Biathlon of the 21st century

Combine the #1 thinking sport and the #1 fighting sport and you get a cross of intellectual combat and raw aggression, demanding both mentally and physically, as opponents square-up across the chessboard and in the ring.

Chess-boxing might seem a strange combination, but if you think about it, in both sports there are many parallels. Actually, you will see how both sports reflect the principles of warfare (see The Boxing analogy by J.F.C. Fuller below) as opponents match power, speed and movement to outfox each other.

Chess boxer, art by Enki Bilal

Enes Bilalovic, Chess Boxer, 2012

Originally invented by Berlin-based Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh in 2003, chess-boxing alternates three minute rounds of boxing with four minute rounds of chess with a minute break in between, and ends by either a checkmate or a knockout.

The chess-boxing traces its roots back and is inspired by a 1992 comic book The Nikopol Trilogy, written and illustrated by Belgrade born, French cartoonist Enes Bilalovic, a.k.a. Enki Bilal, where the men of the future box on a chessboard floor.

The central plot of the trilogy, set in 2023 Paris, follows Alcide Nikopol who returns from a 30 year sentence spent orbiting the earth under cryopreservation to find France under fascist rule following two nuclear wars.

From Enki Bilal's comic book, Cold Equator

Enki Bilal’s comic book, Cold Equator, a part of the Nikopol Trilogy was an inspiration for the Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh to invent a new sport

World-class chess-boxers must not only be experienced boxers, but must also be at least Class A (or Grade I, just below expert or Candidate Master) strength as chess players.

July 2012 saw the first titled GM compete. Arik Braun, the strongest chess player in chess-boxing ever, took part in a Berlin event and won. He is a Grandmaster rated 2556 FIDE.

Chess-boxing is an up and coming sport. It’s already popular in London and Berlin, but it has also started spreading throughout the world – to places as diverse as Tokyo, Calcutta, Nantes, Los Angeles, and Krasnoyarsk in Russia.

Boxing analogy to Warfare

This is a good place to present J.F.C. Fuller’s teachings (whose 9 Principles of War we saw last time), in another form summarized as “Boxing Analogy” to warfare:

“…the primary elements of war are to be seen in their simplest form in a fight between two unarmed men. They are: to think, to guard, to move, to hit. Before a bout opens each boxer will decide how to knock out his opponent; as the bout proceeds he may be forced to modify his tactics, but the aim remains the same. He must maintain an adequate defense, and advance under cover of this defence and manoeuvre his opponent into a position where his defence can be penetrated and an attack can be mounted to knock him out. In military terms objective, security, mobility, striking power.

If the two fighters are experienced they will understand the value of three accentuating factors. They will economise their physical force to ensure they can still function no matter how many rounds the fight goes to, they will concentrate their blows against decisive targets such as their opponent’s chin, and solar plexus, and finally will attempt to take their opponent by surprise, by feints and jabs to get around his defence to land the killer punch. In military terms these factors are defined as: economy of force, concentration of force, and surprise.”

As you could see, this iteration of Fuller’s “war science” is made of four principles of warfare and three “accentuating factors.” The principles are:

  1. Maintenance of Objective (Think), setting yourself an objective and not loosing sight of it
  2. Security of Action (Guard), making sure that your dispositions and movements are guarded from your enemy’s actions
  3. Mobility of Action (Move), being able to move freely and if necessary change direction on your path to your objective
  4. Expenditure of offensive power (Hit), being able to unleash your striking power fully and effectively at the appropriate time.
La Folle du Roi, 2012, art by Enki Bilal

Enki Bilal, The Mad King, 2012

The three accentuating factors show you how to make the most of the Four Principles by not wasting your resources, being able to concentrate them in the right place at the right time, and the effects of surprise.

  1. Economy of force (Efficiency),
  2. Concentration of force (Effectiveness),
  3. Surprise (Initiative)

* * *

Principles are a funny thing. Knowing them will not necessarily guarantee it, but without a firm foundation on the principles, you’ll never enjoy success. They are ways of effectively dealing with the laws of warfare in all competitive situations. Though the fundamental ingredients, most of time, these principles are not obvious to the naked eye, which is why many people ignore, or may even be totally unaware of them when fighting their battles.

Too bad for them.


World Chess Boxing Organization

London Chessboxing

Chess-Boxing Hits it Big (TIME)

Wanna piece of this? (The Guardian)

By Hook or by Rook (ESPN)

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