Iepe Rubingh is the creator of Chess Boxing – a biathlon of sorts which is exactly what it sounds like. In an interview with Sandra Stein, he spoke about his sport, about overcoming internal barriers, and explains what professionals can learn from the art of Chess Boxing.
How does someone actually invent a new sport? Maybe you could take two already well-known sports and combine them? Well, that’s exactly what Iepe Rubingh, a former performance artist, did to give the world Chess Boxing. The name of the sport tells you basically all you need to know – opponents alternate between chess matches and boxing bouts. They can win either through chess or boxing, with a checkmate or a K.O.
A comic by French cartoonist Enki Bilal was what inspired Iepe. He was enthusiastic about the idea immediately, but he was faced with the question of whether the whole thing might be a bit much for people. “Would people actually be interested in this?”, he had to ask himself. “Would people even be capable of this at all?”
“A person is incredibly flexible, adaptable to their environment, and can learn quickly”
In his first attempt against his coach, the chances didn’t look good. Not only did he take several punches in the ring, but in chess, he started with a major error and lost his Queen. His first thought? “Hey, well that doesn’t work. You can’t play chess under so much pressure. That’s that down the drain.”
The second attempt went well… or at least less bad… and it was clear: one can learn. “People are extremely trainable! […] A person is extremely elastic and adaptable when it comes to their abilities. They may not always be the fastest, but a person is incredibly flexible, adaptable to their environment, and can learn quickly.”
“If children are small then parents often steer them, saying things like, ‘Oh, you’re so good at languages!’, and at some point you feel good at languages. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also be good at maths.”
It was probably exactly this that attracted him to the idea of Chess Boxing: to see if one can overcome the limitations of one’s own ability, and if a person can tear down their own barriers. Most often, says Iepe, it’s like this: “A boxer is only a boxer, a chess player is just a chess player. But why can’t a chess player throw a punch? Or a boxer play chess? It’s total nonsense!”
We must perceive and recognise our own inner barriers: “I built these barriers myself”. But society can also play a part, he continues. “If children are small then parents often steer them, saying things like, ‘Oh, you’re so good at languages!’, and at some point you feel good at languages. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also be good at maths.”
Don’t let people pigeonhole you!
His idea he feels, doesn’t only apply to sport. Iepe’s own career is the best example that you can achieve anything with enough passion, will and perseverance. It also helps if you don’t care what other people think of you!
“The thing is, my life is proof that by pushing through, if one wants to be something, one can.” explains Iepe. In his youth, he was enthusiastic about sport and the arts. In order to do something else, he studied history, but returned to art after graduation. Until he became CEO of Chess Boxing Global – the official marketing agency for Chess Boxing – in 2013, the businessman had absolutely zero business background.
“You can learn anything” is the guiding principle that runs through his life. For Iepe, mistakes are a natural part of that learning process. “Mistakes are the best professional school you can have,” he says. “In any moment when you fail at a task, you have learned from it.”
When it came to raising funds for his company, Iepe failed more than once. How to move in the business world and sell a business idea successfully was new territory for him. But he took every not-so-successful deal on the chin, and thought: what wasn’t so good? What do I need to do better next time?
Iepe believes that in such situations, you can learn a lot from sports in general, but in particular from Chess Boxing. Chess Boxing alone could help one in making decisions under extreme pressure, says Iepe. The art of Chess Boxing is, with a pulse of 180 and fully elevated adrenaline and testosterone levels, to decide between “an infinite array of possibilities and decisions”. “It may not be the best decision” of course, because, “you may not be able to find that under pressure”.
The Goal: World Domination!!
So far, Iepe’s attitude has paid off. Since his first experiments 13 years have passed and Chess Boxing has established itself as a sport – at least in a niche.
And not only that, with Chess Boxing Global, Iepe is planning to professionalise the sport. This includes not only making the sport known worldwide, but also investing in the visual product. By this, he means the combination of sport and technology, or “sports entertainment at the highest level”, with 360° screens and live display of heart rate, adrenaline, testosterone and lactate levels. If he had his way, every fight would be broadcast in 3D.
To pursue these objectives more forcefully, Iepe has this week launched a seed-funding campaign to collect fresh capital for his company, and to “give fans the chance to buy a piece of their sport”. What does he want to achieve with the money? “World Domination!” He laughs when he says it, but you know that he takes it seriously… even just a little bit.