A little over a week ago, The Times reported that the Los Angeles Chessboxing Club was set to make its debut at Gleason’s Gym. Somehow, the paper failed to note that the bizarre hybrid sport — which started in Amsterdam and has gained popularity across Europe — is also being practiced right here in New York City.

Jarrett Gaymon founded the city’s first club just about three years ago. Apparently it’s hard to convince people to take blows to the head and then sit down for a round of chess, because the club only has five members. But Gaymon remains determined to turn a half-conceived Wu Tang clan song – “Da Mystery of Chessboxin” – into a popular spectator sport.

As you can see in our video, Mr. Gaymon, much like the sport he plays, is a study in contrasts. Bedford + Bowery met the 29-year-old Iraq veteran and CUNY engineering student – who stands 6’6”, with a head full of cornrows – for lunch at Soho’s Delicatessen, to talk about chess, boxing, and life, and the place where all three converge.

BB_QThe normal perception of chess players is that they are pretty nerdy, while boxers are seen as pretty macho and tough. What kind of people does chessboxing attract?

BB_ABoth of those extremes and everyone in between. I think the idea is to see who the toughest nerd is, or the smartest jock.

BB_QWould you describe yourself as a nerd?

BB_AYes. But I’m not the typical nerd.

BB_QWhy is that?

BB_AWell I guess I’m not geeky. I’m cool, basically.

BB_QHow does New York chessboxing compare to the clubs in London and Berlin, where the sport is much more established?

BB_AMuch more established. The sport began in Berlin and it’s really successful in London and we’re really just a startup here, and we basically modeled after London.

BB_QWhat’s your vision for the club?

BB_AThe sky’s the limit. I don’t know that I have any limits on it. But I would like to see us grow to a membership of maybe 20 guys so that we could have ten fights scheduled throughout a month and have an event maybe twice a month.

BB_QA chessboxing match can be won with either a knockout or a checkmate. In general, would you say that there is more of an emphasis on the chess or boxing rounds?

BB_AI would say that the emphasis is on chess for at least two reasons, maybe more. First off, there’s an extra chess round, and the chess rounds are longer. And because of that if you can really just stave off a knockout in the boxing rounds then you can concentrate in achieving checkmate in chess. But that’s just one strategy.

BB_QWhat do your training sessions consist of?

BB_AOur trainings basically consist of boxing workouts like jibes, hooks, various punches, and in the rest periods we’ll either play blitz games or solve puzzles.

BB_QWhat are the physical and mental challenges of transitioning from being in the ring to sitting down and really having to exercise your mental focus?

BB_AAs you know, in boxing, fighters are generally trying to beat the crap out of each other, and with that comes a great adrenaline rush. And with that great adrenaline rush I would say the number one challenge that poses to the ensuing chess round is to regulate that and regain your calm.

BB_QI read that the RZA of Wu Tang Clan spoke to the UN a few years ago to advocate teaching chessboxing to children in conflict zones. Why do you think chessboxing could be a good teaching tool for conflict resolution?

BB_AChess is at least perceived, if not known, to teach planning and anticipation and flexibility, and those are all needed in conflict resolution. And in true martial arts practice and philosophy, although techniques are taught to cause harm and injury to an opponent, before any of those techniques are applied you want to kind of nip the conflict in the bud and tried to resolve it in a non-violent manner.

BB_QIf someone asked you to come teach chessboxing to children in schools, what would you say?

BB_AI would do it immediately. I would work it in to my schedule. I would do it right away.


BB_AWell for one it gives the nerdy kids, or geeky nerdy kids, the chance to feel better about their social inadequacies. It gives them the chance to feel cool. And if they were previously under-skilled at defending themselves – it would fix that problem. So it’s a way to combat bullying.

BB_QDo you think combining the two gives chess a bit of a cool factor or street cred?

BB_ADefinitely. Well, actually, the street cred was always there. Most inmates in prison do play chess or know how to play, and the interesting dynamic in the streets where the young thugs, young gangsters, look up to the OGs, especially if they’ve served time in prison – don’t ask me why that phenomenon exists, but it does. And because they look up to these OGs, and these OGs play chess, they do have a respect for it.

BB_QCan you give me an example of some of the trash talking you would do in chess? Like, say I was your opponent and you were trying to rattle me.

BB_ASure. Like, “Oh, your queen’s hanging! It doesn’t have any squares to go to! What are you gonna do now?” Or like, “you touch it, you suck it.”

BB_QProbably not as aggressive of boxing heckling.

BB_AWell that depends, I’ve heard some stuff that’s more aggressive than that. But then its really vulgar and I’d prefer not to.