If you've ever been to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, you've likely wandered into the section dedicated to arms and armor. It features an incredible array of weapons, beautifully crafted armored suits, and other novelties of war and pageantry. It's also very good at inspiring that question everyone asks themselves as they stare at heavy steel breastplates and long swords behind glass: "How in the world could anyone possibly fight in that?"
If you're game, you can now answer that question for yourself. All across the globe, organizations dedicated to full-contact medieval combat are popping up. The growing sport is based on traditional 14th and 15th century tournament rules, with weapons ranging from the imposing long sword to the versatile poleaxe. Men and women don the steel armor familiar to anyone who's attended a medieval reenactment festival –– but with one big difference: they're actually going to go full fight club on each other.
Like tournaments of old — real old — participants are not actually interested in maiming each other. Instead, the winners are chosen based on who's left standing. The extremely lengthy list of rules includes no strikes to the feet, back of the knee, groin, throat and back of the neck. Also, no thrusting or trash talking. Afterwards, competitors are expected to be cordial towards one another, and it's not uncommon for one to buy another a round of mead.
Despite the full-contact nature of the sport with shields, swords, axes and armor, the injury rate is surprisingly low.
"It's amazing the confidence that armor gives you," Australian Martin Cazey, a fighter for Battle Heritage-Great Britain says in a video. "The first time that you put on a good suit of armor that is fitted to you, padded correctly, you realize, well that doesn't hurt. Overall the injury rates aren't that much more than the average rugby tournament. I think last year one of the major tournaments had an 18 percent injury rate over 500 fighters."
Cazey adds that while strength is important, it's really cardio that makes all the difference.
"If they can't last one to two minutes running around at break-neck speed wearing all this armor with a vizor that is restricting your breathing, then somebody like myself who is 83 kilos can take them down, so cardio is very important," he says.
Want to release your inner Sir Lancelot and get involved? Unless you happen to be a skilled blacksmith, you'll need to have all the requisite equipment — from backplates to breastplates to a glorious helmet. Kits are sold online, but considering the skill needed to fashion these items, you'll need anywhere from $1,000 for something basic to $4,000 for a suit fit for a king or queen. And then there are the weapons, which have their own costs — and of course you'll have to learn how to use them properly.
But if all that sounds reasonable, there are any number of tournaments during the warmer months for you to witness, as well as organizations and clubs to join for training and guidance.
"There’s nothing like the bonding you get here," one participant told The Daily Mail. "The real world can be quite fake. You have to be what society expects you to be. But here you can be what you want."
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