If you are a non-chess player, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. People spend hours staring at a board, intermittently moving around small wooden pieces. There’s little talking, little movement, just a lot of staring and thinking … and smoking. For some reason, a lot of chess players smoke their brains out. My grandfather, the man who taught me chess, seemingly could not play without a cigarette between his fingers. It also made him look rather formidable, what with the constant stream of smoke blowing from his nose.
The legendary Mikhail Tal also smoked non-stop.
If you’ve never played chess, everything I’m about to say will seem strange. Nonetheless, I will try to illustrate the magic of chess, of how it ensnares an unfortunately few and refuses to let them go. Many people play chess, often just as a fun pasttime, but a select few become well and truly obsessed. Continue reading →
Is competition a good thing or a bad thing? The head instructor at my dojo asked this question to our students. The answer, of course, is it depends. Competition can be used for both. You can treat competition as a way to get better, as an objective judge of your abilities. It can also be a lot of fun, but that fun may come with a price. Competition can be abused. If you find yourself concerned only with the final result, if victory and defeat become the most important thing, then competition can quickly become a bad thing. In a way, competition is completely neutral. The way we approach it determines whether it is good or bad.
Competition can help you run faster … but it can also kill you.
This was the lesson from Renchi Dan, the head instructor at my karate dojo. He gave this little speech right before our in school shia, a tournament, this weekend. He simply wanted to remind students about why they were there. Many people feel nervous, but we were all there to have fun, right? By and large, that’s exactly what happened. Most people left with a smile, and everyone left with some sort of souvenir. Everyone got at least a ribbon, while the top finishers earned metals and trophies. Yes, some people left in tears, but these were largely good tears. Let me explain. Continue reading →
I lived in Northern Ontario for much of my childhood, and while it is a beautiful place with incredible natural beauty and some of the nicest people you can find anywhere, it wasn’t great for learning chess. Few people learn to play, as in play beyond rank beginner. The closest thing to a chess club was an after-school program held at the local library, meeting once a week. The first day I walked in, I beat the leader of the chess ladder effortlessly and beat one adult instructor/volunteer while losing a close battle to another. By the end of my first year I was acknowledged by far as the best player, winning the chess ladder. At the end of the second year, I rarely lost even to the instructors, and I was promoted to instructor status. This had two purposes: it let me waive the yearly registration fee, and it let someone else a chance to vie for the top of the ladder.