Back in 1993, Wu-Tang released their magnum opus album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and on it, they introduced the western world to “Da Mystery of Chessboxin.” To be honest, it wasn’t much of a mystery at all, because until then, no one outside of fans of the 1979 kung-fu film “Mystery of Chessboxing” had any idea that someone had combined puzzle games with beating the shit out of one another. Alas, Wu-Tang learns us all on some real -ish. Meanwhile in Eurasia, some crazy Russian guys are actually applying their early 90s hip-hop knowledge (in the hopes of turning Chess Boxing into an Olympic sport).
We’re not kidding. They’re serious about this.
Here’s the backstory of Chessboxing, as it relates to said Wu-Tang reference (via Wikipedia):
Lee Yi Min stars as a young boy, Ah Pao, who wants to learn kung fu so that he can avenge his father’s death at the hands of the Ghost Faced Killer (Mark Long). The Ghost Faced Killer meanwhile is hunting down a number of clan leaders who all conspired to have him killed. Before attacking, the killer always throws down his “ghost face killing plate,” a decorated metal plate with a red face. He then uses his distinctive five elements style.
Ah Pao attends a local kung fu school but is bullied by the seniors. However, the school’s cook (Yuen Siu Tien) helps the boy and teaches him some moves. These prove to be adequate for his day-to-day living but cannot fulfill his deep desire for revenge. When Ah Pao is found in possession of the Ghost Faced Killers’ symbol, he is expelled from school. Still wishing to learn kung fu, he turns to an old xiangqi (a.k.a. Chinese chess) master Chi Sue Tin (Jack Long), recommended by the cook, for training. The master is an old enemy of the Ghost Faced Killer who reveals his former identity: he was a former kung fu chief who held sway over the area with his fellow fighters, but he was forced to go into hiding after being badly injured in a fight and also coming under scrutiny by the Ghost Faced Killer. Chi Sue agrees to teach Lee his chess boxing kung fu.
Ah Pao finally learns the strategic link between chess and kung fu. He and Chi Sue Tin team up using double horse style, a reference to xiangqi, and they defeat the Ghost Faced Killer.
Still confused? Good — that means you’re not as crazy as the RZA. For clarity’s sake, here’s how the rules work:
There are six rounds of chess (each four minutes long), and five rounds of boxing in between (each three minutes long). A one minute break is issued at the end of each round (to put on/off boxing gloves), and the object is pretty simple: Checkmate your opponent, or knock him out (though matches can and frequently do end in TKOs). A traditional scorecard is used in the event of a stalemate.
Also, the combatants must wear sound proof headphones (as if this sport wasn’t weird enough) to avoid being given advice from the crowd.
When you think about it, it’s a lot like being a quarterback for a team with a terrible offensive line. Get beat up, go back and make some shrewd strategic decisions, get beat up again, repeat. As far as it’s Olympic potential, the Biathlon is a skiing/shooting hybrid competition and it’s officially been a part of the Winter Games since 1960, so we suppose Chess Boxing has a chance.