How do you wind down after a tough week at the office? Some of us will sink a few beers in the pub, others will head to the gym or play five-a-side football with mates, but guys like Robert Nacke likes nothing better than bashing the crap out of fellow opponents on a muddy field while covered head to toe in heavy armour. Welcome to the international fight club, otherwise known as Medieval Combat…
You can while away hours playing video games with all manner of virtual weapons at your disposal but let’s face it, there ain’t nothing like the real thing – especially when it comes to a proper old-fashioned battle. Add an arsenal of authentic weaponery, a made-to-measure armour suit and a generous slice of imagined history into the mix, and you’ve got a near-perfect combat recipe for most red-blooded males – and more than a few maidens too. The chance to have a good, proper scrap alongside your mates with strategy, teamwork and sheer physical fitness all playing their part – and all in the name of entertainment – goes a long way to understanding why Medieval Combat is enjoying such a renaissance, if you’ll excuse the historical pun.
“Pumped full of adrenaline, you go into the fight with your opponents and do your best,” says IT project manager Robert Nacke, 37. “After the battle you are friends. There are no enemies. You come together and have a chat over a beer. It’s no different to riding motorcycles with friends. The idea is to enjoy life at all times.”
Like Robert, many of us also ride motorcycles to get our adrenaline fix and that important feeling of freedom, but Medieval Combat’s a completely different type of escapism. It’s not the historic battle re-enactment that you see performed at a village fete, this is full-on contact sport, where the outcome is decided by one team literally flattening its opponents by violently aimed blows with weapons, kicks, wrestling holds, rugby tackles and anything else that is deemed to fall within the ‘rules’ set out by Medieval Combat’s governing bodies.
Despite the historical links, it’s quite a young sport that was founded in Russia and has spread widely in just a few years and now has a huge following. Argentina, South Africa, Japan, and New Zealand have many homeland teams and the sport’s popularity and reach are growing fast. Germany is a perfect example of how Medieval Combat is growing, with 12 established teams, including one in Munich, where Robert is the chairman.
But what is Medieval Combat exactly? In a nutshell, two opposing teams dressed in period costume armed with period weapons do battle in a closed arena. The winners are the team left standing, or if a situation occurs where, for example, one team member is left standing and is heavily outnumbered, then the attending referees can step in to call a ‘higher advantage’ win. Essentially a team will attempt to floor the opposing team by any means available.
“When a player is put on the ground he can’t get up. He stays down and is out of the battle,” says Robert. “If he gets up he is red-carded and is out. It’s a hard but fair sport and we have referees who are there to ensure fair play. Rule violation can lead to a yellow card – and two yellow cards means you’re out of the match.”
There are different group battles, such as five against five, ten versus ten, 16 v 16, and a full-on 21 v 21. There is also the dress code, which is primarily protective armour. It’s vital that every piece of armour fits perfectly or the wearer can’t move properly, let alone fight. A full suit can cost upwards of €6,000 and then there’s also the price of the weapons to factor in, but as we all know, wars are expensive…
“The protective clothing has to be periodically correct from the 14th to the 16th century,” says Robert. “The armour weighs approximately 30kg and covers the full body, with open spaces behind the knees and the inside of the arms and you are not allowed to use weapons in these areas. Apart from that you have striking zones on all areas of the armour except for the ‘crown jewels’! The suit’s armour is made from high quality carbon steel, which is hardened. A lot of power is needed to put a dent in the armour. On the other hand it is very lightweight. We get it from a professional plate metal worker because they are the only people who know how to make the armour. They use the old techniques of forging the metal.”
Without any shadow of a doubt Medieval Combat is a very physical sport. Think of it as a mix of rugby, boxing, wrestling, bludgeoning and more. Not only is punching, kicking, grappling and tackling permitted, there is also striking with the sort of weapons you’ll remember from your school history books – big blades, heavy poles and maces. “You are not allowed to stab and all weapons are blunt because obviously you want to live,” says Robert with a hint of malice in his eyes. “There are some period weapons banned such as the war hammer (a pole with a hammer on one side and a spike on the other). It was invented to attack behind the armour and also acts like a can opener...”
As for team tactics, it’s like a battle version of attack and defence in a football match. “You will probably have a big, strong guy (the ‘tank’) who goes into the fight and takes out as many opponents as possible. Then you will have a ‘runner’, whose job is to try to find a weak spot to exploit and bring a guy down. There can also be a ‘polearm’ guy, who has a pole lance, about two metres long and three kilos in weight. His job is to stand at the back to see what is going on and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing players. If he sees a weak person he will try to bring that guy down with one strike.”
Fitness is paramount for survival in battle. Robert uses CrossFit training to help develop muscles used for kicking, punching and the better use of weapons. The physicality of Medieval Combat is obvious to anyone who has spectated at an event. The constant manoeuvring into striking distance; the raining of blows with a heavy weapon and fists; kicks and wrestling clinches are all there to see – and hear. The clash of metal against metal is loud. The sounds of breath being expelled in one violent action from sheer muscle strain or an impact of sorts is constant.
That all makes Medieval Combat a brilliant spectator sport. Where else can you see 10, 20 or even 42 people going head-to-head in a closed arena? Fancy your chances? Then why not join a team – or even create one? You never know, but that quiet work colleague sitting across from you could well be a 14th century slayer of men today – and your right-hand-man, or woman.
Autor: Andy Dukes