The SCA or Western Martial Arts not macho enough for you? You might be interested in medieval combat with steel weapons:
Steel kisses steel. Actual sparks fly. An axe snaps in half as it dents a helmet. A municipal garbage bin, carelessly left at the fringes of the fight, implodes in a sorry mess of dented plastic as four armored men collapse onto it.
I’m witnessing, from the far side of a flimsy rope, something much more violent than your average historical battle reenactment. These men are engaging in full-contact medieval combat in an open training session for the U.K. iteration of a growing global society. More GBH than LARP, it substitutes foam weaponry for real steel and scripted acting for unpredictable scuffling, and despite the mayhem, operates under tightly controlled rules and regulations.
The team’s press officer, Nick Birkin, agrees. “Reenactors are used to dink, dink,” he says, mimicking the prissy swordplay anyone who’s sat through a retelling of Agincourt will no doubt cringe to recall. Another weekend warrior sums up the distinction more succinctly: “Reenactment’s for pussies.”
I first heard about the Russian origins of this new organization from a co-worker who was still upset he’d had to leave his chainmail and weapons behind when he came to Canada from St. Petersburg. It sounded like great fun … but was significantly more injury-prone than the SCA combat of my youth.
The Russian connection also brings with it some aspects that make Western practitioners uncomfortable:
The West’s notions of fair play and how an international tournament should be run are, it would seem, at odds with that of the East’s. Dissent has been stirring among the camps and honor was called into question on several sides, and complaints started to be raised about the Russian organizers. The first to percolate were stories about rule-changing and underhand tournament organization.
“They said that under no circumstances can you have a metal handle on your shield, and that you can’t wear titanium armor,” U.S. team captain Andre Sinou tells me later over the phone from his native New Jersey. Sinou is also the owner of an armory manufacturer called Icefalcon. “So I told my guys that. Then when we went out there, all the Eastern teams had metal handles. We complained, and they said, ‘Oh, we sent out a memo’, which none of the Western countries got.”
Many of the Eastern fighters were wearing Kevlar armor under their suits and came with lethal equipment — such as two-handled halberd axes — that was banned for anyone else. “The weapons that some of the Eastern teams were using were just dangerous,” Sinou says. “They were pointy, they didn’t follow the rules for sharpness. After 2013, we had puncture wounds — we had a meaty guy who got punctured all the way down to the bone on the shoulder. It hit his spine. He could have been paralyzed.”
Nick Birkin from Team U.K. echoes many of these complaints and adds his own stories of match fixing, detailing devious techniques that would put a Sochi figure-skating judge to shame and which apparently allowed Russian teams to progress further and enjoy longer rest breaks between contests. But the growing concerns of an increasing number of countries was met by a response almost laughably Kafkaesque.
H/T to Steve Muhlberger for the link.