Last night, in a downtown warehouse, pugilists and pawns united to raise money for a worthy cause. The unorthodox fundraising organization Tuxedo Tyrants teamed up with the LA Chessboxing Club to present Brain Meets Brawn, a charity event showcasing the nascent sport of chessboxing. All proceeds contribute to The Tiziano Project, which teaches citizen journalism in war-torn regions of the world.
The concept is simple: Two combatants play a 3-minute round of chess, immediately followed by a 3-minute round of boxing. This pattern is repeated until one of the competitors either checkmates or defeats his opponent in the ring.
Chessboxing's unconventional flavor is characteristic of Tuxedo Tyrants. The group originated in 2008, when co-founders Douglas Campbell and Dan Busby began donning tuxedos and leading formal wear-clad bar crawls through the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles. According to Lora Ivanova, a longtime collaborator with Tuxedo Tyrants who helped organize Brain Meets Brawn, the ability to combine differing elements, whether its drinking and formal attire or boxing and chess, is what fuels this charity organization.
“We are all urban explorers at heart and love social experiments,” said Ivanova during a post event interview. “When seemingly disparate disciplines attract, the meeting becomes an opportunity for inspiration and discovery. We share a passion for the unusual which celebrates our eclectic community.”
Several dozen members of said community packed into a warehouse on Spring Street to catch a glimpse of this unusual new hybrid sport. A throng of people surrounded a makeshift boxing ring delineated by police tape. As competitors rotated between intellectual and athletic sparring, DJ Sleeper appropriately alternated between classical music and more bellicose songs such as The Beastie Boys' “Sabotage” and LL Cool J's “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
An overhead screen broadcast close-up footage of the chess portions of the matches to spectators clad in what the event organizers described as thrift-store formal. Tuxedos were paired with Chuck Taylors. Ballgowns were topped with neon pink fur coats. Every other head in the crowd was capped by a fedora. The blending of haute couture with hipster flair exemplifies Tuxedo Tyrants' knack for reconciling clashing concepts, as does combining punching and philanthropy.
“I was instantly drawn by the notion of turning a stereotypically violent sport into an engine for positive change in the world,” said Ivanova. “Chess brings the intellect into the picture, reminding us that conflict resolution requires not just force but also long-term strategy.”
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Part of the strategy involves raising money for The Tiziano Project. The organization was formed in 2007 by colorful downtown character Andrew McGregor with the goal of providing “community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions with the equipment, training, and affiliations necessary to report their stories and improve their lives.” For example, the group is currently drumming up support for Kanere Refugee Media, an Kenyan refugee-run independent newspaper. For McGregor, who also founded the L.A. Chessboxing Club and emceed the event, Tiziano and chessboxing are directly connected.
“I became shellshocked after enduring an atrocity in the Democratic Republic of Congo while working as a photojournalist and teaching there for Tiziano,” said McGregor during an interview before the event. “Basically, my emotional spectrum was shifted so that if it wasn't something terrible and dire, like a kid waving a gun at me, I couldn't feel anything. Chessboxing was my way back from this. It gradually shifted my emotions and psyche back from war stuff to modern American life, and I could feel pain again and laugh at my friend's jokes without faking it. So, I'm grateful for the sport and wish to share the ability for everyone to fight for what they believe in and as the sport grows I want to maintain that fundamental ethos.”
The six participants of Brain Meets Brawn shared McGregor's altruistic sentiment by donating their time and sweat. Most notable was Marcus Kowal, who won his match despite being afflicted with pneumonia. Kowal, a martial artist who specializes in Krav Maga, credits chessboxing for bolstering his ironclad constitution and focus.
“Chess is a lifestyle, and by that I don't mean the way you dress but the way you think,” said Kowal during an interview before his match, speaking with a Swedish accent. “Rationalize every move, considering options and risks, and setting up strategies, whether it is for business or approaching your girlfriend. The boxing brings confidence, fitness, and daring to take risks. The two combined? Thinking and making important moves under stress. Not allowing the exterior chaos affect your line of thoughts.”
Just as chessboxing helps Kowal evolve, McGregor hopes to see the L.A. Chessboxing Club expand itself in the near future.
“We are currently planning our first New York event to take place this June,” he said. “We are hoping to grow the LA Chessboxing concept into an engine for positive change locally and internationally by supporting various noble causes. We have a very diverse community, from scientists to artists and entrepreneurs, so the possibilities are infinite.”