An Interview with Chessboxing Mastermind Iepe Rubingh
What started as an art project after two friends who shared a passion for boxing and chess discussed creating the real-world version of a concept inspired from a comicbook is now a growing worldwide phenomenon.
Chessboxing is the new sport that combines the most popular physical sport with the top mental sport that puts what could arguably be the utmost pressure on its players.
After several initial and show fights, the sport now boasts two championships and is growing from Europe to Asia and making the buzz that will ultimately culminate in a sport that spans the globe.
It was a dream brought into reality by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh, who serves as the sport’s prime mover and master spokesperson.
We interviewed Rubingh to pick his mind about chessboxing and other things, giving us a view of the sport and its implications as a modern day gladiatorial contest which pits not only brawn but brains in a match that demands nothing short of everything from its contenders.
Why did you start chessboxing?
Because I was interested in aspects like:
What milestones and achievements have you accomplished after establishing the sport? The WCBO website covers the major and official events, but what other, but still significant highlights, have occurred?
The first test fight at the legendary Platoon court (blog.platoon.org) was definitely a milestone. As our ring announcer said it at that time: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome and be prepared for this historic moment. Never before have two people stood toe to toe in the ring to both box and play chess against each other!” After this event we had seen that the concept of chessboxing works extremely well for the public
What are the typical characteristics of chessboxers? Is there a “typical profile” of a chessboxer? Is there something common with them, or are they a very varied lot?
They are open minded people, who do not think in structured paths. They have a natural interest in both disciplines that appear to be so different. But that’s about it, as they come in all colors, sizes and from every continent of the world.
Who are the typical enthusiasts? Describe the audience in chessboxing matches. Who attends these events? Also, who is the typical audience, is it someone who watches it from no particular background or is it usually someone who is already interested in either chess or boxing, or both, or none at all and just tries it out?
Untill now, we have a very interesting mixture of people as an audience. We have the chess freaks, the boxing gym addicts, older people who heard about it, hipsters from around the corner, intellectuals who are attracted by the idea of ‘mens sana in corpore sanem’ and even semi-criminals who are looking for a dirty fight.
What can you say about the current naysayers? Every new sport or concept always has its share of nabobs of negativity. Chessboxing is a very new sport and as expected gets very mixed responses from people, some calling it funny, stupid, ludicrous, while others are finding it extraordinary, ultra-challenging, and all other superlatives like ‘great,’ ‘greatest sport ever,’ and ‘amazing.’ The latter need no convincing, but others obviously don’t get it. What do you have to say about those?
It doesn’t bother me anymore. All the reactions of all the people who have seen an actual fight or a movie about it are positive. Time is on our side and time will tell.
What is the vision for the future; where is chessboxing headed, in your insider’s point of view? It is evident that what’s in your immediate plate is to grow the sport as well as recruit more chessboxers. What else are you attempting to do, and where you do envision chessboxing to be a few years down the road?
Chessboxing has no limits. It broke a lot of barriers with its birth and it will break through a lot more barriers that may yet come. A chessboxing fight in New York, Los Angeles or Moscow? A fight between a Palestinian and a Jew in Jerusalem to underline the WCBO motto of “Fighting is done and wars are waged on the board?” Anything is possible. The WCBO is working on a chessboxing revolution worldwide.
It is said that many chess players engage in martial arts and/or different types of extreme activity. In your opinion, is this merely a correlation, or do you think there is an underlying connection?
It is more about complementary aspects of both sports than their similarities, though there are fundamental similarities also in the underlying principles of both pursuits.
For example, boxing or other types of martial arts keep the chess players fit and it supports them in their chess game. Conversely, playing chess can be extremely tiring, especially when one plays a tournament or trains a lot. Best thing is to get in a perfect shape not only physically, but mentally.
Chessboxing is already growing steadily in Europe. How do you plan to bring chessboxing around the world?
We are planning exciting chessboxing fights all over the world that will create awareness for this new sport on each continent. At the moment we are focusing on Europe and North America, but if there will be a phone call coming in from Moscow that says we want to have a chessboxing event in the city, we will deliver.
How many “official” chessboxers are there? What are the growth prospects of the sport?
It will never be a mass sport, with as much active sportsmen as say, soccer. I think that the quantity of chessboxers will never be extremely high. You can compare it with biathlon.
At the moment we have 10 active fighting chessboxers and another 10 on the list. We have 21 members training at our chessboxing gym. Generally, Every second day, somebody fills out the fighter’s form which you can download from our website. So the list grows and we are preparing for more fights. Additionally we support initiatives to start CBCs [chess boxing clubs] all over the world.
There are many boxers who are avid chess players. Lennox Lewis; Vitali Klitschko; Kali Meehan. While chessboxing is a sport in and of itself, is there a chance that in the future, some stars in say, the boxing world, would participate? What are your thoughts on this?
We are open for this development. We would love to do the rematch between Vitali Klitschko and Lennow Lewis in the form of a chessboxing fight. That would definitely be one of the historical highlights on this planet for the rest of this long century to come!
The reverse: Are there any lessons that boxers and chess players can learn from chessboxing?
No, I don’t think so.
[Editor’s note: We expect boxers or chess players could appreciate the fact that for all the difficulty inherent in their respective games, there are variations that can add even more pressure or challenging in a different way.]
(Continued in Part 2)