My old coach has a chess set in front of the gym. Whoever was working at the reception on that day usually played against and gymmates, sometimes the coach himself. On the weekend, we would have tournaments. It was a big hit for kids.
I was not a fan of chess, not because I couldn't play - I got decent at it - but because chess made me think too hard under stress. I would get this tunnel vision followed by a paralyzing rush to map out all the moves in my head and commit to one, and it had better be the right one. Once, my training partner and I played a game for three hours straight, only to lose to him in a close showdown. Afterwards, he sat up and smiled as if he had just walked out of a refreshing shower, while I felt like a truck had driven through my brain.
I always knew my coach wanted us to play chess to sharpen our mental game, but it took me a while to draw parallels between playing chess and the art of eight limbs. In hindsight, it was quite obvious:
The pawn is my jab; the rook, my cross; the bishop, my teep; the knight and all its versatility are my knees and elbows; the queen, destructive yet vulnerable when unguarded, is my clinch. The board is the ring - perhaps the most articulate metaphor out of all.
At fight camp, we spend a lot of times sharpening our individual tools, but it is not enough to throw the perfect roundhouse kick to the bag. The deeper challenge is piecing tools together in the ring, where we also learn to read the opponent, set up attacks, capture the center, trade strikes, stay calm and hide intentions. Later, we learn which of our tools are more effective, and with that, emerges a fighting style.
At the highest level removed from physical aggression, Muay Thai is a duel between two strategists. A game of physical chess. My coach in his prime had won numerous championships as a technical fighter. When he coached, he broke down every manoeuvre, mapping out the next three moves, gesturing the positions in the ring. Chess was his way of getting us to see all this method in the madness.