Day 52: Forgotten Sports – From Finger Jousting To Chessboxing

originally published February 21, 2012

Sometimes we as a society allow ourselves to become complacent, inviting certain repeated activities into our lives almost rut-like, ignoring fresh ideas and innovation. I’m talking about the sports world today. We see enough hockey, enough baseball, enough football… we see some curling, and that’s more than enough.

What about finger jousting?

Finger jousting consists of interlocking your right hand with that of your opponent as though you are about to arm-wrestle, then extending your index fingers and attempting to poke one another. Sound ridiculous? I’m just getting started.

Here’s a quote from fingerjoust.com:

“Finger jousting is a sport in which two consenting players square off in an attempt to prod their opponent with their lancing (right) index finger before their opponent can.”

Needless to say, you’ll want to beef up your lancing finger before you try this.

The word that stands out for me is ‘consenting’. You definitely don’t want to engage in this sport with an unwilling participant. Finger-joustrape is no laughing matter.

Another quote, this time from the Wikipedia page:

“The true origins of the sport are very unclear, however some historians speculate about certain theories.”

Historians. Finger Jousting Historians. Kids, stay in school – even your most ludicrous career dreams can come true.

Some believe the sport originated with the ancient Israelites. Some (probably more) believe it was started up by bored stoned kids in the 1970s. Its status of sport-hood is partly because of this guy:

I swear to god, the finger jousting guy actually contacted me and requested his name be removed from this article. For embarrassment reasons. I’m not making this up.

<name redacted> established the World Finger Jousting Federation in 2005. He bills himself as Federation president, or (and I am not making this up) Lord of the Joust. How huge is this sport? The official website boasts three events (all between May 2006 and May 2007), spanning the globe (or, to be accurate, various parts of LaGrange, Georgia).

The most recent post to the WFJF discussion forum was over two years ago, and there appears to be no new activity on the horizon. It could be that finger jousting is falling tragically into that dusty realm of historical quirkery, or perhaps this is just a period of rough adjustment before explosion into the mainstream, like professional football in the early 1920s.

If you want to show your support for finger jousting (and why wouldn’t you? The sport makes more logical sense than diving, and people watch that on ESPN), you can buy a membership in the WFJF for only $10. I’m not entirely clear if simply buying that membership makes one a professional athlete, but I’m going to assume that yes, it does.

If finger jousting is not your thing, why not take up the sport of jianzi? This sport is what would happen if a shuttlecock had sex with a hackysack (which, upon re-reading this sentence, sounds outlandishly vulgar). Jianzi is essentially badminton played without rackets. A feathery shuttlecock with a flat, rubbery bottom is kicked over a net in an attempt to score points.

Jianzi has a lot more street cred than finger jousting – it was actually a demonstration sport at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The sport has increased in popularity, and is now represented at the international level after the 1999 founding of the International Shuttlecock Federation (not to be confused with the similarly-named organization for women who want to have sex with astronauts. <rimshot>).

Perhaps you’re looking for something a little less aerobic to pass the time. Maybe you want something a fat guy could excel at, or possibly a sport in which being paraplegic is an advantage. You should turn your attention to ferret legging.

This sport, which is said to have originated amongst Yorkshire miners – the people that worked in mines, not underage hooligans – involves putting a live ferret in your pants for as long as you can tolerate it.

Yep. You tie the ankles of your pants good and tight, then drop two ferrets into the waist before sealing that exit up with a belt. Then you stand in front of the judges and wait. Whoever lets their ferrets out first, loses.

Wait, there’s more. Underwear is not permitted, neither is alcohol. The ferrets can’t be sedated or their teeth blunted. Frank Bartlett holds the world record for having ‘junk of steel’, and lasting a full five hours and thirty minutes.

Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan spent the greater portion of his 1996 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno discussing ferret legging, which he described as a ‘new Australian Olympics event’. His career has only blossomed since.

Okay, I’ve got space for one more. I think it’s time a real tribute be paid to that ultimate combination of brains and brawn. Yes, I’m talking about chessboxing.

Inspired by a French comic book and brought to life by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh in the 1990s, this is another sport which is actually played in front of people in Europe. The contestants must be at a Class A (so pretty damn good) level of chess, and the match can be won on the chess board or in the boxing ring.

The game makes use of ‘speed chess’, in which each player has twelve minutes to win a game of chess. They play four minutes of chess, followed by three minutes of boxing. After a one minute break, they head back to the chessboard. This continues until someone wins. You can win by a knockout, by a checkmate, or by the judges’ decision.

This sport strikes me as astoundingly sane, at least in the context of this article. I’m especially fond of this little gem on the game’s rules:

“If the chess game reaches a stalemate, the scores from the boxing rounds are used to determine the winner. If the boxing score is also a tie, the player with the black pieces wins.”

I love that. You battle your way to a physical and mental deadlock with your opponent, and rather than declare the match a draw, a victory is arbitrarily handed to the guy with the black chess pieces. That would be like awarding the home team a win in any professional sport that ends in a tie.

Okay, so chessboxing isn’t perfect. It could be the next big thing – maybe we’ll see it at the Olympics someday. I know I’d watch it on TV. Why not? I think chessboxing, ferret legging, jianzi – even finger jousting could make for great television. What’s on our sports channel right now?

Curling. Friggin’ curling.

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