Back in 2000, software engineer and martial arts instructor Gints Klimanis founded the Gentlemen’s Fight Club in his garage in Menlo Park, California. An invitation-only affair, Klimanis conceived that the club would allow those working in the high-tech industry to get out their aggression. As you can imagine, he was initially inspired by the David Fincher film/Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name. Except, of course, that Gentlemen’s Fight Club is not fiction, it’s real. Hard punches are thrown and brutal kicks are landed; bloody noses, welts, and bruises are common; and all variety of weapons are employed — from pool sticks and frying pans to dust busters and retired keyboards. In a new film called Uppercut that chronicles the club, Klimanis explains how and why the high-tech industry and garage-based combat converged.
“In Silicon Valley, we have the highest concentration of aggressive people in the United States,” Klimanis says in the film. “And it’s a place where all life has been reduced to working in a cubicle, and then after work going out to have a Merlot at the Fromage bar. I’m kind of looking for something a little more primitive, a little more basic, something that appeals to the essential nature of a man.”
Though it’s unclear whether Klimanis’ distinction that Silicon Valley boasts the “highest concentration of aggressive people in the United States” is fact or convenient anecdote, his point about a life spent toiling in a cubicle is one that I imagine resonates with much of the population. In Uppercut, which was shot and directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, the concept of violence as reality check is at the core. Klimanis and his fellow fighters engage in 60-second warfare as a reminder, to themselves if no one else, that they are more than their work. It’s the pursuit of living life a little deeper, as Klimanis says toward the end of the film. For most of these men, Gentlemen’s Fight Club seems as much a defining moment for them as writing code or engineering software. But even for diehards like Klimanis, who has been punching people and getting punched back in his garage for over a decade, the experience has a visible endpoint.
“In the hours before a fight night, there’s always this uncertainty, these butterflies, almost like a feeling of nausea. Like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’,” he says in the film. “But, if I don’t do it, I don’t know, am I too old? Am I dead? I’m not ready to give up yet.”