not in terms of combining food, but in blending not two, but three passions that intertwine in his world. Each one can be and has been uplifting, not only to him, but to a legion of people who, in some form or fashion, has incorporated it into their every day lives.

Years ago, it may have seemed unlikely that hip hop, martial arts and chess would be a merger, but then again, why not? To some, the principles, logic and technique in each one, typically makes the participant better balanced. The art form and annals of each, has a substantial history that lessons can and are learned from.


Photo by Eric K. Arnold (one of the coldest to ever hold a camera)

Photo by Eric K. Arnold (one of the coldest to ever hold a camera)

Shot of Adisa Banjoko at Harvard

Adisa Banjoko shortly after addressing Harvard University. He stays repping the West. 


My talk on Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts at AOCC event at Harvard was amazing. Shout out to JP and Sam, Rich, Brian and Margo and the Brazilian grilled meat spot that fed us all afterwards! The HHCF will be aggressively delivering our methodologies to a city near you soon. I love Boston.

I had to leave the next morning to shoot some stuff with Mike Relm in Area 51 just outside of LA. Much respect to Henny, Gumby, Rakaa, Rener, Pete and Emile...that sushi was mad real after....Then me, Gumby and his lovely wife shot up the 5 and got back to The Bay.

I woke up (tweaked off that no sleep) and was immediately working on submitting proposals for HHCF and navigating upcoming press events. Tune into the next episode of Bishop Chronicles next week to learn more about what appears to be a perfect storm for those trying to spread peace to the planet. . I will have a very special interview with  Rener Gracie and Rakaa Iriscience about the difference between jiu jitsu and MMA on a practical and philosophical level. I can't wait for you to hear it...there is so much more to it...Be strong and lets talk soon. I'm addicted to Twitter so hit me @hiphopchess in between time...