I’m a mathematician (actuary by trade) and avid problem solver. I also love jiu jitsu. My recent addiction is chess, and in the process of my deep dive into the world of chess over the last several weeks, a theme reemerged from my early jiu jitsu days: the wide divide between theory and action.
When I’m solving problems using my mathematical skills I often have to do a little research and review material that I haven’t used in a long time. Then, I apply it to the problem at hand in order to solve it. Sometimes I can access a long term memory and apply it right away. This process, although highly beneficial, can hinder my growth in things like jiu jitsu and chess.
When I’m rolling with an opponent (what sparring is called in jiu jitsu), there is no time to hit the pause button and research and review a move you’ve learned that could be applied in this given situation. Also in chess, if a move is not in your working memory and able to be accessed and applied to the current situation, then you’re S.O.L.
I was brutally reminded of this deep chasm after spending hours reading books, solving puzzles, and taking some lessons in chess. When I sat down to play several games with individuals all around the world on Chess.com, I got my ass handed to me. For a while, I was distraught. How could all this theory not produce excellence?
As in jiu jitsu, you can’t just know a particular move and drill it several times with a partner. You need to fail at not doing the move when you could have and recognize such failure. Eventually, you’re able to act quickly when the time arises again and begin the move, only to fail at implementing it to perfection. Small details get filled in and micro-adjustments are made until one day, the chasm between the theory and action has been traversed.
Likewise in chess. I learn about skewers and see when I can take advantage of one. Then, I find out my opponent not only has a saving move, but one that will take one of my pieces instead. Or, I fail to see when my opponent can skewer my king to the queen. Oof-dah!
Having the theory down about skewers (and many other such concepts) is very important. However, in such a game as chess, putting that theory into action and making it work elegantly will take a lot of time. Indeed, it is a wide chasm to cross, but very much worth the journey.
Important, too, is understanding the journey through the chasm will be full of failure. We need to get comfortable with that failure as it is necessary.
Featured photo is one I took in March 2018 of the Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos, NM.