Chessboxing is something many New Yorkers have only heard about in a Wu-Tang Clan song. But it’s a legit sport. And although dominated by men, one fearless UK woman is fighting, strategizing, and attempting to persuade her female peers to embrace the sport.
Meet Ruthie Wright.
What is chessboxing?
Chessboxing is a hybrid sport that involves both boxing and chess. The rounds alternate, starting with chess, and the match is won when there is either a checkmate or knockout—whichever comes first. Chess is on the clock so you can also lose by running out of time.
How did you get into it?
My boyfriend, Andy “The Rock” Costello, introduced me to chessboxing when I accompanied him to a fight at The Boston Dome in London in October, 2009. Since then, I’ve always wanted to get into chessboxing, but I knew of no female chessboxers. Eventually, we learned of two from sister clubs “Costello’s Gym” and “Project Mayhem MMA” and we organized a friendly demonstration match in September, 2010, hoping to spark interest from other females.
In October, 2011 I boxed a fighter named Lucy Guy. It was was the first time I had boxed or sparred with another women. In 2011, I started to train in both chess and boxing during a two-month visit to Thailand.
Do you chessbox for a living?
I am the UK Flyweight Chessboxing Champion, and also a freelance Microsoft IT lecturer and qualified personal trainer.
Are you better at chess or boxing?
I am very much a novice at both!
Which one requires more training?
I‘ve had to train hard in both. I never learned how to play chess as a child so it wasn’t easy to pick up. I had to start from scratch.
Andy is my chess coach. He was a Junior Chess Champion. He’s very strict. But it paid off when I had a big fight last September against Jennie Anne “Red” Dexter. I got compliments from chess grandmasters in the crowd after the match.
All the basic boxing principles were drummed into me by my coach, Stewart Telford.
Do you feel welcome as a woman within such a manly community?
Most places I’ve trained respect you as a female fighter. I have certainly been made to feel welcome at London Chessboxing, Project Mayhem and Tiger Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket! I am not really a girly girl (despite all of the pink). I started weight training at 17-years-old and it was very much the same in the gym environment back then.
Are there many other female chessboxers?
Jennie Ann Dexter and I are the only “official” female competitors. There may be others, but I’ve yet to come across anyone and we’ve been scouting for women via social networks for quite some time.
Have you ever fought a man?
Ha, not in chessboxing. However, I did fight a man in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I practice with men since there aren’t any other females in our club that have stuck with the training. But they tend to hold back a bit because of their power behind the punches, and some are simply not comfortable with the thought of hitting a woman.
Has chessboxing changed your relationships with men?
Well, the fact that I can now use my hands as well as grapple to defend myself in a self-defense situation puts me at ease. Learning chess has sharpened my mental focus so that may have had some effect on my relationship with men. But let’s not get into that too much!
Do you think Chessboxing will ever come to NY?
Certainly! Chessboxing is going viral; people are setting up clubs all over the world. Anyone interested in setting up his or her own should contact Tim Woolgar at London Chessboxing.