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Could chess-boxing defuse aggression in Arizona and beyond?


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Teleportation, cloaks of invisibility, smell-o-vision, 3D printing, and even holograms, were all ideas first imagined in science fiction—and now are real products and technologies in various stages of development by scientists. While this is common in fields like experimental physics, it isn’t as often that cognitive neuroscience and applied psychology score insights from this fantasy genre.

Chess-boxing, a hybrid sport combining chess and boxing, made its first appearance in the pages of a 1992 sci-fi graphic novel by Enki Bilal, Froid Equator, or Cold Equator. Combining what is described as the number-one physical sport and the number-one thinking sport into one completely new hybrid, chess-boxing was meant to be the ultimate test of body and mind.

In 2003, Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh wanted to give that idea life. He saw the potential for an incredibly challenging new sport that would require physical strength and agility, superior problem solving skills, and above all, unbelievable mental discipline and control. No longer just a sci-fi fantasy, chess-boxing is now one of the newest sport fads in Europe, quickly gaining popularity in the U.K. and the U.S.

The most awesome thing about chess-boxing—no, not the sci-fi roots, or the extreme physical skill and mental prowess necessary for dominance—is the brain-changing potential of the sport itself. The specific elements of chess-boxing—the nature of the execution of play as well as the training involved, have some exciting implications for the future of aggression management and preventative treatment of maladaptive behaviors.

The ability to control aggression, emerging from a boxing ring? This may seem unlikely, given that chess-boxing is a contact sport, but let me explain.

Chess-boxing, the New Extreme Sport

Chess-boxing is divided into eleven short, rapidly rotating rounds—six four-minute rounds of speed chess, alternated with five three-minute rounds of boxing. Winning is achieved by KO, checkmate, or in the case of a draw, points determine the winner.

The idea of performing at such a high physical level (boxing) as well as a high mental level (chess) seems arduous enough. But it isn’t just the physical effort plus the mental effort of the two sports combined that makes it especially daunting—it’s the constant alternating back and forth between the two that’s the real challenge.

What is it about the alternating rounds that make this so intensely demanding? Interestingly, the answer lies largely in emotion regulation. The strength of a world-class boxer, and the high rank of a chess player are of no use if a player lacks the one all-important skill—his ability to effectively regulate his emotions in order to maintain cognitive control.

The Challenge of Task-Switching

Any chess-boxer will tell you that the most difficult part of the sport is the moment you switch to the next round. Yes, the boxing is physically taxing, and chess takes extreme concentration, but it’s the task-switching that poses the biggest challenge. Here’s why:

During the boxing round, you need to anticipate your opponent’s moves, plan your offensive/defensive strategy, exert physical force, while simultaneously blocking strikes. Naturally, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline; your heart starts racing, and your emotional arousal spikes. After three minutes, however, when you hear that ding signifying the end of the round, you need to immediately let go of all of that emotion—and sit down to a four minute round of chess. Fail to do this right away and you’ve set yourself up to be conquered. If you’re too jazzed up from the boxing round, you won’t be able to concentrate on your next chess move—so by the time you get in that chair facing the chessboard, you need to be ready to roll.

To be able to do this effectively takes a tremendous amount of cognitive control. You need to have intense focus during the boxing round, then let go of that and completely focus on the chess, then go back to complete focus on the boxing, all at lightning speed. The key to doing this without exhausting yourself to the point of physical and mental collapse is to keep your emotions low and controlled to begin with, never raising them above a certain threshold. If you are able to maintain a low level of emotional arousal, the task-switching is much easier, you can focus better on each separate task (less cognitive energy spent down-regulating your emotions, more spent on the executive functioning), and you maintain a better level of cognitive control—putting you in a better position to defeat your opponent.

So why is emotion so important?

What Emotion Means For Behavior

Emotion regulation helps you to navigate your environment in order to meet the demands of that situation. This explains why having control over your emotions is so important in each individual task, and in maintenance of behavior overall. According to the book Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Etiology and Treatment (2009):

"Emotions function to interpret ongoing cognitive processes or behavior, redirects attention to stimuli relevant to the preservation of goal-directed states, and trigger action tendencies in service of these goals."

In other words, your emotional state helps you to make sense of what is going on and choose the appropriate corresponding behaviors to engage in. It’s that state of arousal—high, low, happy, sad— that will determine how your brain responds in individual situations. For example, if you’re extremely nervous or upset, you will interpret an ambiguous situation much different than you would if you were calm. Additionally, if you are in a heightened arousal state (that is, too high for what that situation demands*), it’s going to interfere with how well you are able to focus on a cognitive activity. Imagine what it would be like to get into a heated argument with someone, right before you sit down to take an important exam. How do you think it would affect your performance?

The Benefit of Pre-Learning Emotional Control

Take that example I just mentioned—getting into a fight right before your exam. If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you know how difficult it is to focus when your emotions are through the roof. So now imagine that you were presented with the same situation, and instead of getting into an argument, you were able to maintain your cool, discuss the problem calmly, and never get yourself worked up emotionally. I bet you would have a significantly easier time with that exam, given your calmer state.

Now what if I said we can actually train ourselves to maintain our cool when presented with emotionally charged situations—even before they happen?

Many behavior modification techniques involve practicing scenarios, reinforcing the desired response, or using suppression or reappraisal in order to shape behavior in response to a problematic situation. This type of behavioral training is used during or after the targeted situation to help a person develop new behaviors to replace maladaptive ones, such as learning to stop and count to ten before responding in an argument.

These types of behavioral techniques have their success, but researchers (pdf) have found that when you shape the emotional response before the situation occurs, instead of modifying it afterward, there is a significantly higher success rate for change, and there are fewer negative side effects (increased heart rate, higher stress-response). In other words, when the emotion regulation becomes automatic, the person doesn’t feel as many negative effects as, say, someone who is actively trying to suppress a response.

To be in the presence of a stressful situation and have your emotions appropriately regulate automatically, prior to any negative response, is obviously the goal here. We want to be able to stand in the presence of adversity and take it on with a clear and purposeful mission, maintaining a level head. So how do we learn these Jedi mind tricks?

And the big question is: can chess-boxing be that training medium to teach automatic emotion regulation? Sure it can!

Let’s sum up what we now know about emotion regulation, put that together with some things we already know about behavior and learning in general, then tie it all in to chess-boxing.

* When our emotions get too high, and we are unable to effectively down-regulate, cognition suffers. We may misinterpret situations, perform dismally, or make poor decisions.

* Emotion regulation that occurs automatically—a prior learned response to stressful situations—results in higher success at regulating behavior, with the fewest negative side effects.

* Recent research has shown that early exposure to mild stress—then working through strategies to manage that stress—can help to build not only resilience, but better emotion regulation later in life, via strengthening of neural connections in the brain. This means if kids are taught from an early age to manage their emotional response to stress, they are more likely to be a well-adjusted adult.

* This also means that it is possible to train your brain to better regulate emotions, by engaging in activities that challenge you to maintain that low level of arousal. Over time, your ability to do this quickly and automatically improves.

* Research centered on treatment of psychological disorders has shown that teaching regulation of emotions to match the given environment can have a preventative effect on future displays of dysfunctional behavior. For example, if a person presents with manic episodes, teaching that person to regulate those extreme emotions (in the pre-learning, automatic method) can reduce the occurrence of those symptoms in the future. This is seen as a promising preventative treatment for mental disorders, or at least for some of the symptoms.

* The element of chess-boxing that makes it so challenging is the task-switching— from adrenaline-pumping physical activity to intense cognitive activity, in short bursts—all while maintaining a low level of emotional arousal. Because you don’t have the luxury of time to allow yourself to calm down naturally, you need to keep yourself from getting overly excited in the first place.

* Therefore, it follows that in order to be a good chess-boxer, you need to be able to master automatic emotion regulation, and training in this sport will help to strengthen that skill.

The Exciting Part

Now that we have all of this information about the benefits of emotion regulation, how it can be trained and achieved—what does this imply about future innovative methods of preventative treatment for problematic behavior?

Let’s look at one example that is especially dear to me: anti-bullying strategies. As a behavior therapist working in schools, I’ve been witness to and participated in quite a few different types of anti-bullying programs. Each program varies in its exact content, but generally, they all seem to focus on how to react to bullying—either in reporting it to a teacher, or in responding to the bully him/herself. These are all good things to teach—don’t get me wrong.

But what if we could target problem behavior before it even emerged?

Combination sports like chess-boxing—ones that involve rapid switching between physical, adrenaline-producing activities, and intense cognitive tasks, are ideal for training in emotion regulation. It may seem that an activity like boxing would promote aggression, but on the contrary—when combined with chess, utilizing short, alternating rounds, there is no time for aggression to build—otherwise you lose the game. If you train kids on how to control their emotional behavior or their aggression before they lash out at another child, then build on those patterns of successful behavior, you are one step ahead of the problem instead of chasing it down. Not to mention, early intervention of any behavior problems almost always means a higher rate of success in the long term.

Granted, very young children probably aren’t the ones who should be engaging in chess-boxing specifically (I see it more appropriate for adolescents and young adults), but any physical sport combined with alternating cognitive tasks, utilizing these same principles, would be just as great. Couldn’t you see Kickball-Math, or Obstacle Course-Scavenger Hunts?

Rather than using a "band-aid approach" to address some of these issues, such as childhood aggression and bullying, let’s use this scientific knowledge to come up with some innovative new solutions. By being a little creative, we could not only get kids enthusiastically involved in their own mental well-being, but it might actually be a more effective way to treat behavior and aggression problems before they begin.

Is chess-boxing the only solution for producing well-adjusted, emotionally stable adults? No, but it’s a fun place to start. I, for one, am willing to fight a little for a better future. Are you?

Addendum: In light of the tragic events that transpired in Arizona on January 8, I wanted to add some additional thoughts, to reinforce just how important this issue of emotion regulation is.

To see such acts of violence committed at the hands of a 22-year-old young man is heartbreaking and unacceptable. If we target behaviors like aggression when children are still developing, they have a much greater chance of growing up into the kinds of adults who are better able to control their emotions, and less likely to give way to aggressive behavior. Research is showing that early treatment of emotion regulation can have a profound effect on minimizing the symptoms of mental disorders. If there is a chance that people with schizophrenia will be better able to manage their behaviors through emotion training, isn’t it worth it to give it a try? We need to be spending our energy working on solutions that prevent these types of tragedies, rather than running around after the fact, trying to fix the damage that has already been done. Waiting until adulthood is too late. I believe we can change our children’s future for the better—let’s put science to use and make it a reality.

Notes:

*Research has shown that heightened arousal can help to motivate us to perform better at certain activities, but here we are speaking of a mismatch between how much arousal a person is experiencing, and the optimal level of arousal for that specific circumstance.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bibliography:

Calkins, S. D. (2010). Commentary: Conceptual and Metholodical Challenges to the Study of Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 92-95.

Iris B. Mauss, C. L. (2007). Automatic emotion regulation during anger provocation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 698-711.

Kring, A. M. (2010). The future of Emotion Research in the Study of Psychopathology. Emotion Review, 225-228.

Lawrence E. Williams, J. A. (2009). The Unconscious Regulation of Emotion: Nonconscious Reapprasial Goals Modulate Emotional Reactivity. Emotion, 847-854.

Maor Katz, C. L.-C. (2009). Prefrontal Plasticity and Stress Inoculation-Induced Resilience. Developmental Neuroscience, 293-299.

Sloan, A. M. (2009). Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Etiology and Treatment. Guilford Press.

World Chessboxing Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2011, from wcbo.org.

Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Etiology and Treatment By Ann M. Kring and Denise M. Sloan

Automatic Emotion Regulation During Anger Provocation by Iris B. Mauss, Crystal L. Cook, and James J. Gross

The Unconscious Regulation of Emotion: Nonconscious Reappraisal Goals Modulate Emotional Reactivity By Lawrence E. Williams, John A. Bargh, Christopher C. Nocera, and Jeremy R. Gray

Prefrontal Plasticity and Stress Inoculation-Induced Resilience by Maor Katz, Chunlei Liu, Marie Schaer, Karen J. Parker, Marie-Christine Ottet, Averi Epps, Christine L. Buckmaster, Roland Bammer, Michael E. Moseley, Alan F. Schatzberg, Stephan Eliez and David M. Lyons.

The Future of Emotion Research in the Study of Psychopathology By Ann Kring

About The Author: Andrea Kuszewski is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in Florida; her expertise is in Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism. She teaches social skills, communication, and behavior intervention in home and community settings, training both children as well as parents on methods of therapy. Andrea works as a researcher with METODO Social Sciences Institute, the U.S. branch of METODO Transdisciplinary Research Group on Social Sciences, based in Bogotá, Colombia, investigating the neuro-cognitive factors behind human behavior- this includes topics such as creativity, intelligence, illegal behavior, and disorders on the divergent-convergent thinking spectrum of schizophrenia and autism. As well as being a researcher of creativity, she is also herself a fine artist and has been trained in various visual communication medium, ranging from traditional drawing to digital painting, graphic design, and 3D modeling and animation for the medical and behavioral sciences. She blogs at The Rogue Neuron.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Comments 24 Comments

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  1. 1. jtdwyer 5:08 pm 01/10/2011

    Why not chess/pistol-dueling? There’d be no need for weight classes…

    Link to this
  2. 2. Bora Zivkovic 5:53 pm 01/10/2011

    …but chess would have to be speed-chess.

    Back to topic: very interesting and timely article. It may take some time to process..

    Q: do you think the two alternating activities have to be one physical, the other mental?

    I am wondering if alternating between two very different types of computer games (one aggressive, one requiring patience and contemplation) would be able to do the same?

    Or alternating between two very different physical activities – one which requires force and aggression while the other one requires calmness and skill (e.g., equestrian)? Would triathlon/pentathlon/decathlon athletes be really good at controlling their emotional levels?

    Link to this
  3. 3. waynerad 10:51 pm 01/10/2011

    Comment #1: I’m doubtful that aggression can reduce aggression. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10101875 , http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.jesp.2008.08.021

    Comment #2: The killing in Arizona was premeditated and not due to poor "emotion regulation". At least, investigators have found notes he wrote saying he planned ahead, see http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/psycho_stalked_pol_for_years_HBSCJ3HN9Iq0eykMUWjeSL

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  4. 4. AndiKuszewski 12:17 am 01/11/2011

    Bora, you bring up a good question, and there’s a reason why the physical activity works well, but these effects aren’t limited to just physical contact sports/activities…

    When you engage in a physical activity (for example, running 100 yards) you are going to have physiological symptoms of arousal–increased heart rate, etc. The same goes for something frightening, exhilarating, surprising–you get the idea.

    The point is to get in an arousal state that is high, then try and quickly lower it, in order to be able to concentrate on the cognitive task. The practicing of going back and forth between arousal and calm is the difficult part, and gets better with practice. Some people are naturally better, others need more training, but all benefit on some level.

    It doesn’t have to be boxing specifically, but it was used in the original sci-fi graphic novel because it was seen as the most extreme of all physical sports that could induce this response. This type of task-switching training–utilizing extreme physical alternating with extreme mental activities–is often used in the military (specifically special forces), as well as in firefighting, police training, and other professions where it is necessary to be able to think with a calm, clear head, even in heightened emotion-provoking situations. After this weekend, you can see how some of the heroes who acted responsibly made the difference between the resulted actions (controlling the suspect eventually) and absolute mayhem (random people drawing weapons, firing everywhere).

    With that said, separate from the above reason, practicing "aggressive" activities, such as boxing, while trying to maintain cognitive control over your emotions helps in various ways. You learn to maintain a state of relative calm, & focus your cognitive energy on the important task, and block out the emotional part. There are times when emotion is good and useful, like when you need motivation, but other times it interferes with clear thinking, and it a detriment. By training yourself to control your emotions, you’ll be better able to determine what situation you are in, and act accordingly.

    With respect to the video games, there are people doing research right now on that very thing. They are using it as a form of behavior modification, I believe, which is slightly different than what I am speaking of in respect to the specific benefits of chess-boxing, but is still beneficial. If I can find the link to the study I am thinking of, I’ll post it.

    Thanks for the questions!

    Link to this
  5. 5. 234085hjf980 12:49 am 01/11/2011

    It seems like the people who would be most adept at chess boxing would be sociopaths who feel no emotions. Not having the biggest hurdle would be quite and advantage.

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  6. 6. AndiKuszewski 1:02 am 01/11/2011

    That might very well be the case, however, you can’t take someone and "train them to be a sociopath". There are other neurological things at work there which classify them as such.

    Also: I am not completely convinced that sociopaths don’t have the *ability* to feel emotion… just that they are able to completely block it off at will, thus preventing that "emotional contamination". Sociopaths have the ultimate control over their emotions, possibly as a survival mechanism, to prevent emotionality. The ability to do that well is indeed rare.

    However, if you train other individuals to better handle their emotions and act responsibly at the same time (for example, teaching the value of human life and general sensitivity to humanity) that will have a better overall outcome, or so it would seem.

    Link to this
  7. 7. DavidManly 1:21 am 01/11/2011

    Great post, Andrea. Very fascinating, and I did not make a connection to something I learned recently until I was reading your response to Bora’s question.
    The TV show Mythbusters did an episode recently regarding if you can literally "slap some sense" into someone.
    Surprisingly, they found that the slap caused a state of increased arousal and concentration especially after being incapacitated in some way (over 24 hours without food, hypothermia, etc…).
    While the test subjects did not return to baseline after the slap, the results were significantly improved over those solely incapacitated.

    As for aggression in video games, there was a study released recently that showed that playing video games (even violent ones) did not cause an increase in violent tendencies. Was that the one you were thinking of Andrea?
    If so, I have the link somewhere …

    Link to this
  8. 8. AndiKuszewski 1:54 am 01/11/2011

    Ah, I found the article I read about using video games to teach anger management at Children’s Hospital Boston. Here it is:

    http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/01/gaming-the-emotions

    Unfortunately, they did not link to the actual research, so I didn’t find that yet.

    Basically (according to this summary), they attach the pinkies of kids playing a Space Invaders-type game with heart rate monitor indicators, and if their heart rate gets above a certain level, the game’s shooting mechanism shuts down. Over time, the kids learn what the optimal arousal rate is, and they get better at maintaining it so they can preserve the ability to play the game.

    This is just a pilot study, so I’d be interested to see what the next phase is. And, of course, to read the actual paper. :)

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  9. 9. casrose 4:25 am 01/11/2011

    Super Article Andrea ~ Aerobics for mind/emotion patterning is step in right direction for allowing balanced communication between the two and collaborating a much "Whole System" orientated response of the Whole Person.
    Aerobics’s did wonder’s for allowing synergy in right to left movements of body while exercising to repattern the brain for physical endurance, coordination, fluidity of movements etc
    which is essentially the task switching of emotions to cognitive control you are addressing.

    Since 1975 I have devoted my life to Preventive Whole Person Health and Education. Bullying is #1 epidemic in USA.
    We adults have to take responsibility for our behaviors, talk, rhetoric that children pattern themselves after. If you yell, swear at other drivers while driving you are teaching your child bullying behavior as you are saying to child you are right and the other person is wrong and you verbally and if driving erratically can enforce your "Will" on that other person.

    The person who did the shooting in AZ is a NEON SIGN for poor emotional regulation. Not understanding either of "Waynerad" comments as Premeditation to commit murder is very much driven by emotion feeling gone crazy. All the talk on TV is HOW did this obvious Paranoid delusional schizophrenia person ( the shooter) fall through so many cracks in the System. Which is what Andrea is addressing. Let’s be aware of these personalities in early childhood and then take steps to repattern their "behaviors" caused by emotions and their inability to process the physical driven feelings, emotion in healthy way, Rather then after the fact ( as in 6 dead & 18 injured) with armchair speculation and band-aid therapy. Plus Andrea’s article is nothing about aggression at all. But using any challenging physical activity ( which Andrea suggest can even be "any physical sport combined with alternating cognitive tasks, utilizing these same principles, would be just as great. Couldn’t you see Kickball-Math, or Obstacle Course-Scavenger Hunts?")

    The use of video games to create this " switching" gears ability of managing the physicality driven emotion to the better more deep expansive of the cognitive thinking is a positive step in right direction and benefits the player wonderfully in this bio feedback method.

    Very timely article Andrea. This is what Health Care Reform is about. Accepting mental emotional behavioral Health is behind every physical ailment & problem.
    Have to address the mental/emotional health in person first as it causes the physical health.

    Link to this
  10. 10. casrose 4:43 am 01/11/2011

    Andrea, This article needs to be submitted to http://www.studentsfirst.org/pages/about-students-first
    Led by Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools,Now based in Sacramento CA, StudentsFirst formed in 2010 in response to an increasing demand for a better education system in America. Our grassroots movement is designed to mobilize parents, teachers, students, administrators, and citizens throughout country, and to channel their energy to produce meaningful results on both the local and national level. United For Children Advocacy is doing business as "StudentsFirst: a movement to transform public education" and is a 501(c)4 organization based in Washington, D.C.
    America’s education system is broken. Today we release our plan to begin fixing it. Read and share now: http://studentsfirst.org/OurPlan

    This especially so for you Andrea as this is going down in your backyard in Tallahassee Fl
    ( Capitol of Fl)
    http://www.studentsfirst.org/blog/entry/studentsfirst-partners-with-florida/

    I am in wealthy community in Fl but to me the schools here are horrendous.. My son started kindergarten in Naples Fl in 1995. I endured it and 1st grade when I ran as far away from this saccharin deadly pill to Santa Fe NM to educate my son. Granted Santa Fe schools are very Poor and he did not even have books but the focus on ARTS and self expression that exists in the schools due to the leading Art World of Santa FE itself I am always grateful my son got that kind of education which I was able to continue for him at 2 Whole Person education boarding schools.. Cardigan Mtn in Hanover NH for Jr Boarding School and Cate Boarding High School in Santa Barbara CA…

    Every child should have the type of education my persistent got my son and can have while saving large amounts of $$$ that Student’s First is bringing about.

    "StudentsFirst will engage on the ground in many states and regions, but we put our first stake down in Florida yesterday ( 1/6/2011). I announced with Governor Rick Scott that we will help his new administration push a bold package of education reforms. Florida has made significant progress turning around schools in the last decade with strong laws requiring, for example, that every school receive a letter grade. Governor Scott shares our belief that not only do schools need report cards, but so do teachers, so that great teachers can be supported, recognized, and retained with professional salaries and protected from lay-offs. Our goal is that every student has a highly effective teacher."

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  11. 11. dburjorjee 5:58 pm 01/11/2011

    Regardless of behavioural training etc. there will always be some nutcases who want to kill people; the ability to have guns makes it easy for these persons to achieve their ends. True, one can use knives, cars, chemicals and other means to do so, bt having a gun makes it much easier. It is about time that gun ownership is banned.

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  12. 12. wrbilledwards 7:15 pm 01/11/2011

    We should recall that boxing alone is advocated by those who promote it, as a way for young men (especially poor minorities) to learn emotional discipline and direct agression with minimal risk. And it may well be that the strange combination of boxing and chess would be even more effective in this way.

    But I doubt the relevance of this to the current tragedy. I’m afraid this young young man would say he regulated his emotions perfectly well, so that he was able to achieve his objective, appalling as that objective is to us.

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  13. 13. AndiKuszewski 12:55 am 01/12/2011

    First, thanks for commenting. And you are correct that boxing is about teaching control and emotion regulation.

    But–why are you saying that boxing is primarily a minority sport? And for poor individuals? One could maybe say the same about football or basketball then, right? If you are going to make discriminatory claims like that, please back it up with some data. If you can show this via a reputable source, then fine–I’ll listen. Otherwise, it’s just discrimination. No need to start classifying people on anecdotal data or stereotypes.

    Second–the point is, the shooter may have been emotionally disturbed and acted out violently, but who is to say that if he was brought up from childhood learning to control those feelings of aggression, or persecution, or depression, or anxiety… that he wouldn’t have ended up in a different place, not feeling as if this was his only option? He may still have ended up in a similar circumstance, but research shows that it is far less likely if precautionary steps are taken early in life, as I mentioned and referenced in the article.

    We learn patterns of behavior from a very young age. If we are taught to not let emotions interfere with our decision-making, as research (http://duke.edu/~dandan/Papers/transientEmotions.pdf) shows it does, then we learn to develop patterns of appropriate behavior. These alternate patterns might involve other coping strategies rather than violence like we saw here.

    Do I think that every instance of violence can be prevented via emotion regulation training? Of course not. But I guarantee that it will be lower than the alternative.

    Early intervention methods are difficult, take a lot of time to fully implement, and take a lot of commitment on the part of the people doing the implementing–AND it takes years to see the full fruit of the effort. But they are often the most effective treatments against behavior problems, and thus important ones to support.

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  14. 14. AndiKuszewski 1:01 am 01/12/2011

    I really don’t think this is about gun ownership specifically–it is about a young man who had disturbed thinking, and made a decision to kill–for whatever reasons were going on in his head at the time. We may never know this. The fact that he had a gun simply means that a gun was the weapon he used to carry out this act.

    Like you said, he could have used a number of different methods. If you outlawed knives, and I really wanted to stab you, I could use a fork, or a pen, or a shard of glass. The medium isn’t the problem that I am concerned with, from a psychological standpoint; I am concerned with how we can raise individuals to not feel compelled to murder. Period.

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  15. 15. texacalian 3:47 pm 01/12/2011

    I have no particular problem with the contents of the blog contents of the article by Andrea Kuszewski, but I do find the reference to Arizona in the title to be offensive and in poor taste. I have never lived in AZ, nor do I have any special allegiance to the state, but I do not think it at all fair to single it out in such fashion.

    B. P. Gilstrap

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  16. 16. philipdc 4:06 am 01/13/2011

    Andrea thank you for this article. Chess Boxing a a young sport and we really appreciate the attention. As the President of the World Chess Boxing federeation, I am really interested in the ideas you have put forward.

    1) I am certainly not a human scientist and my evidence is largely anecdotal, however I do agree that fighting sports promote a decrease in aggression. This can equally apply to a wide range of sports including team sports. In most codes, a structure of honor soon replaces the random aggression that stalks the general male population.

    2) The points you bring up on "Controlled Aggression" are relevant to most contact sports. I have experience in Offensive Line for American Football, and one of the key aspects of a Lineman is intelligence, and particularly intelligence under pressure. It is a known fact in coaching football, that that one of the key attributes of a Center (The guy who snaps the ball to start the play)is that he has to be able to remember the snap count. Now this is an easy matter for even a fifth grader, but is a rare quality in adult men who have to remember it under the immediate threat of having your head knocked off by a 300 pound Defensive Tackle!

    3) Real Chess Boxers will tell you that the hardest part of the fight, is comming out of a heavy round of Boxing and trying to rememebr if you are Black or White.

    4) We are still a young sport, a bit like UFC 10 years ago, so training methodology has not fully formed. There are some basics like lots of Speed Chess and study of theory, but even then, the modern speed chess game has developed tactics to avoid extended openings. Extensive Chess is not a prerequisite for a Chess Boxer. Twenty years of experience at Chess is what you need, so that it becomes a reflex action.

    On the Physical side we get some really disparate approaches. Our WCBF Heavy Weight Champion, Robert Berry of California, spends much of his training period on Yoga. The idea being to gain maximum control over the mind. Robert feels that, if you can remain calm trough the Boxing, the superior Chess Player will always win. Well thats what he says, he ended his last title Defense by breaking his opponents ribs.

    Sergio Levique, Berry’s likely next opponent, fights out of Boxing Gym, Boxspolleto in Italy and is also a professional Boxer. He spends his training equally between Boxing and Chess, and regularly fights standard Boxing matches.

    It is going to be interesting to see how the Sport of Chess Boxing develops. We hope to see you all there.

    Link to this
  17. 17. philipdc 4:07 am 01/13/2011

    Andrea thank you for this article. Chess Boxing a a young sport and we really appreciate the attention. As the President of the World Chess Boxing federeation, I am really interested in the ideas you have put forward.

    1) I am certainly not a human scientist and my evidence is largely anecdotal, however I do agree that fighting sports promote a decrease in aggression. This can equally apply to a wide range of sports including team sports. In most codes, a structure of honor soon replaces the random aggression that stalks the general male population.

    2) The points you bring up on "Controlled Aggression" are relevant to most contact sports. I have experience in Offensive Line for American Football, and one of the key aspects of a Lineman is intelligence, and particularly intelligence under pressure. It is a known fact in coaching football, that that one of the key attributes of a Center (The guy who snaps the ball to start the play)is that he has to be able to remember the snap count. Now this is an easy matter for even a fifth grader, but is a rare quality in adult men who have to remember it under the immediate threat of having your head knocked off by a 300 pound Defensive Tackle!

    3) Real Chess Boxers will tell you that the hardest part of the fight, is comming out of a heavy round of Boxing and trying to rememebr if you are Black or White.

    4) We are still a young sport, a bit like UFC 10 years ago, so training methodology has not fully formed. There are some basics like lots of Speed Chess and study of theory, but even then, the modern speed chess game has developed tactics to avoid extended openings. Extensive Chess is not a prerequisite for a Chess Boxer. Twenty years of experience at Chess is what you need, so that it becomes a reflex action.

    On the Physical side we get some really disparate approaches. Our WCBF Heavy Weight Champion, Robert Berry of California, spends much of his training period on Yoga. The idea being to gain maximum control over the mind. Robert feels that, if you can remain calm trough the Boxing, the superior Chess Player will always win. Well thats what he says, he ended his last title Defense by breaking his opponents ribs.

    Sergio Levique, Berry’s likely next opponent, fights out of Boxing Gym, Boxspolleto in Italy and is also a professional Boxer. He spends his training equally between Boxing and Chess, and regularly fights standard Boxing matches.

    It is going to be interesting to see how the Sport of Chess Boxing develops. We hope to see you all there.

    Link to this
  18. 18. RobertFSherman 12:40 pm 01/14/2011

    Where was the love and persistent patience of a parent to ensure that this person received treatment and then followed through to ensure that he continued it?

    Link to this
  19. 19. ewargo 11:31 pm 01/14/2011

    There’s already a sport that merges the mental challenges of chess and the martial challenges of physical combat. It’s called fencing–which has historically been called "physical chess." Like chess, it involves thinking multiple "moves" ahead, quickly; like boxing or any other combat sport or martial art, it is, well, intensely physical, directly combative. And the historical precursors of modern sport fencing–for instance medieval and Renaissance swordsmanship–are now taught at many fencing schools. There is no need for the artificial ridiculousness of "chess boxing."

    Link to this
  20. 20. ewargo 11:20 am 01/15/2011

    There’s already a sport that merges the mental challenges of chess and the martial challenges of physical combat: fencing–which has often been called "physical chess." Like chess, it involves thinking multiple "moves" ahead, quickly; like boxing or any other combat sport or martial art, it is, well, intensely physical, directly combative. And the historical precursors of modern sport fencing–for instance medieval and Renaissance swordsmanship–are now taught at many fencing schools. There is no need for the artificiality of "chess boxing."

    Link to this
  21. 21. AndiKuszewski 1:37 pm 01/20/2011

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I think it’s good for everyone (including myself) to hear the experience from your perspective–someone who plays the sport and can give the first-hand account of what it takes to perform well. It’s one thing to read the science, but another to hear about the actual sport–then putting it all together makes it even better!

    I agree with what you said about aggression; I hope everyone really understands that. Boxing (or any sport) isn’t about aggression–it’s about control. The challenge is being physiologically provoked to a heightened state of arousal, yet having the control and focus NOT to act overly aggressive.

    Anyone who thinks boxing or wrestling, or any other contact-hybrid sport is about aggression, doesn’t understand it at all, and should perhaps do some reading on the philosophy behind these sports.

    Could you recommend a few good sources on the philosophy behind chess-boxing or boxing in general?

    Thanks so much for commenting! I loved hearing your take on it.

    Link to this
  22. 22. greengoddess1 10:57 am 01/21/2011

    This is such a terrific article; both the concept and clear writing! I hope to continue reading you, Andrea.

    One thing I appreciate is the idea of prevention; there should be more research into non drug, healthy skills training for those considered at risk for mental health problems or who already have them. I myself have found cognitive behavioral type exercises helpful in my own struggles.

    It sounds like ALL of us could benefit from chess boxing like activity…I know I could. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who will never box and stink at chess? How about aerobics and Scrabble?

    In any case it would be neat if this could be employed in all schools and prisons, for example. I mean, it couldn`t hurt.

    Link to this
  23. 23. seanbigay@yahoo.com 7:09 pm 01/26/2011

    Dear Andrea,
    Thanks for a very interesting article. Now for two or three off-the-cuff reactions:
    (1) My first reaction, one I’m sure other people have had on first hearing about chess-boxing, is "How silly!" And it does make for an amusing spectacle: two people alternately mauling each other in one square ring, and furiously mulling their next move on another! But I thought about it a bit more and realized that this humorous aspect can be a very important part of the game — especially if your objective if to teach rapid emotional control. (It’s very relevant to note that people like the Arizona shooter, who have poor automatic emotional regulation to begin with, also have a poor sense of humor.)
    (2) My second thought after "How silly!" was "Why make it turn-based?" I was thinking of the many jobs in our world that require both physical power and tight emotional control. And then I remembered what someone once said about one such job: "The Angel of Death is less callous and aloof than a fighting pilot when he dives." Are fighter pilots less likely to fly off the handle than other folks? That’d tell me whether or not it’s really necessary to separate the cerebral from the physical the way chess-boxing does.
    (3) Unfortunately, what one commentator said sounds true: Sociopaths might do very well in chess-boxing. This doesn’t necessarily negate the value of chess-boxing, and is in fact something of a red herring because it opens up a whole other can of worms. Sociopaths are very good at mimicking the outward signals of any emotional response without actually feeling it inside. That’s what makes them so dangerous. I found that out for myself, and rather wish I hadn’t.

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  24. 24. The Fight Store Guy 2:49 pm 07/9/2011

    There is real merit to this "task-switching" idea. If you look deeply into the training of martial artists for instance, you see that an extensive portion of training is meditation-based. Meaning that the physical activity or fighting is actually enhanced exponentially by harnessing a calmness and and "mind over matter" state of mind.

    Link to this

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