Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Maurice Ashley (@MauriceAshley), who made history in 1999 when he became the first African-American chess Grandmaster. He is a three-time national championship coach, author of Chess for Success: Using an Old Game to Build New Strengths in Children and Teens, ESPN commentator, iPhone app designer, puzzle inventor, and motivational speaker.
Maurice is 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 with professional ESPN-style sports analysis. He has covered every class of elite event, including the World Chess Championships, the US Chess Championships, the Grand Chess Tour, and the legendary “man vs. machine” matches between Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue.
Traveling the world as an ardent spokesperson for the many character-building effects of chess, Maurice consults with universities, schools, chess clubs, executives, and celebrities on how chess principles and strategies can be applied to improve business practices and assist with personal growth. Maurice also acts as a master of ceremonies and inspirational speaker at business conferences and high-class chess events.
Maurice has received multiple community service awards from city governments, universities, and community groups for his work. In recognition of his immense contribution to the game, he was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Brooklyn Technical High School Hall of Fame in 2018.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Tim Ferriss: Maurice, welcome to the show.
Maurice Ashley: Thanks for having me.
Tim Ferriss: 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 has known you for a very long time indeed. And he has a quote, in fact, that is in praise of your book Chess for Success, and it goes as follows. “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.” And 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 just start with the genesis.
Maurice Ashley: Well, yes, I was born in Jamaica Island, not the area of Queens. And 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 10, 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 could only bring herself. And her leaving was really quite an event in our lives; my father wasn’t 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 foodstuffs, flour and rice, she’d send them in a barrel. She’d send books, she’d send notebooks. And I remember her sending 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.
It got pretty worn down pretty quickly. It really turned into a softball very quickly after that. But just being raised by my grandmother, she was a teacher by training and so she would teach us so much as young people, so we were really well-prepared educationally because of my grandmother. And she was 64 years old at the time when my mother left, so you’ve got to imagine a 64-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 should be thinking about maybe slowing down and retiring, enjoying yourself. 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.
Tim Ferriss: And 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’ve 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?
Maurice Ashley: 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, Alicia, 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, and my sister is not in the boxing hall of fame yet, so she’s like, “Aw, man, how you guys got that on me?” So we definitely are a very competitive family. 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. Our circumstances were extremely modest; Jamaica wasn’t what people think of it as, at least the Northwest side of Jamaica is, Montego Bay and Ochoa Rios and Negril and party and all that and Reggae Sunsplash. But we lived in Kingston and Kingston 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 and my mother’s diligence and eventually my father reentered our lives as well. And he’s a dancer, he’s a dance teacher, he’s a professional dancer. He danced with Martha Graham and was very accomplished at his own dance company as well. So the family was just a pretty driven bunch.
Tim Ferriss: Why did it come to pass that you moved to the US at 12? How did that happen and why did that move happen?
Maurice Ashley: 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 ’60s 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, et cetera, you were able to bring your family up. And so a lot of children, they 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, you’d wait for that barrel to be shipped, so you could open it up and get all the goodies from your parent. 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. At first she was a nanny, then she got an office job and saved up her money and she 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 1978, we finally were able to come up and it was just her dream basically come true. A dream come true for us as well, because we had been living without our mother for 10 years. And you can imagine when that finally came to pass, it was just like a fairytale.
Tim Ferriss: Was it also strange to be reunited after all that time?
Maurice Ashley: Absolutely. No, absolutely bizarre. I mean, for us, our grandmother was really our mother, especially for me and my sister because we were so young. I was two, my sister was less than a year old. And so 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 letters, 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, these are the letters. Actually, it was my daughter who went down to interview her. My daughter’s a budding filmmaker, to interview her, my daughter said, “Do you know that grandma has letters that you wrote her from 40 years ago?” It’s like, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Yeah, she’s been saving them all this time.”
So when I finally go down and visit her again, I see these extraordinary letters that we wrote to her, that kept that connection. And you imagine, it’s not email, this is letters, handwritten letters being sent and waiting in expectation for letters to come back, for our mother to tell us about how life was where she was and for her to hear from us. And I was a pretty poetic kid, wrote poems 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 really was an extraordinary thing. Very strange to finally meet this mythical figure, who would sacrifice so much for us to have a better life.
Tim Ferriss: Where did you land in the US and how did chess enter the picture?
Maurice Ashley: We ended up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Brownsville is the same neighborhood that Mike Tyson grew up in and I often make the joke that Brownsville was so rough that Mike had to get out of Brownsville. 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, bunk bed, the rollout bed 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 he got his life together pretty quickly, went to school, then got work and then moved out.
But that’s what she could afford and it was just what it was. And Brownsville in the late ’70s, early ’80s, was what you can imagine what Brooklyn was, not today’s Brooklyn. You’ve got Starbucks and lattes and Park Slope moms, forget it, this was BK, 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. You had car thieves. I mean, it was a hot mess. It was Brooklyn, urban blight at its worst. New York has changed a lot since, Brooklyn especially has changed a lot since then. But then, back then, it was really tough.
And so to answer the second part of your question, sorry, chess came into my life when I went to Brooklyn Technical High School. Now 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. The 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, so you learned 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 called draughts, 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 backyard, just moving the pieces around by myself. I don’t ever recall doing that. But later 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 he just crushed me. And I couldn’t understand it and again, 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.
Tim Ferriss: What was it about the book? If my research is serving me right, this is a book I believe by Paul Morphy, if I’m getting the name correct, maybe, maybe not. But what was it about the book on chess, in your experience, that gripped you so much?
Maurice Ashley: It wasn’t by Paul Morphy, it included Paul Morphy as 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 sort of the case, like, “Wait a minute! There’s a book? I’m going to take this out.” His name was Clotaire Colas. His family was from Haiti, another immigrant family. And everybody called him Chico, and Chico had mauled me and then there was a book, it’s like, “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, I was like, “Wow, there’s strategies? You’re supposed to do certain specific openings and these ideas?” I didn’t know any of it existed. So when I was done, I went back to play him. And the first game I played him, he crushed me again. And it turns out that he had read that book and many other books, he had game and I was stupid thinking that I was going to get him, but then that really stoked the fire. And from then on, we played chess every single day after school, every single day, it was basically school, homework, chess. And that was my life in high school.
Tim Ferriss: So never underestimate the hellfire-fueled redemption from an ass-kicking, I think it would be one moral to take away from that. And the next chapters that followed, I’ve done a little bit of reading and I suppose we could start with the Black Bear School of Chess. What is the Black Bear School of Chess?
Maurice Ashley: That is indeed the next chapter. The group itself, Black Bear 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 a dictionary from a magazine, I remember you have a German magazine or a Russian magazine, Shakhmatny Bulletin, and they would take a dictionary and go over each word, translating word by word, just to find out what was in the material. Which, you think about it, I mean, there’s no Google translate, right? You don’t speak the language and you’re literally trying to figure out 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 slon, and it would look like a capital letter C. So whenever you saw that, you knew that was the name of the piece that was moving, and then you know what square it 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 chess with. 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-talker, 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 Pop. He was like a father figure to me. I went and I played Willie that first game and Willie, he was just so friendly and amicable, and he thought he was going to teach me a lesson. Then it turns out that I was good enough to hang with him. And 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 played. They’d 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, not the slower classical version where you stop and think for a while, but the fast version where it’s just 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, I was the youngest one, I was a big trash-talker, they were very upset when I talked so much trash, you’ve 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.
Tim Ferriss: Just to define some terms, you mentioned classical chess and blitz chess. The way I’ve heard you describe the difference, and 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, four-hour session, a break, you’d sort of recuse yourselves, study the position, come back the next day, play another four hours, you can take your time. With blitz, just how much time does each side have, I guess it varies, but the way that you guys played?
Maurice Ashley: Yeah, 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 played the game that way, if you run out of time, you lose. So you can imagine five minutes total per game. You have even faster than blitz, you have bullet, which is one minute per side, which is really like Edward Scissorhands speed, pieces are moving. 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 instincts, a lot more tactical tricks and traps, some definitely room for strategic play. But classical chess back in the day, as you described it, you would adjourn games after the first time period, when computers came along, you couldn’t adjourn games anymore because people could 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 all body blows. It just hit him, hit him again, hit him again. I mean, guys had tactics. When I say tactics, I mean moves that were like pyrotechnics, you think, “Where did that come from?” You thought you had the position under control and 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.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about focus and maybe a caltrop under the foot of focus: smack-talking. So trash-talking is an art form and there are different schools in this art, different approaches. Could you describe some of 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 Tim Ferriss Experiment, this TV series that was done a handful of years ago. And we got this one clip of you playing 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 do see how it’s used to knock people off balance, right? So could you speak to just trash-talking in general, any way you want to tackle it?
Maurice Ashley: I think the most critical thing about trash-talking 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, your trash-talking is going to be understated, you’re not going to be loud and braggadocious, 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 sarcastic, right? It won’t even necessarily be fancy, they might say something like, “Really? That’s what you’re going to play?” I mean, it’s nothing big, nothing fancy, but it’ll be in your brain somewhere, it’ll plant that earworm, right?
And then they’ll start over and over, somebody like Ralph Malph, who would always say, no matter what the situation, “That’s what she said.” Every single time, “That’s what she said.” “I’m whipping your ass.” “That’s what she said.” Whatever it was, that was always his line. Then you had guys who would quote Shakespeare, like Vinnie Livermore, who was played by Laurence Fishburne in Josh Waitzkin’s movie about Josh Waitzkin, Searching for Bobby Fischer. And Vinnie, he’d be quoting Shakespeare the whole time. You’ve got to know Shakespeare to quote Shakespeare, and clearly this guy knew Shakespeare. So that was another way. Or there’ll be people who stayed very, very, let’s call it sexual in the conversation, like graphic. And that really would throw you off because chess pieces would morph into sort of like sex toys in the description. Like, “How did that come into your head, dude? Could you please just play chess?” But that’s where the conversation would go. And anything they were doing, “The rook is penetrating into the rear of your position.” Really? Okay. We’re 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, it’s 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. If that happens, you’re done.
I saw people who were better chess players just lose their cool at the board because the other guy just kept talking and the worst thing to do to a trash-talker is tell him to stop talking. Now you’re done. Like, “Really? Okay, 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. It’s just 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 really good training in not being distracted no matter what was happening around you.
Tim Ferriss: Did any of those players in the Black Bear School of Chess, Black Bear School, go on to play elsewhere? And where did you go in terms of evolution from that point?
Maurice Ashley: Absolutely. These players ended up becoming Master players, legit chess Masters, not as far as Grandmasters and International Masters, which is the highest levels of chess, Grandmaster being the highest honor you could have, but these were strong players. Now the problem for the Black Bear School, in my opinion, as I was coming up, I recognized that it was a bit too much infighting, 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, Earnest Colding, Mark Meeres, 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 young player, I was 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 wanted to play at that level. And the only way you could do that was if I left the group or I 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 for chess activity and some of the strongest players in the country were living in New York. So I started going to the Manhattan Chess Club, the Marshall Chess Club, and those were 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 Bear School and become the president, as we called it. I started dominating those guys because I wasn’t just about playing inside this one group.
Tim Ferriss: Did you decide to go to the clubs? Did someone else suggest it? How did that come about?
Maurice Ashley: 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. And so I went, a friend of mine, Sam Singh and I, we hung out. He had a beat-up car, but it was good enough and we would drive to the city regularly and play tournament chess, play against all the Masters and International Masters and Grandmasters of the club. And that really took our game to another level.
Tim Ferriss: What is the atmosphere in a venerable chess club? What does that look like? What does it feel like?
Maurice Ashley: As you would expect. 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 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 that’s what it was like. So it was definitely a much more formal affair, but as long as it was about chess, then I didn’t care.
Tim Ferriss: Now I want you to correct me if I’m getting this wrong, but I read about a moment when things seemed to have crystallized for you in a way and that was watching Tiger Woods in 1997. Was that an important moment for you?
Maurice Ashley: Absolutely. Absolutely. You’re fast-forwarding, big time, though.
Tim Ferriss: I am fast-forwarding.
Maurice Ashley: Way out of my teens. At that time I’m 31 years old. So we’re jumping up, jumping fast. I had gone through many experiences before then, but 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 chess commentary, and the like, and so I was fully involved in fatherhood and making money. And my dream was to become a Grandmaster. So by the time we get to Tiger in ’97, he was at the Masters, and he dominated that Masters, I 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’d 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?” 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’ve always wanted to do. And that eventually turned into inspiration, and search for the quest to finally do it.
And I was very fortunate because at the time, I was working in an organization, Harlem Educational Activities Fund, that had a sponsor by the name of Dan Rose. He was a philanthropist who actually gave to this fund to help young kids in Harlem, and I was teaching in his chess programs, and we’d produced national champions and the like. And 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 get 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 made me a Grandmaster.
Tim Ferriss: 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 the 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?
Maurice Ashley: 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. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Maurice Ashley: So this is a bit different from what you’re describing.
Tim Ferriss: Were you telling as many people as you could, and that’s how it wound its way back to this philanthropist? Because that was manifested not in the secret sense, but he somehow heard about this dream. So I’d just love to hear you describe how that came together, accidentally, indirectly, or otherwise.
Maurice Ashley: Yeah, it was incidentally. The woman in charge of this Foundation, her name is Courtney Welsh. She was a friend of mine as well. So she knew, of course, 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’d been marinating in my spirit, and I was like a caged tiger, if you will, and I was talking to Courtney about it, and of course she was the head of the Foundation that Dan supported, so she knew him well.
So when I was talking to her, I said, “I can’t believe what happened, this thing has really been bothering me, and I feel like I’m not doing everything I am supposed to be doing.” I really had gone to the top of coaching. Like I said, my kids had won the national championships, my students. I was doing commentary, I was traveling the world, doing commentary. I’d written, I’d done a CD ROM by then. And it felt like I was doing everything that was just periphery, peripheral to what I really wanted to do. And I was basically letting her know that this was where my spirit was.
And she was the one who said, “Well, why don’t you just ask Dan?” And that didn’t even occur to me, even though he was just basically one degree of separation away. I said, “I don’t know. Okay. I guess.” And so I just did, and very quickly he said, “I love this. 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 — 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, will sense your drive, will sense your determination, and sometimes it just comes together. And I feel very fortunate that this all happened for me.
But I feel like that’s 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.” Because, it may not have been a specific person to help sponsor me and sponsor my quest, but just somehow it just opens, and I always have faith that something’s going to happen. You just have to keep at it, keep that window open, that spirit open, for possibility to come to you, and just don’t lose that passion, that drive, because it’s not happening right away.
Tim Ferriss: How does someone, and this is as much for me as for people listening, become rated in chess, becoming a Master, or a Grandmaster, 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?
Maurice Ashley: You’ve got to beat people. That’s what it comes down to. Well, chess has 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 that 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, now you spread that out to millions of people and chess players all around the world, you get these ratings. Now we have class players, so class A, B, C, on down, then you’re finally becoming a title player, is when you become an expert, or a Master, an International Master, International Grandmaster. 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 up, or dominating your level, which means you don’t belong in the level anymore. So you just have to start accumulating a massive amount of points. It’s very similar — 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 man, they put that level so high, that people spend years and years of their lives trying to attain the norms, as we call them, and you need to do it three times.
So imagine taking the bar, in law, and somebody says, “You’re going to have to take the bar three times. You’re going to have to pass it three times.” Except the bar, at least, you can study for, and 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 Grandmaster wants to be the one that somebody else stepped over to become a Grandmaster themselves. And so it’s cutthroat, it’s trial by fire. It’s amazing. It’s like the top black belts in karate, right? You’ve got your Bruce Lees. Imagine having to fight Bruce Lee if you want to call yourself a professional fighter? You know what I mean? That’s the kind of stuff you have to do in chess, and so it’s quite a journey.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about the dusting off the gloves. So you are teaching, you’re commentating, you’re doing very well in these various fields. You’ve created instructional materials. Then you decide to get back in the ring to try to actualize this dream. What does it look like to get back into training shape, so to speak? What do you do?
Maurice Ashley: 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 1997, was computer databases on chess. So we’re talking about collections of games, of famous players, or even not so famous players, 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 say, “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.”
Tim Ferriss: Right. Like watching tape on a boxer.
Maurice Ashley: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Or any sports team.
Maurice Ashley: Right. We’re able to record all the games. That’s one of the great things about chess, is we have games from hundreds of years, we have games from centuries ago, right? Easily games from the 1500s, the Italian players, Italian school of chess. We have games purportedly Napoleon played. There’s some doubt whether it was him, but nevertheless, all the top chess players of the past, and certainly those are the present, we have their games. 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 number of games.
So I could research the best players. If I’m going to play the World Champion, I research, boom, Magnus Carlsen’s name comes up, and I see all his games. But not only that, I’m able to very easily check which are his favorite lines. Well, that guy plays everything, but where is his inclination? When does he lose? What kind of things happens to cause him to lose games? What kind of situation am I 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, and you can’t do that half-heartedly. You’ve got to be ready. That’s digging, that’s note-taking, that’s research, at the highest level, and you’ve got to study your openings.
So like I said, so 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 you 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, 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. The top players have more than one person on their team. They have a team, a real team, you know? So you just get that together so that you could be prepared, like a fine-tuned assassin, ready to play.
Tim Ferriss: 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,” right? 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, it was my first real exposure to any chess. It wasn’t Western chess, but it was shogi, which is Japanese chess. And then go, which is a 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?
Maurice Ashley: 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 must, and you look at all the top players now, nobody’s overweight. Nobody’s overweight, in fact, 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, the numbers that they came up with, something like 6,000 calories burned during a chess game, which I find that’s —
Tim Ferriss: It’s a big number.
Maurice Ashley: — I know we’re doing a lot, but that seems like over the top. 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, right?
When a kid first starts playing chess, kids are not stopping to think. The first move that comes to mind, “Boom, that’s what I’m going to play.” 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, “Okay, I need to stop and look now, because that person is actually threatening something with their moves, and I need to respect that.” And so they stop, they start 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 building of the discipline of the mind that happens very early on, which is why we teach as the kids, because that process happens automatically.
And I’m sure, as you said, you were toast after 35, 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, two and a half, 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 as well, that mental training and anything you can do. I did aikido, martial art aikido, for some years as well. And that was extremely helpful in censoring me and getting me to recognize the openings that were possible in my opponent’s position, that would be there, because they were overly aggressive. So we use every trick in the book.
Tim Ferriss: I was going to ask you about aikido chess, because I found a mention of aikido chess. Could you elaborate on how you tie those two together? Or how you think about —
Maurice Ashley: Well, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, it’s called Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. It’s by O. Ratti and I want to say Western, but I think I got that wrong, Westbrook. Anyway, it’s Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, and I remember when I first stumbled on this book, and the book is about aikido, 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 opponents, the focus you have on the opponent, on the attack, on defense, on centering, this is important, in chess it’s very important to control the center of the board. So the primacy centralization and the dynamics of the struggle. And when I saw that, I said, “I’ve got to study aikido. I’ve 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. It took my game to a totally different level. I just learned to recognize, primarily aikido is defensive, so aikido recognizes the flaws in attacks. And I would say, I’m from Brooklyn, we had a school of chess that said, “You attack. That’s how you go.” My friend Ronnie Simpson used to say, “Ever forward, never backward.” So, he’s not backing up, 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 aikido, 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, 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 have to stand in the middle of the energy, the tornado coming at you, and just find that soft point, and say, “No, I’m fine. Everything is okay. This attack’s not going to work.” That 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.
Tim Ferriss: What was it like when you became a Grandmaster? 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?
Maurice Ashley: It was depressing.
Tim Ferriss: It was depressing?
Maurice Ashley: It was depressing. It was 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 your North Star is this goal, right? This is what you want out of life. I want to become a Grandmaster. I don’t care about anything else, I want to become to Grandmaster. I would wake up thinking, “Please don’t die today, Maurice. I don’t want to die, I just want to become a Grandmaster.” And that fueled my passion. I mean, I’m serious about that by the way. Yeah, that’s all I wanted.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I believe it.
Maurice Ashley: That’s all I wanted. So when I got there, there’s that feeling of elation, joy, satisfaction, relief. 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. It was such a hard climb up the mountain, and once you get to the top of the mountain, you look around, and you get your chance to look. And now what? You’ve got a nice view. That’s great. How long can you stay on the mountain? The human mind, it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like you’re just going to sit there.
Tim Ferriss: That’s not what mountain climbers do.
Maurice Ashley: Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Maurice Ashley: So you need another mountain. And so that first, that next six months, I couldn’t find another mountain. I was just like, “Oh, I don’t have to think about this again. All right. There’s nothing almost, for me to do.” That was my thinking. It took me a while to stop and say, “You know what? You can just become a better player. Maybe focus on the World Championship title.” I was already 33 years old, late to the game as it was, starting chess 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. The odds were like 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 refound my love for the game beyond the competitive drive and the goal-setting that I had. And 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 in 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 little things about the game, that just continue to amaze me that it’s possible on the chessboard. And that evergreen freshness that chess has is what draws us in. And it’s made me happy all these decades.
Tim Ferriss: 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 also what were some of the names of the teams?
Maurice Ashley: The Raging Rooks. That was a great team. That was my best team. In fact, we won a middle school championship in 1991, straight out of Harlem. My teams were — both teams were — out of Harlem, and we didn’t have any stars on our team. We didn’t have big-time players, Masters and the like. We just had kids who loved the game, and just 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. Again, the idea of setting a goal is important because it allows you to focus. But you asked me, “What I learned?” The two things I learned from coaching, number one, I was very lucky that what I was coaching was chess, because the activity was the real drive. Chess is just a great game, chess is just a great game. It’s been around for 1,500 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. With COVID shutting everything down, chess tournaments are bigger than ever, chess participation is bigger than ever. People are following chess players now like never before. Hikaru Nakamura went from, he’s a top player, went from 10,000 followers on Twitch to almost half a million. I mean —
Tim Ferriss: Holy cow. That’s in the last handful of months.
Maurice Ashley: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. Amazing.
Maurice Ashley: It’s been incredible because people are inside and they want something fun to do it. So not just fun, but meaningful, right? Something that they think, that 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. It’s played in all countries everywhere. The International Chess Federation has over 200-country membership. It’s just this really ubiquitous game.
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: the king, and queen, rooks, and knights, bishops, and pawns. They’ve got these shapes. You’ve got the board, and kids just want to touch and feel and move. And what do 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.”
I had so much fun coaching chess to my students. For me, it was sports. I’d be bringing in basketball. I’d be bringing in martial arts. I’d be bringing in trash-talking. You saw a good move, and I’d be like, “That was juice. That was juice.” And then they started quoting me, “Oh, that was a juice move right there.” The teacher brings that energy. That teacher brings the passion. And I think when that happens, it’s easy to take people to the next level, because they can feel you, they can feel that you love what you do, and you really want to impart this to them. And for me, that made, and makes, talking about chess 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, people want to learn it.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maurice Ashley: Easy these days. Everything’s online. Everything’s online. You’ve got great websites. You have chess.com, 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.
There are millions of people online all the time. You can just challenge them to a game anytime you want. It’s a quick game. You can play five-minute blitz. You can play 10 minutes. You can just tailor it according to how much time you have.
That’s one website, lichess.org is another great website.
Tim Ferriss: How do you spell that?
Maurice Ashley: L- I, lichess dot org. And I mean, those sites have really done it right in such a way as to give you everything you could possibly want, so you can learn chess better.
There’s another site, chess24.com. Chess two, the numbers two and four dot com.
You get 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 teleported itself online in this way, seamlessly. If I had these kinds of resources when I was in Brownsville? Oh, my goodness.
I’d’ve been dangerous. I might’ve turned into a player.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maurice Ashley: Yeah, but you made it sound so boring.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t mean to make it sound boring. When I was in Japan, this is a long time ago when I was 15. There’s something called tsume shogi; I’m trying to figure out if it’s the same thing.
Which is a book of these exercises. Where it’s, “All right, here’s the situation. What do you do?”
And I found it completely addictive. I found it completely, completely fascinating.
Maurice Ashley: It is. And it’s the best thing about chess. When you get to look to see how you would win the game.
If we watch LeBron James go up for a shot, right? And he does a 360, puts it between his legs, switch to his left hand, and dunk it, right?
Flush. All you can do is go, “Wow.” But you’re not doing that.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely not.
Maurice Ashley: But in chess, we have the opportunity to take a position where one of the greatest players of all time may have been behind either the white or the black pieces.
And it says, “Okay, you get to be Garry Kasparov, or Magnus Carlsen, or Paul Morphy, or Alexander Alekhine. 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 it out. And when you sit there for a while and you can’t really figure it out. And then finally you do this calculation, you try this, you try that, and then you realize what it is.
And usually it’s just a work of art. And you’re able to copy that yourself. You feel like a genius after that. What a great feeling. I could play like him!
Not really. You got to get that position 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.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any 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? Did any resources come to mind?
Maurice Ashley: There’s so many great books out there. My friend Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan did a great series called the Winning Chess series.
Winning Chess Strategies, Winning Chess Tactics. Really lucidly explained, simple language, great little situations for you to learn a lot from. I think that series was very, very popular. It was published by Microsoft way back when. But it’s evergreen.
And I could list a lot of books, but that series was pretty spot on.
Tim Ferriss: 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 bullets that I have here for discussion is the importance of biographies. Can you expand on this, please?
Maurice Ashley: Yes, absolutely. Biographies are some of the most inspirational materials out there. I think people read different things, right? But if you really want 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? There’s nothing like reading the lives of great people.
And it’s almost the secret sauce for success, along the lines of motivation and the 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 norm, we call it, out of the three norms that I needed to become a Grandmaster. I remember 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. I had faced some racism myself, but it paled in comparison to what he faced.
I couldn’t even talk about my experiences. When you listen to people putting a black cat on the field, calling him the N word left, right, and center, just screaming, spewing hate at 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 secret recipe for growth along the path of success.
And 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 call on them along the way.
You remember. Something will be happening to you, and you’ll remember, “Oh, I read about this. It happened to this person.” There’s nothing like learning from other people’s experiences.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any other favorite biographies, or biographies that come to mind that have made an indelible impression on you in some fashion?
Maurice Ashley: The one that jumps to my head is another great African American, Frederick Douglass. And he had it even worse than Jackie did. Going 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. I think about somebody who was a slave for the first 20 years of their life, and then 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 our humanity to fight for the liberty of human bodies. I mean, I really just sit in awe at the grandeur of someone like Frederick Douglass.
He’s one of my favorite people are in history, and he’s one of those people you say, “Okay, who you want to go back and meet? Sit down and talk to?” Please give me three days. I need three days with Frederick Douglass.
And his biography is really what makes me want to do that. Particularly the second one. He had three autobiographies, right?
Those that he wrote. There’s a great biography on him also by David Blight. That’s the definitive one. But he wrote his own as well.
He was just remarkable.
Tim Ferriss: What was it about the second autobiography that struck you?
Maurice Ashley: It was fresh. It was fresh to what he was experiencing. So 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 really describe it in a fresh way. And you just think about what humans have to go through.
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 don’t understand how 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 can get beaten at any moment on the whim of your master. You move 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, right? 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 and Harriet Tubman? It’s stunning. 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.
Tim Ferriss: 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 are you seeing and experiencing?
Maurice Ashley: I’ve been really down. I guess it’s both ways. Down about all that’s going on right now. That we could be in 2020 and that this discussion is so relevant as though we’re back 60 years ago. Back a hundred years ago.
Issues that Frederick Douglass would notice and say, “What? You guys haven’t solved this yet? Are you serious?”
But I think that the reason for that is because what happened in society is essentially America tried to solve a problem by legislating it.
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, 14th amendment, 15th amendment happened, and then Reconstruction happened for the brief time that it did.
But then people’s hearts hadn’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 in Tulsa. Through lynchings. That set it all back. And putting in clauses, anti-voting 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.
All these impediments to keep African Americans down. And then you fast forward to 1965, ’64, ’65, and you get the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act.
And those are again implemented as federal laws. But you can’t legislate that on the ground; people wouldn’t necessarily embrace this principle and begin to carry it out in every way.
That the nefarious fingers of segregation and racism had entrenched themselves in such a way as to make it very, very difficult to undo.
So a lot of people want to hope that these laws somehow changed everything fundamentally. And there definitely have been changes. I mean, you can go to a hotel now in places you couldn’t before. You eat at lunch counters.
But so many other issues remain. Whether it was in fair housing because of redlining, African Americans couldn’t get loans for homes.
Whether it’s education, because if you’re living in a poor neighborhood, your taxes pay for your school, but your school is going to 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, if these things weren’t literally attacked 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. It will happen over time.
The law 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 impassioned 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.” And the tyrants are actually the people. The majority of the people.
The majority doesn’t feel that an issue is that important. They won’t 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.
That’s the only way it changes, is that the majority gets on board with it. And a minority group could fight for those things, but they can’t vote the way they want it to go. 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, right? Majority usually is supposed to win.
If there’s 10 of us, 10 buddies, and eight of us want to go to the movies and two of us want to go hiking, eight of us are going to go to the movies. That’s what’s going to happen.
It’s 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. The US, it can be Nigeria, wherever it is.
The majority has a responsibility to very carefully address the concerns of the minority. Because otherwise, we turn into tyrants without knowing it.
Just taking care of your family. You take care of yourself, your family, and your friends. That’s all you need to do. Yourself, your family, your friends.
But once that is amplified to those like you, you turn into 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, “Yeah, maybe there’s going to be change.” If you’re young. You feel, “Yes, it’s the time for it.” But we have to see how it shakes out.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for sharing all that and elucidating it. I mean, and certainly giving voice to it 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 the inequities that affect the minority?
Are there any other particular examples that come to mind for you?
Maurice Ashley: Yeah. So that first one is big, right? That’s where it all starts. If the majority doesn’t realize or doesn’t take an interest, doesn’t care, doesn’t focus on the concerns of the 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, or 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, right?
We don’t know the percentage, but let’s say it’s 98 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 the job.
It’s an extremely high-stress position. Give them help, give them an 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 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 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 have just joined the force and may be 22 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 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 gets mistreated a certain way. I couldn’t survive life if something happened to him. 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 justice is properly served by those who are champions of justice. You want to look at every police officer and say, “This person is a champion of justice. They’re a hero.”
And when you see stuff what happened with George Floyd and 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.
And most of us are angered, and now there’s a reaction.
We’ve got to get to that good place. Right? We’ve got to get to that good place. And education.
The inequities in education. Everybody knows it. Everybody on every side of the aisle knows it. People are trying different things. The Republicans believe in choice, loosely speaking. And Democrats believe in public school and improving 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. But to me, those are the two major areas of concern.
I’d love to see great movement in both of those. As I watch right now, I’m just, I’m concerned. I’m concerned because we’re also living with COVID and attention shifts easily.
I don’t know that the results will come. But I think if we have good-minded people who feel they really want to see change happen — and I love the fact that corporations are jumping in on this as well. It probably has to be private because when it’s government, question mark, question mark, question mark.
Each person has to be in the middle of this fight.
Tim Ferriss: On the education front, you spent time 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 particular challenges that kids you were working with faced that perhaps were unaddressed? Does anything come to mind when I ask those questions?
Maurice Ashley: Well, how long a list do you want me to put together?
The biggest thing is lack of resources, or good resources, in a school. Right? If you don’t have a lot of money, your school doesn’t have the top computers that it needs so kids can go in that room and use those computers. The school doesn’t have the latest books for kids to read. Or enough books so that every kid can have a book.
Kids’ 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 in one of the top schools.
I spent a year. It was Wolmer’s 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. The smartest kids in the school.” This is the top class. These kids are 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 the beginning of last year in Jamaica. This stuff is too easy.” And my mother, she didn’t know how to work the system. She finally had kids in school in America. So she gave me a report card to take 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, no — you name it — country of Jamaica is producing basic education or 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 jumped from seventh grade to ninth grade because they knew it was a waste of time for us to be an eighth-grade class.
If we were going through that, imagine what the other kids were going through, the kids who were not in our class. The kids who were on the slow track or the let’s call it the normal track. A whole generation of kids underprepared for the challenges that they have to face and through no fault of their own. This is a systemic problem. And unless this is addressed systematically, then you continue to have this challenge in preparing our kids, the vast majority of kids, not the special few, for life in the 20th century, for elite jobs, for top leadership positions, this is 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 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 our department that does quality control in school systems. When 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 were 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 home? 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 are open saying, “Oh, my God, how are we going to teach these kids?” And we’re talking about potentially for the next year and a half, these kids are going to fall behind even further. It’s heartbreaking.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s a terrifying and awful prospect. And like you said, I think COVID, and all of the recent events, act as 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 were 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 donorschoose.org, 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 have books. They don’t have pens. And DonorsChoose, I’m very, very confident in. I’m very confident in both these organizations because I’ve been involved with them for a long time.
The second is QuestBridge and you can find the www.donorchoose.org at www.donorschoose.org, not surprisingly www.questbridge.org is another. And QuestBridge is very good and very innovative in how they connect and source talent from underserved communities, economically disadvantaged communities, and so on and match them with scholarships to top tier colleges and universities, because 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 is one of the founders. These are both nonprofits and massively successful and very lean. And he was explaining that 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, it 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 a 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, you didn’t win the iPad, but by the way, you have a free ride to Amherst,” or whichever school that might be.
Maurice Ashley: That is slick. I like that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s really amazing. So I don’t want to hog the microphone here, but those are two — I know much less about criminal justice reform. I have friends who focus on that. I know much less about police, both training and self-policing and all of 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 stop-gap measure, they actually do deliver results.
Maurice, 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 — I have two books here that you’ve mentioned and mentioned in Tribe of Mentors, where you appeared as a profile, which I very much appreciate you doing. And there are two books I’d love for you to speak to as having an impact on you. Passages and I think it’s Gail Sheehy, is that how you pronounce the last name? S-H-E-E-H-Y and Mastery by George Leonard. Could you speak to those two?
Maurice Ashley: Absolutely. Passages, I read that book as a teenager, late teenager, 18 or 19, I had just gone through a pretty rough period of changing. I track all 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 it was a lonely period for me to 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 a man from his teenage years to his 20s, all the way to old age. Every decade, giving them the 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 of school or 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. Eventually, you’re going to have children. You’re going to go through that father period. Someplace, you’re going to have a little age crisis somewhere along the way that 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 come to have a different level of acceptance and settle who you are and start to accept the world for what it is and your place in it. And then there’s a certain peace and comfort that comes with becoming older and recognizing life, that wisdom that you get.
I was fascinated by that. It was almost like she was analyzing life like a chess player, like seeing them analyzing it all the way down to the end game. From that book, I wanted to have the wisdom of the seven-year-old and the eight-year-old as an 18-year-old. I was like, wait a minute. If 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 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 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, not like when I was 25 I had it all down pat, no way. I guess you have to go through it yourself. 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 aikido practitioner and he brought the principles of aikido into life in that small book and talked about mastery, the different obstacles to mastery, and 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 are the obstacles, where are the traps you might fall into. But the biggest lesson of that book was that the journey was more important than the destination 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, that’s just not how it works. You don’t just grow every single day. Sometimes 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, the swing, when all of it became natural, suddenly he was Superman.
What happened here? 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 as long as you’re doing the work, everything’s fine. Those two books really had impact. I have to say, the thing about me that I feel a lot in my life like I’m like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Like when you get the program —
Tim Ferriss: I’m laughing because so many people describe you as Morpheus.
Maurice Ashley: Yeah. It’s funny.
Tim Ferriss: I like that you identify with Neo.
Maurice Ashley: Yeah. You get the program put in and all of a sudden, “I know kung fu,” that line. To me, when I read a book, that’s how it is. I start reading a book and then I’m like, “Oh, damn, that makes a lot of sense. Got to make some changes.” I’m very impressionable that way. You taught me something deep. I mean your book, 4-Hour Workweek, that was a riot. I mean, you wrecked my life for a while. Frankly, you literally wrecked my life for a while 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 when you’ve got a wife and kids, the Mrs. is not hearing that, right? “What do you mean 4-Hour Workweek? What are you talking about? You don’t want to do what you’re doing anymore? How are you going to get paid?” You could get into some serious arguments, and I did! Trying to just upend your existence because you just read a book by some guy that says 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 strict 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, and I’m traveling the world. I mean, last year I gave up my apartment. I’m in 15 months of vagabond. I’ve traveled all over, man. So I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to a 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.
Tim Ferriss: 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’s at least —
Maurice Ashley: Absolutely. And it’s also a nod to minimalism because when you’re living out of suitcases, they want it to be 50 pounds. This is not 50 pounds. “Take whatever’s in here and put it in your small bag.” It’s like, “I need everything that I have with me, man. What do you mean? Tim Ferriss says I’m supposed to have this!” But I’m kidding. But you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. And so my stuff is in storage. There’s going to come a point where I figure out a place I want to be, I put my headquarters if you will, a jumping-off point, a place my kids can come visit and put their feet up. But for now, it’s just absolutely liberating to just be floating and going with the winds. Although I’ve 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.
Tim Ferriss: It does clip the wings a little bit, might mean more time on the feet.
Maurice Ashley: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Or on the tires. Maurice, 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.”
I don’t know if you realize, you probably do, how uncommon that is. People like to know, but 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 metaphorical armchair of complacency, but as a jumping-off point. 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 that 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 of this?
Maurice Ashley: You’ve got to have fun man, what do you mean? You’ve got to 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 Arbesman. The subtitle is Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. It’s such a great book for what you just talked about, because what you think you know, has become history 10 years ago. We knew Pluto was a planet. I still know Pluto is a planet. It’s nine, not eight. Kids today, they’ve already incorporated it into their system. They’ll never make a mistake to call it a planet.
Facts are changing under our feet. And we don’t see it until it experiences its half-life. And then suddenly the tallest building in the world that I knew was one thing is no longer that tallest building in the world anymore, or science moves on from what it thought was one theory into another 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 humbles you. It humbles you into realizing that the knowledge base that you think you’re accumulating, any specialist in fields know this is constantly happening.
Doctors are constantly upgrading what they know, because I don’t want the guy who only read the handbook from 1980. I want the guy who’s looking at the 2020, 2021 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 my hallmark for my intellectual approach to everything.
At least it’s what I want for myself. It ain’t easy, 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. 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’m going to say before I say it, because that’s what you knew I said 20 years ago.
I can be different. I could 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 30, thinking I knew it all, and I’m the same person at 50. No way. I’ve grown way beyond that. Now, one of the ways I’ve grown of course, is with salsa dancing and bachata.
I love to dance. I danced [to] just music itself for a long time, but in the last six or seven years, saw 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 then being 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. You know how we study languages and we forget that stuff. Now I’m immersed myself, I’m personally invested in like I’m studying chess is how much I’m studying Spanish.
I’m watching Mexican telenovelas. I’m taping them. Oh, wait a minute. I close caption. Okay. What was that word? All right. Let’s go. Meantime I’m watching the story. I mean I’m hooked, man. I’m so hooked. And it’s very funny. 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 for chess and stuff. 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 dancing and there’s nothing like having something like salsa and bachata which is a different form 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 salsa club, always. So wherever I am, I’m making friends and I love it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Que chingón! Que chingón! You’re going to get all sorts of interesting slang in the Mexican telenovelas. And there’s also 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 the 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. 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, mauriceashley.com. They can find you on Twitter @MauriceAshley. And I’ll include links to all this at tim.blog/podcast. Actually, you will have your own URL, which is for the show notes of this episode, tim.blog/maurice.
And then on Facebook, it’s grandmastermauricea, Instagram, @mauriceashleychess. Of course, I’ll 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 and you’re sitting in 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 that will also be —
Maurice Ashley: I 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 chess for two weeks and then go and try to play one of those hustlers.” And I was like, “Really? Good luck with that. He’s in trouble.” And you had your hands full with that guy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I had my hands full. Not all of these episodes turned out with me on top of a float going down a parade after my victory lap. And also that episode included a disproportionate amount of ass-whipping and receiving ass-whipping because not only was there the chess piece, which was just like jumping into the deep end without checking the depth head first, there was the jiu jitsu piece at Josh and Marcelo Garcia’s school and I just got manhandled. I got completely demolished. So if anyone wants to see all sorts of pain and injury, mental and physical, then that’s a good episode. Maurice, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Maurice Ashley: 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 your home, if you will, online was your hospitality to people for people to express these great ideas that they have. 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, but that’s a good thing. I appreciate that. That’s what I want from people I call my friends. I need a nice life-wrecking, that’s a good thing. I just up and all of the BS, just come on, get that out of the way and get to the real stuff. That’s what you want from somebody. So keep wrecking people’s lives, man. Just keep doing it. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. I’m proud of you for it.
Tim Ferriss: Just reconstructing this wing, just reconstructing this wing. That’s all it is.
Maurice Ashley: Okay. Call it what you want.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Exactly. Well, I appreciate you as well and really have enjoyed this conversation and I know people listening will as well. I’ll link to everything at tim.blog/maurice 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 tim.blog/maurice.
And I wanted to read a quote before we go, which I was thinking of as you were speaking not too long ago, Maurice. 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, and the quote is, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” And 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 society’s needs moving forward because ultimately it’s all intertwined. And until next time, thanks to everybody for listening.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.