Chessboxers Carl Forrest (left) and Sherif El-Shall battle at the board as Michael Serrate times the round. photo courtesy melissa dedie
The whistle blows, and the boxers drop their fists. Gloves come off. They sit down in front of a chessboard, wipe sweat from their fingers and stalk their opponent's king.
With apologies to Monty Python, this is no "International Philosophy" soccer match. Chessboxing is a real sport, played in timed rounds that alternate between chess and, yes, boxing. To win, a chessboxer must either checkmate or knock out his opponent.
The sport began as a fictitious plot point in cartoonist Enki Bilal's 1992 graphic novel, Froid Equateur . In 2003, it was brought to life by a Dutch performance artist. The sport has gained a following in Europe and Siberia.
In the United States, the Richmond Chessboxing League may well be the only one of its kind. Michael Serrate, Melissa Dedie and Jiann Van Metre teamed up and launched the organization last summer.
"We found a bunch of chess players and described the rules to them," says VanMetre. The news spread, and the first matches were held in August and October, with as many 20-plus chessboxers weighing in.
Micah Edwards had already heard of chessboxing and was one of the first to sign up.
"I still think about chess while I'm boxing," he explains, "because I try to set up a strategy in the first round of chess." When he returns to the board, he doesn't waste time trying to recall his plans. He adds, "The part of your brain that's planning far ahead for chess isn't needed for boxing. … Once you realize that the two [activities] work in different parts of the brain," you can manage the transition.
The next fight nights will take place on Jan. 9 and Feb. 6 at the Mixed Martial Arts Institute on Jahnke Road. RCBL matches are raucous, decorous and very earnest. There's a bit of heckling, a bit of blood. The ring girl flashes her undies as she slides under the ropes, and the concession stand sells juice boxes. Learn more at rcblva.com .