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Chessboxing - the bizarre craze that started in a Kidbrooke youth club
Its invention has been attributed to a French cartoonist, a Finnish film maker and even hip-hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan. But, ahead of a landmark London tournament, MARK CHANDLER discovers the strange sport of chessboxing could have been born much closer to home - in Kidbrooke.
AFTER being pummelled in the boxing ring, the last thing on your mind would probably be to sit down, get a chessboard out and try to checkmate your opponent, which could be why two brothers got branded "idiots" at their Kidbrooke club.
In the late 1970s James Robinson, then aged 13, and older brother Stuart arrived at their boxing club at the Samuel Montagu Youth Centre for training as usual, not realising they were about to invent a bizarre and fast-growing international craze.
Mr Robinson, now 50, explained: "One day a trainer never turned up and there was a chess club down there on the same night. We thought, what's this going on? Why don't we try chess and boxing?"
"We were only young so we just thought, well, it's something different isn't it?"
Over the next three years it became a regular thing for the two brothers, who would box at the centre before sitting down to compete at chess. Their contests - pitting James, a Crown Woods boy against his grammar school-attending brother - became an odd attraction, billed as brains versus brawn and covered in the local press.
But Mr Robinson recalled: "In those days it never took off because the idea was so new, everybody thought we were both mad.
"It was a very raw concept but our trainer couldn't push it because he didn't understand chess.
"We left it alone until Tim Woolgar decided to do something with it."
Tim Woolgar, a keen chessboxer himself, set up the London Chessboxing organisation in 2008 to take the UK sport on to the next level.
The rules are refined since Mr Robinson's day, with a round of boxing followed by a round of chess against the clock. The first person to land a knockout or checkmate wins the bout, although it is more common for one competitor to run out of time on the chessboard.
Mr Woolgar explained: "Chess is a real trial and a battle. You need that desire for confrontation in order to make it work. Likewise with boxing.
"People have the idea of a chess player being a very passive person, but that's because they're not seeing what goes on in the chess player's mind."
He added: "Also it's a full on boxing match but you also get that time when you're sitting down playing chess for physical recovery."
Chessboxing events now include live commentary and a large screen computerised chessboard so crowds can follow the moves. There are around 120 chessboxers nationwide with stars including Exeter's Andy Costello, who comes into the ring dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and Dulwich-based Chris Levy.
He said: "It's really popular. We've done over a dozen shows in the last three years and we've never had anyone walk out. It's a live show people can't wait to talk about afterwards."
London Chessboxing is holding a big event at the Scala, King's Cross, on September 29. To buy a ticket visit londonchessboxing.com
The mystery of chessboxing
Chessboxing is now played across the globe and there are many theories about how it started, but Mr Robinson is searching for an article he says will prove it was his invention.
The World Chess Boxing Federation, whose motto is "fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board", claims the idea originates from the 1992 comic Cold Equator by Enki Bilal.
But prior to that there was a 1979 martial arts film called Ninja Checkmate, later renamed The Mystery of Chess Boxing for an American audience. Hip-hop megastars Wu Tang Clan later popularised the idea with their song of the same name.
But Mr Robinson has in his possession a photo of him and his brother during one of their first games - now he just wants the unknown newspaper article that went with it as final proof.
He said: "I've seen other people trying to claim the fame now. But I've got the photographic evidence. All I need now is to find the report to confirm it."
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