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Hello, boys and girls. Ladies and Germs, this is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim First Show, where it is my job, as always, to deconstruct world class performers, to tease out that habits, routines, influences, favorite books and so on, that you can apply to your own life. My guest today is a friend, Maurice Ashley. Maurice Ashley is an incredibly impressive human being on so many levels and we get to really dig into a number of facets of his life story and lessons learned.
Maurice Ashley is the first African-American international grandmaster in the annals of the game of chess, and he has translated his love to others as a three time national championship coach, published author, ESPN commentator, iPhone app designer, puzzle inventor and motivational speaker in recognition for his immense contribution to the game. Maurice was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2016. His book, Chess for Success, subtitled Using an old game to build new strengths in Children and Teens, shows the many benefits of chess, particularly for at risk youth.
His TED talk, working backward to solve problems, has more than a million views. He's also appeared with me in the Brazilian jujitsu episode, which has some chess of the Tim Ferriss Experiment TV series Way Back in the Day, joined by our mutual friend Josh Waitzkin, Morris is very well known for providing dynamic live tournament coverage of world class chess competitions and matches. His high energy, unapologetic and irreverent commentary combines Brooklyn street smarts, which we talk about quite a bit with a professional ESPN style sports analysis.
He's covered every class of elite event, including the World Chess Championships, the U.S. chess championships, the grand chess tour and the legendary man versus machine matches between Garry Kasparov. Or is it Kasparov? I never get that right. And IBM's Deep Blue traveling the world. As a spokesperson for the many character building effects of chess, Maury's consults with universities, schools, chess clubs, executive and celebrities on how chess principles and strategies can be applied to improve business practices and accelerate personal growth.
You can find him online. Maurice Ashley Dotcom on Twitter at Morris Ashley and on Facebook, Grandmaster Morris A and on Instagram Morris Ashley Chess. Without further ado, please enjoy this wide ranging conversation with none other than Maurice Ashley.
Morris, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me.
I've been looking forward to this and hoping to have you on the show for so many years now, and we've had many different points of connection. But, of course, it began with our mutual friend and also a popular podcast guest, Josh Waitzkin, who is known you for a very long time indeed. And he has a quote, in fact, that is in praise of your book, Choice for Success. And it goes as follows. Quote, Maurice Ashley has been like a brother to me since I was 12 years old.
I know the man. I know the competitor. I know the artist. And I know the teacher. There is a lot of terrain for us to cover, a lot of nooks and crannies to explore. But I thought we would begin with Maurice, the Jamaican. And I was hoping you could describe for us your beginnings. And we could start with the with the genesis.
Well, yes, I was born in Jamaica Island, not the area of Queens, and I grew up there. I was there until I was 12 years old before I came to this country. But probably the most significant thing that happened for me in Jamaica was the fact that my mother left Jamaica to come to the United States when I was two years old. My brother was ten, my sister was seven months old, and she had this opportunity to come to the US, but she couldn't bring all of us at the same time.
She only bring herself and her leaving was really quite an event in our lives. My father wasn't with us, but living with us at the time. So we grew up with our grandmother. And my mother would send down stuff supplies to Jamaica, whether it be food stuffs, flour and rice, she'd send them in a barrel and she said books like notebooks. And she I remember sending like a softball and a glove. And of course, in Jamaica, nobody played softball, baseball, nothing.
So I threw the glove to the side, not knowing what to do with it.
And we used the softball as a soccer ball and it got pretty worn down pretty quickly. It really turned into a softball very quickly after that. But we just being raised by my grandmother. She was a teacher by training. And so she would teach us so much as as young people. So we were really well prepared educationally because of my grandmother. And she was sixty four years old at the time when my mother left. You can imagine a sixty four year old having had seven children of her own, now suddenly taking on the care of her daughter's children at that age when you might be thinking about maybe slowing down and retiring, enjoying herself.
But for the next 10 years, she took care of us. And that was really a hugely significant part of growing up, living there until finally my mother got the resources and the paperwork through to get us green cards and finally bring us to the United States.
When or how does competitive drive enter the picture?
I love doing homework on friends of mine before they come on the show, because I always find these things that I have never known, such as some of the athletic accomplishments of your siblings. Could you describe your siblings a bit and then speak to the competitive aspect?
Well, yes, we are a competitive family. My older brother Devon is a kickboxer boxing trainer now, but he was a three time world champion kickboxer. And my sister, the baby Alysha, was a six time world champion boxer. And so we always joke about who's better and who's got more accolades. And we always try to one up each other and one gets into the Hall of Fame. The others are upset and the other one gets to the Hall of Fame, like my sister's not in the Boxing Hall of Fame yet.
So she's like, Oh, man, how you guys got that on me? So, yeah, we definitely are a very competitive family. Started I think it started very young. I mean, my mother, despite not being a competitor herself, had a tremendous drive. Our family had a drive to succeed, know our circumstances were extremely modest. Jamaica wasn't what people think of it as that. At least the northwest side of Jamaica's Montego Bay and Rios and Negril and party and all that reggae sun splash.
But we lived in Kingston and Kingston. It was people packed on top of each other in not great conditions. And so. We knew we wanted to be something special, but you just wanted to have the resources to be able to do that, and I think it was really fortunate that we finally got that opportunity. My mother's diligence and eventually my father re-entered our lives as well. And he he's a dancer. He's a dance teacher. He was a professional dancer, dance with Martha Graham and was very accomplished at his own dance company as well.
So, you know, the family was just a pretty driven bunch.
Why did it come to pass that you moved to the US at 12?
How did that happen and why did that move happen again?
My mother, she wanted to bring us up, but she couldn't by the rules at the time, just bring her family with her. So she was allowed in the sixties, there was a mass immigration of Caribbean folks. But you had to come by yourself in the main. And then after you had proven yourself on your citizenship papers, etc, you were able to bring your family up. And so a lot of children were called barrel children, which meant that parents would come usually by themselves to the country and then they would send down supplies in a barrel as you'd wait for that barrel to be shipped so you could open it up and get all the goodies from from your parents.
And that barrel was an indicator of how much my mother was working in order to supply the materials for us to be able to survive in Jamaica. And it took her 10 years. And that's what happened. Just took her 10 years. She was in New York the whole time. She was the first she was a banani. Then she got an office job and saved up her money and got herself ready because her three children were going to be with her and she wanted to be able to afford that and take care of us.
And so in nineteen seventy eight, we finally were able to come up and it was just like her dream basically come true, a dream come true for us as well, because we have been living without our mother for ten years. And you can imagine when that finally came to pass and just it was just like a fairy tale.
Was it also strange to be reunited after all that time? Absolutely. Was it? No, absolutely bizarre. I mean, my first our grandmother was really our mother, especially for me and my sister. Right, because we were. So young, I was two, my sister was less than a year old, and so we we didn't have intimate knowledge of this woman. She would visit us when she could every year if she could. But sometimes it took longer and we would write her letters.
It's funny. She showed us the letter. She saved the letters we wrote her from over 40 years ago. And I didn't know she had them until last summer. And she took out this pile of letters and these are the letters actually my daughter who went down to interview her. My daughter's a budding filmmaker to interview where my daughter said, Do you know that grandma has letters that you wrote her from 40 years ago? What are you talking about?
So, yeah, she's been saving them all the time. So when I finally go down to visit her again, I see these extraordinary letters that we wrote to her that kept that connection. And imagine that email. This is letters, handwritten letters being sent and waiting and expectation for letters to come back for our mother to tell us about our life was where she was and and for her to hear from us. And I was a pretty poetic kid.
I told her I wrote to her how much I loved her and how I missed her and all that. It was quite an extraordinary thing to do to be able to go back and see myself as a six year old, seven year old, eight year old, as my thoughts evolved and my intellect grew as I wrote her letters. So it was. It really was an extraordinary thing, very strange to finally meet this mythical figure who sacrificed so much for us to have a better life.
Where did you land in the US and how did chess enter the picture? We ended up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Brownsville is the same neighborhood that Mike Tyson grew up in. And I have to make the joke that Brownsville was so rough that Mike had to get out of Brown and it was that tough.
I mean, my mother was able to get us this apartment that she could afford, which was a two bedroom apartment. There were four of us. So my brother, sister and I were in the one room, one bedroom, one bed, and the roll that actually. And my mother had the other bedroom. And my brother at the time was 20 years old. So you can imagine a 20 year old having to sleep in the same room as his younger brother and sister.
But, you know, he got his life together pretty quickly, went to school and got work and then moved out. But that's what she could afford. And it was just, you know, what it was. And the Brownsville in the late 70s, early 80s was what you can imagine what Brooklyn was not not today's Brooklyn. You know, you've got Starbucks and lattes and and Park Slope moms. That's forget it. This was this was B.K..
This was hardcore. This was drug dealers shooting every single night, not necessarily at anyone, but just to remind the neighborhood who was in charge. There were. Prostitutes on the corners of you had car thieves, I mean, it was it was a hot mess. It was Brooklyn urban blight is at its worst. New York has changed a lot since there's Brooklyn especially. It's changed a lot since then. But then back then, it was really tough.
And to answer the second part of your question, sorry, and just came into my life when I went to Brooklyn Technical High School and I knew the rules of chess, actually, I knew the rules of chess from Jamaica because we played a lot of games in Jamaica. We didn't have television. TV came on at six o'clock at night and the first thing that came on was the news and it was two channels. So you didn't want to watch that.
As a kid, you learn to play games. And I had a very passionate love of games and it was a lot of board games, whether it was checkers, which we call it drops, whether it was card games. And chess was one of those games that my brother and his friends got hooked into. And I kind of played around with it for a bit. And my brother said I used to be in the back yard just moving the pieces around by myself.
I don't recall doing that. But later I came and I came to the US in high school. I saw a friend playing and that's when I got involved. I started playing this guy I thought I could beat and it just crushed me and I could understand and get competitive side. It's like what's going on? And it just so happened I was in the library that I saw a book on chess and that's where the love affair began.
What was it about the book? If my research is serving me right, this is a book, I believe, by Paul Morphia from getting the name correct. Maybe, maybe not.
But what was it about the book on chess in your experience that gripped you so much? It wasn't by Paul Morphy, it included Paul Morphy is one of the greatest chess players of all time. And I don't know if it was solely the book or the fact that I wanted to kick my friend's ass. I think that's the case. Like, wait a minute, there's a book. I'm going to take this out. His name was Clotaire Kolas. His family is from Haiti.
Now, the immigrant family and everybody called him Chico and Chico had mauled me and like this. And then there was a book. Wait a minute, I'm taking out this book. I'm going to study the book. And then I got something for Chico and I read it. I was fascinated. Wow. The strategies you're supposed to do certain specific openings and these ideas, I didn't know any of it existed. And then I saw when I was done, I went back to play him and the first game I played him crushed me again.
And it turns out that he had read that book and many other books and he had game. And I was stupid thinking that I was going to get him, but then that really stoke the fire. And from then on, we played chess every single day at school, like every single day. It was basically school homework, chess, and that was my life in high school.
So never underestimate the the hellfire fueled redemption from an ass kicking, I think would be one moral to take away from that. And the next chapters that followed have done a little bit of reading.
And I suppose we could start with the Black Bear School of Chess. What is the Blackburn School of Chess?
That is indeed the next chapter? The group itself, BlackBerry School, was a group of largely African-American males, one Latino brother in there as well. They were a group who played chess together, either in the parks or at each other's homes. They took chess deathly seriously. They studied books, they studied encyclopedias, they studied chess material, magazines in other languages, even if they didn't speak them, they would get out of a dictionary. From a magazine, I remember, you have a German magazine or a Russian magazine mountney bulletin, and they would take a dictionary and go over each word, translating word by word to find out what was in the material, which you think about.
I mean, there's no Google Translate, right? You're lucky you don't speak the language. You're literally trying to figure out a word by word what the explanation is. Of course, the piece names were different, but they were consistent. So, for example, in Russian, a bishop is a slogan and it would look like a capital letter S. So whenever you saw that, you knew that was the name of the piece that was moving. And then, you know what Square was moving to.
So at least the games, they could go over very easily. But the explanations, they have to look up and do it very slowly. So you can imagine the seriousness they took Chesworth and I got to meet them. When a friend of mine who I was beating told me that he knew a group that could beat me and I was a big trash talk, so when he said that, I was like, please bring it. And he told me about the Black Bear school.
And he took me to one of their homes, the home of Willie Johnson, who remains a mentor to me today. Everybody calls him Poppa. He's just like he was like a father figure to me. And I went and I played Willie that first game, and he was just so friendly and amicable and he thought, he's going to teach me a lesson. Then it turns out that I was good enough to hang with him. And that's that was my indoctrination into this group that just was so amazingly competitive.
You cannot imagine. I mean, we were already competitive and these guys were out to kill each other every single day. Every single time they play, they play on the weekends. They would stay at Willie's house from Friday night until Sunday and just be playing chess. And generally speaking, we're talking about blitz chess now, the slower classical version where you stop and think for a while. But the fast version were just like dynamic and the clock, as you know.
So it was just fun to be in that kind of group. And they didn't teach me anything. When I was the youngest one, I was a big trash talker. They were very upset when I talked so much trash that you got to respect your elders. They were generally about seven to 15 years older than me. But they knew I had competitive fire, and so their way of teaching me was to beat me down, send me home and make me go study, and that was training by fire.
Just to define some terms, you mentioned classical chess and blitz chess. The way I've heard you describe the difference. I want you to fact check this and correct me if I get anything wrong, but in classical chess, you might have a four hour session, say, back in the day for hour session, a break.
You sort of recuse yourselves, study the position, come back the next day, play another four hours. You can take your time with blitz chess. How much time does each side have? Well, I guess it varies.
But the way that you guys played five minutes per side for the whole game, it's a two faced clock. So each side has their own time. Whenever I make a move, I press the clock and the other person's time starts ticking, my time freezes and we play the game that way. If you run out of time, you lose. So you can imagine five minutes total per game that you have even faster than the blitz bullet, which is one minute side, which which is really like Edward Scissorhands speed.
This is a movie, but five minutes was still plenty fast, but enough time for you to study the position somewhat, get a good feel and go a lot more instinct, a lot more tactical tricks and traps. Some definitely room for strategic play. But classical chess back in the day, as you describe it, you would adjourn games after the first time period when computers came along. You couldn't have drawn games anymore because people would just go to the computer and ask for help.
So that killed adjournments. And now games could last between three and a half to six hours. There's no set time because you keep getting time added depending on the number of moves you play. And it varies. But like I said, between three and a half to six hours, that gives you ample time to study, to be accurate, to analyze all the moves, to play strategic niceties, nuances. But that's not what we grew up with in Brooklyn.
It was it was all body blows just hit home again. Hit him again. I mean, and guys had tactics. When I say tactics, I mean moves that were like pyrotechnics, you know, you think, where did that come from? You thought you had the position under control and then somebody would drop a move and it would just explode on the board. It's like, what? That's playable. So you just had to be absolutely fierce and focused and maintain that discipline all the way through because these guys were true ninjas on the board.
Let's talk about focus and maybe a like a caltrop under the foot of focus smack talking.
It's a trash talking is an art form. And there are different schools in this this art different approaches. Could you describe some of the the different schools of trash talking or different approaches to trash talking? Because this is something I had very little exposure to. But I'll give people a preview. We'll probably talk about this a little bit later. But you and I spent some time together for the Temporaries Experiment, this TV series. It was done a handful of years ago.
And we got this one clip of you playing this this trash talking player in a park in New York City that went completely viral has close to seven million views. Now, it's just amazing.
And you you do see how it's used to knock people off balance. So could you speak to just trash talking in general any way you want to tackle it?
I think the most critical thing about trash talk is that it actually is very much an individual thing. Right? It's more who you are than what you're trying to do. So each person approaches it their own way based on their personality. And if you're low key, you're trash talking is going to be understated. You're not going to be loud and braggadocios like all in the guy's face, because that's not who you are. So you would throw your own self off if you did that.
You insult the person or get inside their head the way you would as yourself. And so you have the people who will just be real low key sarcasm, right? It won't even necessarily be fancy. You know, they might say something like. Really, that's what you're going to play with, nothing. Nothing big, nothing fancy, but it'll be in your brain somewhere in the plant that were right. And then I'll start over and over somebody like Ralfe Mouth who would always say, no matter what the situation.
That's what she said. Just every single time, that's what she said, you know, I'm whipping your ass. That's what she said. Whatever whatever it was, that was always his line. Then you guys, it would quote Shakespeare, like Vinny Livermore was played by Laurence Fishburne and Josh Waitzkin, the movie about Josh Waitzkin Searching for Bobby Fischer. And Vinnie could be quoting Shakespeare the whole time is like now, you know, you've got to know Shakespeare to quote Shakespeare and this guy knew Shakespeare.
So that was another way or be people who stayed very, very let's call it sexual in the conversation like graphic. And now that really would throw you off because chess pieces would morph into sort of like sex toys in the description. Like what? Like how did that come in your head do? Like, could you please just play chess? But that's where the conversation would go and and and anything they were doing, like the rookies penetrating into the rear, you know.
Like what of your position really. OK, I'm going to go with that. So everything and anything could come at you depending on who it was that you were talking to. And also, of course, you also have colorful language and you couldn't avoid that either. So, yeah, trash talking, really. I would say it's not so much a generic art form with various schools and so much more so the person expressing themselves at the board in a way that allows for them to feel like they're in flow and potentially disturbs your equanimity.
And if that happens and then you're done, I saw people who are better chess players just lose their cool at the board because the other guy just kept talking. And the worst thing to do to attract soccer is to stop talking like you're not you're not, like, really, OK, I'm going to stop talking. I'll stop talking because I want to respect you. So I'm going to stop talking right now. I mean, really, you're a better player, so let me stop saying anything and disrespecting you by talking.
That's what's going to happen. Is this going to be unending stream and you're never going to get past it. So the best thing to do is to keep cool. And so for me, that was real, really good training in not being distracted, no matter what was happening around.
Did any of those players in the Blackburn school, Chess Blackburn School go on to play elsewhere? And where did you go in terms of evolution from that point? Absolutely.
These players ended up becoming master players like legit chess masters, not as far as grandmasters and international masters, which is the highest levels of chess grandmaster being the highest score you could have.
But these were strong players. Now, the problem for the BLACKBRIAR School, my opinion as I was coming up was I recognized that it was a bit too much in-fighting. Players wanted to beat each other. So you had the best players like William Morrison, who we called the exterminator, or George Golden the Firebreather. And then you had guys like Ronald Simpson, as I mentioned, Willie Johnson, Ernest Cuckolding, Mark Mears. Chris, welcome. These guys were serious high level talents, but their best wish was to destroy each other that day.
And for me, coming up, as a as a young players in my teens, I didn't see the value in just beating them because the people I was reading about in the books were grandmasters, famous players. And I wanted to be like the people in the books. I want to play at that level. And the only way you could do that was if I left the group or didn't stay just inside the group and played in the clubs in New York, and I was very fortunate because New York is a hotbed of chess activity and some of the strongest players in the country were living in New York.
So I sort of go into the Manhattan Chess Club, the Marshall Chess Club, and those are the two venerable clubs and playing against the grandmasters there. And that took my game to another level. And it eventually allowed me, in fact, to come back to the black areas and become the president, as we called it. I started dominating those guys because I wasn't just about playing inside this one.
Did you decide to go to the clubs? Did someone else suggest it? I did. I did. Once I found out that clubs were there, I wanted to find out who played there, where can you find the best players? So I went to a friend of mine, Sam Singh and I. We hung out in a beat up car, but it was good enough. We would drive to the city regularly and play tournament chess and play against all the Masters and international masters and grand masters of the club.
And that's that really took our game to another level.
What is the atmosphere in the a venerable chess club? What does that look like? What does it feel like, as you would expect?
It was not Brooklyn, I can tell you that. Not Brownsville. It was different. It was definitely different. You had people who were coming out of work, businessmen in suits. They didn't quite know what to do with a young black kid from Brooklyn. And so it was it was definitely a different vibe to what I was normally experiencing. But chess is chess. And once you see good moves, you understand you're playing against a player. So I wanted to be that player whenever I played against those guys.
And, you know, that's what it was like. So it was it was definitely a much more formal affair. But it was as long as it was about chess, then I didn't care.
I want you to correct me if I'm getting this wrong, but I read about a moment when things seem to have crystallized for you in a way. And that was watching Tiger Woods in nineteen ninety seven. Was that an important moment for you?
Absolutely. Absolutely. You're fast forwarding big time. There's no way out of my teens. I'm now at that time. I'm thirty one years old, so we're jumping fast. I had gone through many experiences before then, but I had my quest to become a grandmaster was seemingly stymied because by then I had a daughter. I had to work for a living. I was teaching chess actually primarily, but I was also doing just commentary and the like. And so I was fully involved in and sort of fatherhood and and making money.
And my dream was to become a grandmaster. So by the time we get to the tiger in nineteen seventy, it was at the Masters. And he dominated that message, remember, that was his coming out party and that really struck a chord for me because when I watched him be a dominant player in a sport that largely didn't look like him and I was in the same boat in my sport, chess is a sport. Yes. And I felt like one day I wanted to do that.
I've been dreaming about that for so long and I had never done it. So when I saw Tiger do that, I went into a bit of a depression. At first I was like, what the heck? You know, I'm distracted by all of these things that I'm doing and I'm not focusing on my game, my craft, my passion to finally do what I always wanted to do. And that eventually turned into inspiration, search the quest to finally do it.
And I was very fortunate because at the time I was working in an organization from Educational Activities Fund that was sponsored by the name of Dan Rose, who was a philanthropist who actually who gave to this fund to help young kids in Harlem. And I was teaching in his chess programs and would produce national champions in the like. He heard about my dream and he said, listen, I'll support you on this quest as long as you come back to Harlem after you're done and give back to which I was very happy for that deal and I was able to stop everything I was doing and just focus on chess.
And about 19 months later, I got my final norm that maybe bremner's.
So I want to dig into a bunch of aspects of this because this seems like it could be fertile ground for exploring quite a bit. When did the Depression get transmuted into inspiration? How long did that take? What did it look like?
Because a lot of people and I've certainly had these periods where I go into a low and I might recover to baseline, but it doesn't get translated into this new source of momentum, which seems to have happened to you. So how did that happen and how long did it take?
You know, in this specific case, it took as long as it took for me to find out that I would have a sponsor who would make it financially feasible for me to pursue what I wanted to pursue. All right.
So this is a bit different from what you're describing, where you kind of telling as many people as you could, and that's how it wound its way back to this philanthropist, because that was I mean, it was sort of manifested not in the secret sense, but he somehow heard about this dream. So I just love to hear you describe how that came together sort of accidentally and directly or otherwise.
Yeah, it was sort of, incidentally, the woman in charge of this foundation. Her name is Courtney Welch. She was a friend of mine as well. So she knew what she was the one who hired me to teach these kids chess. And I don't know how long after this happened with Tiger. And I've been marinating in my spirit. And, you know, I was like a caged tiger, if you will. And I was talking to to Courtney about it.
And of course, she was the head of the foundation that did support it, so she knew him well. So when I was talking to her, I said, you know, I can't believe what would happen if this thing has really been bothering me. And I feel like I'm not doing everything I'm supposed to be doing. I really had gone to the top of coaching. Like I said, my kids had won national championships. My students I was doing commentary, traveling the world, doing commentary.
I I'd done a CD rom by then and it felt like I was doing everything on just peripheral to what I really wanted to do. And I was basically letting her know that this is where my spirit was. And she was the one who said, well, why don't you just ask them? And that had been the hurt to me, even though he was just basically one degree of separation away. I don't know, OK, I guess. And so I just did and very quickly said, I love this.
You know, you've done so much for the kids and for our organization. I'd be happy to support you. And I feel like that's an important thing to feel like when you have a dream, you're not on an island. Right. You're not isolated. There are people around who will sense your sincerity. We'll sense your drive. We'll sense your determination. And sometimes it just comes together. And I feel very fortunate that this will happen for me.
But I feel like this happened to me at various points in my life, that a window opens because I'm manifesting out there that this is what I want. It may not have been a specific person to to help sponsor me and sponsor my quest, but just somehow that just opens. And I always have faith that something's going to happen. You just have to keep at it, keep that window, that window open, that spirit open for possibility to come to you and just so lose that passion, that drive, because it's not happening right away.
How does someone and this is as much for me as for people listening become raided in chess, becoming a master or a grand master or anything in between?
Is it a function of racking up competition points? What is the process for progressing upward through the ranks in chess?
You've got to beat people so well, just as a ranking system, what we call a rating system that was invented by a Hungarian mathematician, Arpad ELO, and he came up with a way of weighting results to compare players against other players. And once you start that and somebody has a number and then you play against that person, you get a certain number of points for beating a person or for drawing that person, or you lose points for losing to that person.
And then you find out where you are on the totem pole. And that is now you spread that out to millions of people and chess players all around the world. Get these ratings. Now we have class players, so class ABQ on down. Then you're finally becoming a title player, because when you become an expert or a master, an international master, international brand master, and you're moving up the rating scale, but again, you have to do it by beating people at that next level for you to bring yourself or dominating your level, which means you don't belong in that level anymore.
So you just start accumulating a massive amount of points. It's very similar to tennis uses, pretty much the same thing to get the title. Officially, however, titles like International Master or Grandmaster. You have to perform at a certain level rating level against other internationally ranked players and those numbers, it's again a formula depending on who you're playing against, very specific numbers. But men, they put that level so high that people spend years and years of their lives trying to attain the norms, as we call them, that you need to do it three times.
So imagine taking the bar in law and somebody says you're going to have to take a bath three times. You're going to pass it three times, except the bar at least you can study for. And the you know, there's content on there that you have to learn in chess. You have to deal with the fact that whatever, you know, there's somebody sitting across the board trying to destroy you and prove you wrong. And that's a very different kind of ladder to have to climb.
So no grand master wants to be the one that somebody else stepped over to become a grand master themselves. So it's it's cutthroat. It's trial by fire. It's amazing. It's like the top black belt in karate, right? You're Bruce Lee's. Imagine having to fight Bruce Lee if you want to call yourself a professional fighter. I mean, that's that's the kind of stuff you have to do in chess. And so it's it's quite a journey.
So let's talk about the dusting off the gloves. When you are teaching your commentating, you're doing very well in these various fields. You've created instructional materials. Then you decide to get back, get back in the ring to try to actualize this this dream. What does it look like to get back into training shape, so to speak? What do you do?
So first things first. All the chess books get pulled out. You've got to have material stuff to learn at the time. One great development we're talking nineteen ninety seven was computer databases on chess. So we're talking about collections of games of famous players, or even not so famous players that were that were archived and in such a way that you could research individual players. So that meant that if I had to play Tim Ferriss, if he's played in a tournament somewhere, that game gets archived.
I look up your games and I said, Oh, so you like the Sicilian defense, let me make sure I prepare, because that's what you're going to play against me when I play you in a couple of weeks time.
It's like watching tape on a boxer or any sports gear we're able to record all the games is one of the great things about chess is we have games from hundreds of years of games from centuries ago. Right. Easily games from the fifteen hundred Italian players talents. We look chess. We have games purportedly Napoleon played. Now there's some doubt whether it was him, but nevertheless, all the top chess players of the past and certainly those of the present, we have their game.
So that is important because you're talking about initially hundreds of thousands of games. Now the databases are seven million to eight million strong, meaning a number of games. So what? So I could research the best players if I'm going to play world champion. I researched both Magnus Karlsson's then comes up and I see all his games. But not only that, I'm able to very easily check which which are his favorite lines. Well, that guy plays everything.
But, you know, where does where is an inclination. What where does he win? Does he lose? What kind of things happen to cause him to lose games. What kind of situation. By trying to avoid. So that's when you have to really dig deep into the psychology of the player through the information you're getting from their games. That was a huge part of our preparation. You can't do that half heartedly. You've got to be ready.
You got you have your nights digging. That's notetaking. That's research at the highest level. And you've got to study your openings. So like I said, if you combine openings, book study, database openings, and then on top of that, you need to have a trainer. You need to have somebody who has had great experience in chess, who may be retired now and has been through all the wars, but now is an advisor role. And you pay him that money or pay her that money because they're going to say to you, you know what, this situation right here, you should be doing this this thing right here.
Now, that's not you. You should try studying that, try this this line and then you call them up. You got a big game. Hey, what should I do in this game? I'm playing so-and-so and they help you and you do the research. So it's all that support system at the top. Players have more than one person on their team. They have a team, real team. So you just get that together so that you can be prepared like like a fine fine-tuned assassin ready to play.
Just a quick thanks to one of our sponsors, and we'll be right back to the show. This podcast episode is brought to you by Helix Sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to me. I study it. I research it. It is my end all, be all. It determines so much else. And I've been sleeping on a Helix Midnight Lux mattress for the last few years. I also have one in my guest bedroom and feedback from friends has always been fantastic.
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What does it look like to build mental? And physical stamina for the game of chess, I mean, you said earlier, and it is a sport and referring to chess I can't even conceive of.
Trying to concentrate on a single game for. Six hours, it's hard for me to conceive of, and I consider myself pretty good at focusing, but when I lived in I lived in Japan as an exchange student, as by my first real exposure to NHS, it wasn't Western chess, but it was Shoghi, which is Japanese chess, and then go, which is the whole separate animal.
And I was toast after 30 to 60 minutes. Complete toast, worthless. So how do you build mental and physical stamina for high level chess?
Well, physical is easy. You just get on the treadmill, you go swimming, you run, you bike, you do whatever it is that you have a good time doing. Preferably you have a good time doing, but you make sure you get that cardio burn because you're going to need reserves of energy when you're playing for that long. So exercise is a muscle and you look at all the top players now. Nobody's overweight, nobody's ever impact. You're burning so many calories when you're playing from the intensity of it.
I know they just did a study, which I think is completely insane of the numbers that they came up with, something like six thousand calories burned during a chess game, which I find that I like to be. No, I nowhere like doing a lot, but that seems like over time. But that's essential. First of all, in terms of the mental side, I think a big part of mastery in that way has to do with the fact that you start experiencing it as a youngster.
So you train over the years and years and years. You learn by doing. When a kid first starts playing chess, kids are not stopping to think, think, first of all, that comes to mind. Boom. That's what I'm going to play. But so that works for a while. And then you do that against a good player and then you lose, you make a mistake and boom, you lose again. And then it's the kid that stops and says, OK, I need to stop and look now, because that is actually threatening something with their moves.
And I need to respect that. And so they stop this are slowing down. And the more you do that, the more you start training yourself to be more thoughtful and respectful of your opponent. And that's the that's the building of the discipline of the mind that happens very early on, which is why we teach the kids, because that process happens automatically. And I'm sure, as you said, you were told that the thirty five, 60 Minutes.
But if you loved it enough or if you couldn't tolerate that ass kicking enough, you'd be back and back and back. You would just keep doing it and doing it and doing it. And soon you would get that stamina so that you could go an hour and a half, two hours to an hour and beyond. The other thing that some people use is meditation, a way of quieting the mind and the spirit so that you can really focus and not get ahead of yourself when you're playing.
That's a huge part of it is well, that kind of mental training and anything you do, I do like martial arts for some years as well. And that was extremely, extremely helpful in censoring me and getting me to to recognize the openings that were possible in my opponent's position that I would be there because they were overly aggressive. So we use every trick in the book.
I was going to ask you about Iquito chess because I found a mention of Iquito chess. Could you elaborate on how you tie those two together?
One of the greatest books I've ever read is called Like In The Dynamic Sphere. It's by or Roddey and I want to say Westing, but I think I got that wrong with this anyway. Tokito on the dynamics. You and I remember when I first stumbled on this book and the book is the book is about Iquito, but as I was reading it I felt like I was reading about chess. And I was really struck by that, how they were so intimately connected in the idea of your opponent, the focus you have on the opponent, on the attack, on defense, on sintering, this is very important to control the center of the board.
So the primacy of centralization, the dynamics of the struggle. And when I saw that, I said I got to study. I got to actually go on the mat and not just do this from a theoretical standpoint. And I went fortunately, there was one in my neighborhood. I went to the dojo and it was really life changing, took my game to a totally different level, learned to recognize. Primarily, Iquito is defensive, so. Akito recognizes the flaws in tax, and I would say I'm from Brooklyn.
We had a school of choice that said, you attack. That's how you go. My friend Ronnie Simps used to say ever forward, never backward. So he's not backing off when he's coming after you. You're supposed to die. But you did that against the best players and somehow they would sidestep your attacks and bring their pieces inside the gaps that you left behind. And that's exactly what Iquito and many of the soft martial arts are about, is finding the gaps and letting you get as much of your attack as you want off.
But just getting off center enough that you miss or you barely hit. But then the return coming at you is going to come with tremendous force. And when I was able to physicalize that, like, get it into my body and then internalize it. And then transfer that into mental mapping onto the chessboard. My game went to a completely different level and that really is what took me to becoming a grandmaster as far as I'm concerned, because being able to do that meant that you had to stand in the middle of the energy, the tornado coming at you and just find that at some point and say, I'm fine, everything is OK.
This attack is not going to work. It was a whole different way of thinking that I hadn't studied before, and because of it, I was able to change the way I played and improve as a player.
What was it like when you became a grandmaster? Can you can you tell us about that experience?
Was it all you hoped it would be? Were you shocked? Was it anticlimactic? What was that experience like? It was depressing and depressing. It was depressing. Extraordinary at first. At first, there was the whirlwind of becoming a grandmaster. I got a lot of press around being the first African-American grandmaster in history and all that. But when you're on a life quest, right, this is something that you always dreamt about doing, every day you wake up and you're North Star, is this goal right?
This is what you want out of life. Like, I want to become a grandmaster. I don't care about anything else. I have a dream. I would wake up thinking, please don't die today, Maries. I don't want to die. I do. I'm a grandmaster. And that fueled my passion. I mean, I'm serious about that, by the way. That's all I wanted. That's all I wanted. So when I got there, there was a feeling of elation, joy, satisfaction, relief, like it had finally happened.
I had many false starts. I came this close so many times, only to lose the last game that I needed to win. But I mean, it's such a hard climb up the mountain, and once you get to the top of the mountain, you look around, you get your chance to look. And now what it's like you got a nice view, that's great. How long can you stay on the mountain? You just you know, that's not that's the human mind doesn't work that way.
It's not like you just got to know our customers do.
Right. So you need you need another mountain. And that next six months, I couldn't find another mountain. I was just like, oh, I don't have to think about this again. There's nothing almost for me to do. That was my thinking. It took me a while to to stop and say, you know what? You can just become a better player. Maybe focus on the world championship title. I was already thirty three years old, late to the game as it was starting just at 14, that's already geriatric as far as chess is concerned.
So. The odds weren't high that I was going to become a world champion. Let's put it that way. Odds are slim to none. But you need a goal. You need something that even if it's unreachable, it drives you. And so when I reset, that goal allowed me to now say, let's become better, let's get better again. And I found my love for the game beyond the competitive drive and the goal setting that I had, in many ways that was more beautiful than the goal itself, because it was a rekindling of why I played the game in the first place.
And one of the great truths that I learned and becoming a grandmaster is that I was a beginner again. And that beginner's mind has never left me. I'm still fascinated by the game we're talking about 20 years later, I'm still fascinated by the little things about the game that just continue to amaze me that it's possible on the chess board and that evergreen freshness that chess has is what draws us in. And it's made me happy all these decades. Let's talk about beauty and captivation, because I'd like to take that lens and apply it to coaching and teaching.
You've had some very successful students, very successful teams. How do you hook kids on chess? How do you make it captivating? How do you help them see the beauty? What have you learned in all of your teaching? And what and also what what were some of the names of the teams, the Raging Rook's?
I was a great team. I was my best team. In fact, the Middle School Championship in 1991. Straight out of Harlem, my teams are where both teams were out of Harlem and we didn't have any stars on our team. We didn't have big time players, masters in the life. We just had kids who love the game and had passion and heart and would listen to whatever I told them to do. The Dark Knights were another team that we had and same deal.
And for me, it really wasn't about creating stars. Or even winning a national championship against the idea of setting a goal is important because it allows you to focus. But you asked me what I learned, two things I learned from coaching. Number one, I was very lucky that when I was coaching with chess. Because the activity was the real drive just is just a great game, just as a great game. It's been around for fifteen hundred years because it's a great game.
It doesn't get old. We're living in a video game age, and yet chess is thriving online just with covid shutting everything down. Just tournaments are bigger than ever. Chess participation is bigger than ever. People are following chess players now like never before. Ikara Nakamura went from he's a top player, went from like ten thousand followers on Twitch to almost half a million. I mean, holy cow. I mean, that's like it's in the last handful of months.
Exactly why it's been incredible, because people are inside and they want something fun to do it. So not just fun but meaningful, something they think kids are going to have not just a good time, but not waste their time. They're going to learn from it. And so chess has just exploded online. It's incredible. So the game holds an eternal fascination for the human mind. And it really is a part of world culture played in all our countries everywhere.
The International Chess Federation has over two hundred countries membership and it's just really ubiquitous. And so for me, it's easy when I put chess in front of kids because they're going to be fascinated. You've got the chess pieces, king and queen, books and knives and pawns. They got these shapes, you've got the board and kids just want to touch and feel and move. And what is what are these pieces do? So the love of the thing itself is critical, the love of the thing itself.
And as a teacher, what's critical is the love and passion of the teacher. Because if you're just teaching people, if you're just there to make a buck, if you feel obligated to do it, people pick that up right away. Kids pick that up even quicker. It's when they see how much you're on fire about what you do when you're fresh to it, that other people will say, hey, I want a piece of this. I'm listening to this guy.
I want to learn. You know, I had so much fun coaching chess to my students. For me, it was sports. I'd be I'd be bringing in basketball. I would bring any martial arts. I'd be bringing in trash talking. Now, you saw a good move. And I'd be like, that was juice. I was juice. And then they start quoting me, Oh, that was a juice move right there. You know, the teacher brings that energy.
The teacher brings the passion. And I think when when that happens, it's easy to take people to the next level because they could feel you they can feel that you love what you do and you really want to impart this to them. And for me, that makes that made and makes talking about just really a simple affair, because I've got one of the greatest pieces of world culture that is perennially fascinating. And then I got the fact that I'm in love with it.
So you combine that and people want to hear it one way.
What would your advice be to someone like me or anyone listening who is hearing your descriptions, your life story, and wants to give chess a shot in the sense that they really want to actually dedicate some time to become a competent, not necessarily a hyper competitive chess player, but a competent chess player.
What would you suggest they do easy these days?
Everything's online, everything's online. You got great websites. You have chess dotcom, which has resources up the wazoo, very inexpensive to get, whether it's puzzles, whether it's videos, instructional videos, whether it's being able to watch tournaments, whether it's playing anyone from all around the world are millions of people online all the time. You can just challenge them to a game any time you want is a quick game. You can play five minute blitz. You have like ten minutes.
Just tailor it to how much time you have. That's one website. Leech's Dog is another great website. How do you spell that Ellyse Elli chess dog. I mean, I mean those sites have really done it right in such a way as to, as to give you everything you could possibly want so you can learn chess better as those chess. Twenty four dot com just to the numbers to and for dotcom you got professional folks, you get the world champion on there a lot.
You can watch the top level play with top level commentary once you get to that level of interest. I mean, it's amazing how chess has teleport itself online in this way. I seamlessly, seamlessly, if I. These kind of resources, when I was in Brownsville, all my friends out, I might have started to play.
Are there any you mentioned puzzles. Are those situational exercises where you are effectively in a preset situation on a board and have to in X number of moves, do Y, something like that? Is that what you mean by puzzles?
Yeah, but you made it sound so boring. No.
Well, I, you know, I it's I don't mean to make it sound boring. I mean when I, when I was in Japan, this is what a long time ago I was 15. But there's there's something called Shoghi, which is I'm trying to figure out if it's the same thing, which is a book of these exercises. All right. Here's a situation. What do you do? And I got it completely addictive. I found it fascinating.
It is. And it's the best thing about about chess is when you get to look to see how you would win the game. If we watch LeBron James go up for Shil. Right. And he does like a three sixty, what's it between his legs switched his left hand and dunk it right flush. All you can do is go, wow. But you're not doing that. Right? But yes, we have the opportunity to take a position where one of the greatest players of all time may have been a behind either the white or the black pieces.
And this says, OK, you get to be Garry Kasparov or Magnus Carlsen or Paul Morphy or Alexander Alekhina. You get to be that person right now. What's the brilliant move to win? Or series of moves, and you sit there and you figure and when you sit there for a while and you can't really figure it out, and finally you do this calculation that you try this, you try that and then you realize what it is. And usually it's a work of art and you're able to copy that yourself.
But you feel like a genius after that. What a great feeling. I could play like him, right? But yeah, not really. You got to get that positioned yourself. That's the hard part. But it's so much fun. It's so much fun to be able to get inside the minds of the great geniuses.
Do you have any favorite, favorite books related to chess? If somebody wanted to, in addition to the websites and electronic tools to have something to take with them on a trip or on a weekend when they want to kind of in an analog way dig into chess, any resources come to mind?
I mean, there's so many great books out there. My friend Ramsey Eskisehir on did a great series called the winning chess series Winning Chess. Strategies winning just tactics really lucidly explained simple language, great little situations where you can learn a lot from. I think that series was very, very popular, published by Microsoft way back when. But in that period and I think it's I think that I could list a lot of books, but that series was pretty spot on.
And we'll link to those in the show notes. We'll find the proper links to everything we've been talking about and put those in the show notes for this episode. Let's continue with books.
So one of the one of the bullets that I have here for discussion is the importance of biographies. Can you expand on this, please?
Yes, absolutely. Biographies are some of the most inspirational materials out there. I think people people read different things. Right. But if you really wanted to know the journey, the path to mastery, the path to becoming a champion, the obstacles that you may have to overcome, how to deal with those obstacles is nothing like reading the lives of great people. And it's almost like the secret sauce for success along the lines of motivation and deep learning, deep patterning.
I remember when I read Jackie Robinson's autobiography and I was reading it actually on a plane to Germany where I would play in a big tournament that ended up giving me the second step, the second Naum, we call it, out of the three names that I needed to become a grandmaster. You reading it on the way on that plane and then finally finishing it up after I landed and I was back in the hotel. And I was so inspired by his journey because here I was trying to become the first African-American grandmaster in chess history.
And I'm reading about this man who had broken the color line in baseball and the challenges that he faced face some racism myself. But it paled in comparison to what he faced, like, I couldn't even talk about my experiences when you you listen to the people putting a black cat on the field, calling him the N-word, left, right and center, just screaming, spewing, hated him from the stands. And then his dignity and strength in dealing with that just was so absolutely inspiring, that fortitude that it took.
That mental toughness to be able to stand up to that and still perform at the highest level win rookie of the year and end up winning the World Series for the Dodgers. I mean, just even thinking about it right now, I'm feeling inspired inside, but those kinds of materials. That's what I think really is a recipe for growth along the path to success. I think it's extremely important to find those stories and read them and study them, because you'll call on them on your quest, your journey, you'll calling them along the way.
You remember something will be happening to you and you'll remember, oh, I read about this happened to this person. It's nothing like learning about other people's experiences.
Do you have any other favorite biographies or biographies that come to mind that have made an indelible impression on you in some fashion?
The one that jumps to my head is another great African-American, Frederick Douglass, and he had it even worse than Jackie did and go back in time. Obviously, Frederick Douglass was the 19th century. I don't even understand how he became what he became. I really don't think about somebody who was a slave for the first 20 years of their lives. And to teach himself how to read and then to become so well-spoken, so articulate, so learned to stand up after having been beaten to a pulp so many times, finally escape, of course, and then to go on with little bitterness in his heart to fight for a cause that is simply an eternal one.
Right. One of the great causes of. Of humanity to fight for the for the liberty of human bodies, I mean, I, I really just sit in all but the grandeur of someone like Frederick Douglass. He's one of my favorite people in history, and he's one of those people who say, OK, who you want to go back and meet and sit down and talk to, please give me three days. I need three days with Frederick Douglass.
And his biography is really what what makes me want to do that, particularly. Second one, get three autobiographies, write those that he wrote. There's a great biography on him also by David Blight. That's like the definitive one, but. He wrote his own as well, that's he was just remarkable. What was it about the second autobiography that struck you?
It was fresh. It was fresh to what he was experiencing by the time he got to his third one. He was already sort of seeing it through the lens of his experiences. And that was many years later. But the second one was enough of his life out of freedom. That he was able to. To really describe it in a fresh way and you just think about what humans have to go through, I just I can understand it. I said today with the social unrest that's going on in the US now, but I sit today thinking about what happened to African-Americans.
At that time, and I just I don't I don't understand how people people kept their chins up. You're working as slaves, you're working for someone. Your entire life, your entire life, all, you know, is working for someone else with no compensation. How do you do that for hundreds of years? How do you do that? How do families tolerate that? And then you could get beaten at any moment on the whim of your master.
You move to the to the rhythm of someone else's drum. You get sold. If they choose to do so, you're separated from your family members.
If they choose to do so and somehow. You're not suicidal, depressed at least. How do you keep your head up? How do you keep your head up and forge a destiny for the future generations and produce people like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman? It's stunning to me. It's absolutely stunning. It's a story that is not truly well told in schools, deserves to be because it was just absolutely. Beyond comprehension and so inspiring, yeah, incredibly so if you're open to it, could you speak to your personal experience or observations related to the current moment?
You mentioned the social unrest, the current moment, current events. What do you what do you seeing and experiencing?
I've been really down, I guess, both ways down about all that's going on right now. We could be in twenty twenty and that this discussion is so relevant as though we're not 60 years ago, not one hundred years ago issues. That that a Frederick Douglass would notice and say, what, you guys haven't solved this yet, are you serious? I think that the reason for that. Is because what happened in the society is essentially America trying to solve a problem by legislating in.
And as Denzel Washington said, you can't legislate love. Right, you can't legislate respect, you can try to legislate fairness, but you can't make everyone everywhere get on that same page. So laws were put into effect when the 13th Amendment, 14 of 15 amendment happened and then reconstruction happened for the brief time that it did. But then. People's hearts hasn't changed, so immediately after reconstruction came this redemption period in the South, where they just simply undid all the benefits of those amendments and carried out terrorist campaigns against African-Americans through intimidation, through burning down homes, through burning down neighborhoods like Tulsa, through lynchings and the like, that that set it all back and putting in.
Clauses and devoting clauses, making it very difficult to vote, if your grandfather hadn't voted, then you couldn't vote. Well, of course my grandfather was a slave. Of course, he couldn't vote no. All these impediments to keep African-Americans down. And then you fast forward to nineteen sixty five. Sixty four, sixty five. And you get the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act and those are again implemented as federal laws. But you can't legislate that on the ground, people.
Would necessarily embrace this principle and begin to carry it out in every way that the nefarious fingers of of segregation and racism had entrenched themselves in such a way as to make it very, very difficult to do so. A lot of people want to hope that these laws somehow changed everything fundamentally and they're definitely been changes. I mean, you can go to a hotel now in places you couldn't before you had lunch counters you couldn't, etc. But so many other issues remain.
Whether it was fair housing because of redlining, African-Americans couldn't get loans or homes, whether it's education, because if you live in a poor neighborhood, your taxes pay for your school. But your schools that are obviously be underfunded because you're in a poor neighborhood. Or whether it's incarceration, where African-Americans are incarcerated at a greater rate than others, and then this current issue of police brutality. And if these things weren't literally attached to so you could address them comprehensively, then they weren't going to be solved.
It's really that simple. They simply weren't going to be solved. We sort of hope for a certain evolutionary effect, if you will, like. It will happen over time. The law is there, is there in place. Therefore, now everything else was going to undo itself magically. And what history has shown is that it just didn't. And sooner or later, you'll have these flare ups that show the inequities that exist, and if the greater society that is the majority in this country doesn't feel impassion to make the change happen, the change won't happen.
It's just the tyranny of the majority. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, democracy has its tyrants as well as the tyrants are actually the people, the majority of the people. The majority doesn't feel that an issue is that important. They want to address it because they don't see it as a problem. And until the majority sees it as a problem and embraces it and now wants laws to effectuate that. It simply will not change. The only way he changes is the majority gets on board with it and a minority group can fight for those things, but they can't vote it the way they want it to go if they can't legislate out those things out of existence because they're simply always going to lose the vote.
So I think as great as democracy is, this one fundamental issue that the majority, so natural majority usually is supposed to win. If there's 10 of us 10 bodies and eight of us want to go to the movies and two of us want to go hiking, it's the eight of us want to go to the movies. What's going to happen? And so natural that you don't think about it. It's just the way things function. But we have a responsibility anywhere.
There's a majority. I don't care where it is, us and any to be Nigeria, wherever it is, the majority has a responsibility. So very carefully address the concerns of the minority. Because otherwise, you turn into tyrants without knowing, which is just taking care of your family, you take care of yourself, your family, your friends, that's all you need to do yourself, your family, your friends. But once that is amplified to those like you, you're turning to tyrants without knowing it.
So we're dealing with that right now. And I'm not sure where it's going to end up. You're old enough, you feel like, yeah, maybe there's going to be change. If you're young, you feel like, yes, it's a time for it, but we have to see how it shakes out.
Thank you for sharing all that and elucidating it. I mean, and certainly giving voice to it so, so. Well, are there any particular changes or any particular actions that you would. Like to see in the next, say, two to three years, if you. Could direct things in any way, do any particular changes come to mind that you would like to see? Is it more a cultural shift that needs to happen by attention being paid by a majority to the plight and inequities that affect the minority?
Are there any other particular examples that come to mind for you?
Yeah, so that first one is be right. That's where it all starts. If the majority doesn't realize or it doesn't take an interest, doesn't care, doesn't focus on the concerns of minority and again, minority in any sense, then whoever has the vote wins. Right. And so. That has to be where a mental shift takes place. That's where it all starts in terms of the legal structure. And then in terms of specific concrete steps that can be taken so I can start talking about you need to address over incarceration of young black men, are you need to address racism in police departments, even if it's just a small percentage.
But that small percentage needs to be rooted out aggressively. And you can't have good cops ignoring bad cops. I don't care if you might say whatever percentage. No percentage rate. We don't know the percentage. But let's let's say it's ninety eight percent. That two percent has to be weeded out aggressively. You need to address the stress that police officers are dealing with when they're on on the job. You know, it's extremely high stress position. Give them help in the evaluation.
Maybe they need a little extra time off, whatever it is, to make sure that they're coming to communities whole and healthy and ready to be champions of justice that we expect them to be. So, you know, that's that's specific areas of concern we can address. I think that for me, the two big ones are police tactics and education. I came from a family that said, you pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you work your tail off, you will be successful.
That was our formula, right. But you can't have structural impediments that stop that from happening. And the reason why policing is so important is because police have the right to take a life. They're the only group in society that just has the right to take your life on a judgment call. Of somebody who might just join the force and maybe twenty two years old, but has to make a snap decision and just makes it, and then this person's lost their mind.
So that's important because it's traumatizing the community when that happens. If it happens unfairly. It happens regularly and unfairly, even the perception. That's traumatizing to the community because when one black person feels under siege, I guarantee you the larger group feels under siege. And I don't want to think about my son walking down the street. My beautiful son just graduated high school and has all the aspirations to become an artist and then somehow get treated a certain way.
I couldn't survive life if something happened to just I couldn't imagine anything. Right. So it's important that that is a place where we feel. Safe, we feel respected. We feel like. Justice is properly served by those who are champions of justice, want to look at every police officer and say this person is a champion of justice, their hero. And when you see stuff like what happened with George Florida in the person on this guy who I won't name, we know his name, but I don't want to honor him as such.
Putting a knee on a man's neck for nine minutes. You're not a champion of justice. Then the rest of us have to watch that and the rest of us are traumatized by that. None of us are angered. Now, there's a reaction. We've got to get to that place. We've got to get an education. The inequities in education, everybody knows everybody on any side of the aisle knows that people are trying different things, but they're not Republicans.
We believe in choice or loosely speaking, and Democrats believe the public school.
And proving that I don't care what it is, that cannot be unfair because that's going to keep a group down. There are other things as well, of course. But to me, those are the two major areas of concern. I'd love to see great movement of both of those as I watch right now. I'm just I'm I'm concerned. I'm concerned because now you're also living with covid and attention shifts easily. I don't know that the results will come, but I think if we have a good minded people who feel like they they really want to see change happen, I love the fact that corporations are are jumping in on this as well.
Probably has to be private because when it's government, you know. Question mark. Question mark. Question mark. Each person has to be in the middle of this fight on the education front. I mean, you've spent time as a as an educator, as a teacher, as a coach. Are there any particular problems that you saw within the systems that you were part of or challenges or handicaps or opportunities that stood out to you or your particular challenges that kids you were working with faced that perhaps were unaddressed?
Does anything come to mind when I ask those questions, like, well, how long? Unless you want me to come together, think the biggest thing is lack of resources or good resources in a school? Right, if you don't have a lot of money, the school doesn't have the top computers that it needs, so kids can go in that room and use those computers, that the school doesn't have the latest books for kids to read or enough books so that every kid can have a book.
The teachers are facing this every single day in neighborhoods all across America. And it's sad. I mean. It's completely ridiculous when I came to this country. For us, it was a joke, the American school system, because I came to the country from Jamaica where I went to one of the top schools I tested, it's one of the top schools. I spent a year's Wilmers Boys high school, but I was only 12, I was 11 when I got in 12 when I came here and I tested into.
The top class in my middle school, I took a reading test, the school guidance counselor, whoever it was, I remember just having me do a reading test I was reading on a 12th grade level. Great. You belong with the special kids, smartest kids in the school. This is the top class. This is where these kids are, like the kids on track to success. And I went into class that first day. And when I was done with the day I went up to my mother, I said, I don't belong in this class.
Because the stuff we're learning in this class, I already learned. In Jamaica, this was like the beginning of last year in Jamaica. Like this is this stuff is too easy. And my mother, she didn't know how to work the system. She finally had kids like in school in America. So she gave me a report card to take to the teacher and to the guidance counselor. So I took it and I said, look, I was top of my class in Jamaica.
And she's like, what is this? No, you are in the best class. You're 12 years old, seventh grade. You're in the best class. That's it. Now, imagine that tiny Jamaica. Tiny, poor. You name it. All right. Country of Jamaica is producing basic education for good education that I'm in the best school in the hood, the best class that is the best class in the school. And we're woefully these kids are woefully underprepared.
And they're the smartest kids we ended up all, by the way, skipping eighth grade, we dropped from seventh grade to ninth grade because they knew it was a waste of time for us to be in eighth grade class if we were going through that. Imagine what the other kids were going through. The kids were not kids working on the slow track. Or let's call it the normal track, OK? A whole generation of kids underprepared for the challenges that they have to face and that through no fault of their own, this is a systemic problem.
And unless this is addressed systematically. Then you continue to have this this challenge in preparing our kids, the vast majority of it's not special, special you for life in the 20th century, for jobs, for top leadership positions. It's unacceptable. And so to me, that's really where that gap is. And I don't know. I mean, it's obvious how to solve it. You've got to you just got to go in there and improve schools top to bottom.
By the way, covid has really exposed the inequities of this. My ex-wife is the head of a department that does quality control and school systems. And we're talking she's just shaking her head, saying all of a sudden everybody realizes how unequal it is, what kids are going through. Kids, we're supposed to be learning from home but don't own a laptop or if they're home with two or three brothers and sisters, there's only one laptop in the house.
So how are they all learning from the same laptop? When there's only one in the whole. And then they're dealing, if they do have it with poor Wi-Fi because mom and dad can't afford that, there's also some basic inequities across the board that people are now having to deal with now that this pandemic has hit us, their eyes open, saying, oh, my God, how are we going to teach these kids? And for the next, we're talking about potentially for the next year and a half, these kids are going to fall behind even further.
It's heartbreaking. Yeah, to the terrifying and awful prospect and like you said, I think covid and all of the recent events have act as a kind of a force multiplier on the pressure in the container and have shown the cracks just how severe and how many of them there are. As you're talking, I want to mention two organizations that people might want to check out. They're not systemic solutions. In other words, they're not top to bottom fixes.
But I do think they are of great value. One is donors choose dog, which allows you to help provide resources to teachers specifically who are under-resourced with kids who need basic materials. In many cases, they don't they don't have pens and don't choose. I'm very, very confident in very confident both these organizations, because I've been involved in them for a long time. The second is Quest Bridge, and you can find donor shoes, dog at tennis shoes, dog.
Not surprisingly, Quest Bridge Dog is another and bridge is very good and very innovative in how they connect and source talent from underserved communities, so economically disadvantaged communities and so on, and match them with scholarships to top tier colleges and universities because it's not a it's not exclusively a funding problem with respect to scholarships. It's often a talent sourcing and matching problem, and they're very, very smart about how they do this. Just to give one example that I remember really caught my attention when I met Michael McCullough, who was one of the founders.
These are both nonprofits and massively successful and very lean.
And he was explaining that, you know, many of these kids don't have the social support that one would hope for in terms of academic or life aspirations. So the idea, even if they have the intellectual horsepower and the drive and the dedication to apply to, say, a Harvard just does not exist in terms of their inputs.
And so what they've done in a number of cases is, for instance, they'll provide an iPad giveaway and they'll promote an iPad, new iPad giveaway and the application form for the giveaway, unbeknownst to the kids who fill it out, doubles as a standardized application that can be sent to 20 different colleges. And then several months later, these kids get a letter in the mail saying, sorry, I didn't win the iPad. But by the way, you have a free ride to Amherst or whichever school they like.
I like that. Yeah, it's it's really amazing. So I don't want to go on a hog the microphone here, but those are those are two.
I know much less about criminal justice reform. I have friends who focus on the I know much less about police, both training and self policing and all the facets of that. But on the education side, those are two that are really worth taking a look at for folks. And even if they're treated as a stopgap measure, they actually do deliver results. Marreese, you you strike me as someone who thinks very deeply. I mean, you do think very deeply.
You ask a lot of questions of yourself. You interrogate reality or your perception of reality.
Could you speak to of two books here that you've mentioned and mentioned in Tribe of Mentors were where you appeared as a profile, which I very much appreciate you doing. And there are two books I'd like for you to speak to, as is having an impact on you passages. And I think it's Gail Sheehy. Is that how you pronounce the name E.H. Y and Mastery by George Leonard.
Could you speak to those two? Absolutely. Passages. I read that book as a teenager, late teenager, 18 or 19. I just go through a pretty rough period of changing, actually, kind of the changing, literally dropping friends in my life because I felt like those friends weren't about what I wanted to do. And I felt I needed to go in a different direction. And so I was a lonely period for me, a transition between great friends and the next set of friends that I would have.
And this book Passages was about the passages of a man's life. And so essentially, Gail Sheehy, she just went from your a man from his teenage years, his twenties, all the way down to old age every decade, giving them broad strokes of what would happen to you as a man during those decades. Of course, you can't be specific. Everybody's going to have their own experiences. But by and large, you're going to go out and get work.
You're going to go out of school. You're going to go get work. You're going to try to. Establish yourself somewhere along the line, you're going to get a significant other especially you're going to have children. You're going to go through that father, period some some place. You're going to have a middle age crisis somewhere along the way. Your identity is going to shift a few times as you challenge yourself. And then at some point you're going to become settled in who you are.
You can have a different level of acceptance and settle who you are and start to accept the world for what it is. And where you and your place in? And then there's a certain kind of peace and and comfort that comes with becoming older and recognizing life, a kind of wisdom that you get. I was fascinated by this was almost like a like she was analyzing life, like a chess player sitting there analyzing it all the way down, down to the end game.
And I wanted from that book, I wanted to have the wisdom of the seven zero eight zero as an 18 year old, like, wait a minute, if that's what that's the end game, I want to have it now. I want to learn that now. So I've always respected older people. From from that, it made me really respect older people because they were at a different point along the passage and I wanted to listen to the older guys talk like, what's up?
What's what's this like? What's that like? It just made me even more thoughtful, more wise about the journey. It doesn't necessarily solve the problems I like. When I was twenty five, I had it all down pat.
No way yourself. But but it just helps so much to think about it in the long term and not just what's happening to you right at this moment. This, too, will change. The other book, Mastery by George Leonard. George Leonard was an IQ practitioner and he brought the principles of Iquito into life in that small book. And talked about mastering the different different obstacles to mastery, the folks who just want to get it done quickly, people just want to hear the secrets, people who give up for various reasons, where the obstacles, where the traps you might fall into.
But the biggest lesson of that book was that the journey was more important than the destination. Right. And that you would plateau. That you would have to love the plateau. Sometimes on the path to mastery, you're just going to get stuck, you're not getting any better, you're working your ass off and you're not getting any better. What's going on? Well, it's not a linear trajectory. It's not how it works. You grow every single day.
Sometimes you have to go. Your studies and your work causes you to actually lose ability, lose specific efficacy because you're trying out new techniques. It's like Tiger Woods when he decided to reconstruct his swing, despite the fact that he was the best player on the planet, but he wanted to reconstruct the swing and maybe lose more tournaments. But at the end of that reconstruction of the swing, when all of it became natural, suddenly he was Superman. What happened here?
How do you how do you how do you do that? There was no complacency. Where he was, and that is because you have to enjoy that process and love the plateau, you may not be getting better, but it is long as you're doing the work. Everything's fine now. Those those two books really had an impact. I have to say. Thing about me that I feel a lot in my life, like I'm. I'm like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix when, you know, like when you you get you get the program because so many people describe you as Morpheus.
So, yeah, I like to you identify the deal.
Yeah. I mean, it's like you get the program, put it, and all of a sudden I know kung fu. Right. That line to me when I read a book, when I read a book, that's how it is. I start reading a book and then I'm like, Oh. That makes a lot of sense. Got to make some changes. Hey, I'm very impressionable that way that you taught me something deep. I mean, your book, Four Hour Workweek.
I mean, I was a riot. I mean, you wrecked my life for a while, frankly. You literally wrecked my life for a while because because I was looking at my life like, you know what, this man is, right. And this life I'm living is unacceptable. I can't do this anymore. This has to change everything about it has to change. And, you know, when you got a wife and kids. The mistress is not hearing that, right?
What what what do you mean four hour work week? What are you talking about? You don't want to do what you're doing anymore. How are you going to get paid? Or you can get into some serious arguments. And I did. Trying to just up and your existence, because you just read a book by some guy say, you know, you only have to work four hours a week. But anyway, I really feel that it's important to be flexible.
To embrace uncertainty. There's always been hallmarks for me, I don't really know. I don't really know. I'm just observing this is what I'm thinking at the moment. It may change as I get more facts. I don't really know. I don't want you to know what I'm going to say before I say it, because I'm so predictable. I don't want to live in that street level. I want to be the person you say. Really? What made you change so much?
Why are you living this life? And now I'm actually living that life. By the way, I got to that point where I'm doing exactly what I want to do. I have unlimited time. I choose the gigs I do. I'm traveling the world. I mean, last year I gave up my apartment. I mean, fifteen months of vagabond. I've traveled all over, man. So I've been everywhere. I've been few countries in Africa. I've been all over Europe.
I'm just living totally out of my suitcases. It's so liberating and wonderful.
Well, it matches the embracing uncertainty, right? I mean, you're moving with the winds and the tides and also your passions.
It would seem that, at least to me. Absolutely. And also and it's also a nod to minimalism. Because when you're living out of suitcases, they want it to be 50 pounds, like this is not 50 pounds, take whatever is in here and put it in your other your small bag. It's like I need everything that I have with me. What do you mean? Tim says, I can have this, but, you know, you've got to you've got to deal with what you've got.
And so my stuff is in storage. There's got to come a point where I. I figure out a place I want to be. I put my headquarters, if you will, a jumping off point place. My kids can come visit and put their feet up. But for now, it's just absolutely liberating to just floating and going with the winds. Although I got to tell you that damn covid breeze is no fun. That is putting a damper on the travel like nobody's business.
And so I've got to respect that for now, at least until we resolve this one.
Does clipped the wings a little bit. Might mean more time on the feet, on the tires or Murry's.
I always enjoy spending time with you and this has been a long time coming. I'm embarrassed that it took me this long, but I really appreciate you and the perspectives that you bring to bear. And also you mentioned it almost in passing, but I think it's a hallmark of a partner that moves in lockstep with the curiosity that drives so much of what you love and also so much of what you're good at. And that is the willingness to say, I don't know if that is it's I don't know if you realize you probably do how uncommon that is.
People like to know. What I've observed in many of the people I respect most is the more they learn, the more they realize they don't know. And I'm continually impressed by your willingness to say, I don't know and not to use that as a sort of metaphorical armchair of complacency, but as a jumping off point. Right. Let's say those are like the starting blocks and it's something that I admire a lot in you. And no doubt that's something that you've transmitted to your students and hopefully to a lot of people who are listening.
So I really appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation. I have one more question for you that I must ask, and that is, where does dancing and salsa fit into all this?
You've got to have fun. And what do you mean you're gonna enjoy life? By the way, before I answer that question, there is a book called The Half Life of Facts The Half Life of Facts by Samuel AUSMIN. It is sometimes why everything we know has an expiration date, like a great book for what you just talked about, because what you think you know has become history. Ten years ago, we knew Pluto was a planet. We just I still know Pluto is a planet.
Right? It's it's nine not eight kids today already know. They've already incorporated the system. They'll never make a mistake to call it a plan. Facts are changing under our feet and we don't see it until it experiences it's half life. And then suddenly the tallest building in the world that I knew was one thing is no longer the tallest building in the world anymore, or science moves on. From what I thought was one theory, I don't know the theory.
There's a certain predictability, in fact, to this, the life of so-called facts. And what it does when you think of that concept is that it helps you, it humbles you into realizing that the knowledge base that you think you're accumulating, I mean, any Specialisterne in fields. No, this is constantly happening, right? Doctors are are constantly upgrading what they know because I don't want the guy who only read the the handbook from nineteen eighty five.
I want guidance looking at twenty, twenty, twenty, twenty one stuff. So we are always behind the times. We are always. That's just the way it works. So for me the thing I want is process. I want to be open. I want to be flexible. I want to. Keep an uncertain mind, I want to be as least prejudicial as I can be so that when that new interesting data comes in, I'm ready to throw everything out that I thought and embrace this new idea.
That's that's my my hallmark, my intellectual approach to everything. At least is what I want for myself. It ain't easy, right, obviously, because you want something certain somewhere, you know, stuff in your brain. But I think what I want to know more than anything is how to process information. Right. That's that's what I want. I want to know how to process new information as it comes in to be able to judge properly, to not be biased one way or the other.
I don't want to be predictable. I just don't want you to know exactly what I want to say before I say it, because that's what you knew. I said 20 years ago. I can be different. I can be completely changed. That's cool. It means I'm growing and we're all growing. I don't want to be the same person. I was at thirty thinking I knew it all and I'm the same person at fifty. No way. I've grown way beyond that.
And one of the ways I've grown, of course, is with salsa dancing and bachata. I love to dance like this, just music itself for a long time. But but in the last six or seven years. So a friend of mine doing salsa and he convinced me to start it and I fell in love with it. Latin music, which added to that the Latin culture. I'm totally immersed in studying Spanish right now. I studied Spanish back in middle school in the worst way you can study how we study languages and we forget that stuff.
Now I'm immersed myself. I'm personally invested like I'm studying chess. It's not much. I'm studying Spanish. I'm watching Mexican telenovelas and taping them. So. Oh, wait a minute, I close caption. OK, what was that word? All right, let's go. Well, meantime, I'm watching this story. I mean, I'm hooked. I'm so and it's it's very funny to see. But to me, that's how you stay fresh. That's how you stay fresh.
And I've studied French as well. My father lives in France, so I visit him and been to Paris many times, which is so so for me, travel, learning languages and exploring the world is my greatest joy, really. That's my greatest joy in life. And part of it is the dancing. And it's nothing like having something like salsa, but Chouteau just which is a different form of of Latin dance, which is my favorite one over salsa, in fact.
But there's nothing like having that wherever you go because it's just like chess. I can always find a game, find a club where people play chess. In any country I go to, I can always find a soccer club. Always, always. So wherever I am, I'm making friends and I love it.
Yeah, keep going. Keep going. You're going to get all sorts of interesting slang in the Mexican telenovelas.
And there's also a there's a Spanish podcast made by Duolingo that you might want to check out. It's also really, really helpful. I ended up with a somewhat hilarious mongrel version of Spanish from spending time in Argentina, which has a very, very particular accent to it and to grammar to it.
But I love it. I love it. I would imagine at some point you're going to find your way to Cuba. Oh, yeah, I've I've not yet been. But if I can't help you with the salsa. But if I can help in any way with the Spanish, please let me know. And this is just great. Maurice, I hope we get to hang again in person at some point soon and people can find you. I hope they find you.
Check you out. Maurice Ashley Dotcom. They can find you on Twitter. Amaris Ashely now include links to all this Atim blog for such a podcast. Actually, you will have your own URL, which is for the show. Notes of this episode teamed up Log Forward, Slash Moreese and then on Facebook, it's Grandmaster Morris, a Instagram Morris Ashley Chess causal link to all of this.
And I will also link to the video clip from the TV show where you are just in Jedi fashion, going toe to toe with this trash talker in New York City at the park, which is just an incredible video.
Everybody should watch it. It's one of my favorite pieces of television. And I'm biased, of course, because it was on the show, but it's just fantastic. So I got to tell you, I've got to tell you, it's funny because the only reason I was in that park was because you were playing one of those hustlers yourself. And I remember when your producer said Tim's going to study just for two weeks and then go try to play one of those hustlers.
And I was like, really good luck with that. He's in trouble. And you had some trouble. You had your hands full with. I have my hands full. Yeah.
Yeah, I had my hands there. That was not all these episodes turned turned out with me on top of a float, going down a parade and after my victory lap. And also that episode included a a. Disproportionate amount of ass whipping and receiving ass whippings, because not only was there the chest piece, which was just like jumping into the deep end without checking the depth head, first there was the jujitsu piece at Josh and Marcello Garcia's school. And I just got manhandled.
I got completely demolished.
So if anyone wants to see all sorts of of of pain and injury, mental and physical, then that's a good episode.
Is there anything else you'd like to like to say before we wrap up?
Only that, I appreciate you, man. I appreciate what you're doing. Watching you over the years, seeing how you've remained intellectually curious and. The way you open, open up, you know, your your home, if you will, online, that is with your hospitality to people of people to express these great ideas that they have. You you are a connector and a revealer, and you do it through your intellectual curiosity. I think that's just a wonderful thing.
So keep up the great work. And I'm grateful because you have influenced me so much. Like I said, you wrecked my life. That's a good thing. I appreciate that. That's what I want from people I call my friends. I reckon I need a nice life, Ricky. You know, that's that's a good thing. I just up and all the B.S.. Just come on, get that out of the way and get to the real stuff.
That's what you want from somebody. So keep racking people's lives. Just keep doing it. It's it's a good thing. It's a good thing.
I'm proud of you for just just reconstructing this way. Just reconstructing the swing. That's all.
That's what you want. Yeah, exactly. Well, I appreciate you as well. And I really have enjoyed this conversation and I know people listening will as well. I'll link to everything at Timna blog for centuries and can't wait to hang in person soon.
We can go dancing, maybe even speak some Spanish, depending on where we might find ourselves. And to everybody listening, as I mentioned, you can find the show notes for everything that we discussed at Tip-Top Blog for such Maurice.
And I want to read a quote before we go, which I was thinking of as you were speaking not too long, Guimaraes and this is a quote that I used to open all of my public talks with for about a decade. And it is a quote from Mark Twain, and it applies right now and always on so many levels. And the quote is, whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect. I think that applies certainly right now and is highly, highly relevant.
So pause and reflect. Question your assumptions. Look at not just your own needs, but, you know, society's needs moving forward because ultimately it's all intertwined.
And until next time. Thanks to everybody for listening.
Hey, guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. No. One, this is five Bullett Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? And would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun before the weekend and five? Black Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week that could include favorite new albums that I've discovered.
It could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I've somehow dug up into the world of the esoteric as I do. It could include favorite articles that I have read and that I've shared with my close friends, for instance. And it's very short. It's just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to four hour work week dotcom.
That's four hour work week dot com all spelled out. And just drop in your email and you will get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Tanvir shows brought to you by athletic grins. I get us all the time. If I could only take one couple it, what would it be? The answer is inevitably athletic. Griots, I view it as and a lot of you now view it as all in one nutritional insurance.
I recommend it that way back in 2010 in the four hour body, and I did not get paid to do so. I've been using it since before that. They used a lot of different ways. I travel with it to avoid getting sick or to help mitigate the likelihood of getting sick. I take it in the morning to ensure optimal performance and overall it covers my bases if I can't get what I need from Whole Foods meals throughout the rest of the day.
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This episode is brought to you by Express VPN. I've been using Express VPN since last summer. I started using it as a full retail paying customer. I always test things before considering sponsors and I find it to be a super reliable way to make sure that my data are secure and encrypted. Like how I said, data are like a pompous ass, but I like to ensure that my data are secure and encrypted, but to do so without slowing down my Internet speed.
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