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.
The 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.
I 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.
As 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.
I 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?
Chess 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.
Well 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.
Definitely. 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.