A new recruit’s perspective

A-DeanThe first time I heard of Full-Contact medieval fighting was via a friend from the reenactment group I was a part of, we had been part of the same reenactment group for some years and one evening having a mediocre dinner in a travel lodge after a day perusing the reenactment stalls, he told me about something I had always wanted to hear; he told me there were people that wore armour and actually battered seven-shades out of each other in proper foot-combat style tournaments.

He told me to get involved as he knew I would like it but I hadn’t any money and I had just completed my reenactment harness and was reluctant to sell it off to buy a harness suitable for full-contact; looking back now, I’m glad I did as he had said and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. After watching several videos on HMB (Historic Medieval Battle, another term used for Full-Contact fighting) and the IMCF (International Medieval Combat Federation), I realized just how visceral the sport is; simply it is unequivocally the closest thing you will get to the brutality of medieval combat. And it was beautiful.

I, personally have always had an interest in conflict that has manifested itself into a deeper more meaningful concept rather than just wanting to make someone else bleed. The deeper concept is the belief in the old ancestral gods of the Nordic people that my bloodline descends from, it is said that Woden favours those who prove themselves in the heat of battle; for a modern follower of the belief this is near impossible in a society where punching a man in the pub is frowned upon and therefore the possibility of standing toe-to-toe with someone who is equally ready to do harm against you is an attractive part of the sport for me. From that standpoint I readied myself for the run up to becoming part of Battle Heritage GB; the British team for the IMCF.

For the first time ever I stepped foot in the gym and began weight training, I knew I had to train hard and train religiously; if I didn’t then how could I ever compete against those who did. I concentrated hard on weights only because at 6’3” and weighing 13st I considered myself a light-weight against those I had seen in the videos of HMB, within 6 weeks I had gained an extra stone of muscle and had nothing else in sight than stepping foot on the battlefield and seeing what I was made of, I wanted to see what I was made of as at the end of the day men were designed by nature to breed and fight and if necessary die in the process; how can any self-respecting male call himself a man if he’s never been involved in a fight and had to defend himself?

After what seemed like an eternity I had collected enough armour to allow myself to take part in a training day at Ludlow with the help of borrowing some spare pieces. My first experiencing of HMB medieval fighting was a 1v1, which is very similar to boxing in so much as you’re not aiming to bludgeon the other person but score points by striking areas of undefended body. Stepping into the arena my visor was put down and locked into place, I wasn’t worried as I expected to come out of this in one piece but nevertheless this was my debut and it was in front of a crowd and adrenaline was buzzing in the background; surprisingly I won my first round of three but then I realized there was a fatal flaw within my training I had done running up to my debut and that was the neglect of bettering my cardio, a rookie error and fatal flaw that I have now since learnt as the two rounds following I was nothing more than a punch-bag making vain attempts to flail around and hit something. I was pretty ashamed of my level of cardio as things were only about to get worse as bohurts were next on the list.

Bohurts are essentially anything that isn’t 1v1 and is where the violence of medieval combat flourishes, the first proper bohurt that I took part in was a 5v5 consisting of three rounds. I was put in a team of newbies and what mostly nagged at me was the fact that all the newbies including myself were facing off against those that had just come back from taking part in the world championships in Spain. If this wasn’t walking into the lion’s den then I wasn’t quite sure what was. Needless to say I was preparing myself for a hiding and as my visor was locked down I tried to concentrate on what was at hand, the Marshals called out and asked if we were ready I remember smiling at that point and nodding, raising my sword to show that I was indeed ready.

Alastair on the left, and another beginner on the right in cobbled together borrowed harness.

Alastair on the left, and another beginner on the right in cobbled together borrowed harness.

The call to fight was given and both teams walked the length of the arena to engage, an ambivalent sense of adrenaline fueled serenity surged within me and I ran into the opposite line passing through without much drama, magically I found myself behind them and not knowing what to do with myself waited to see what happened; another mistake. Two of the opposing team peeled off and backed me into the corner where they set about me landing headshot after headshot with sword and shield and by the coincidence of wedging my arse into the corner of the arena they couldn’t take me down and ‘rolling with the punches’ was more applicable here than ever before. Getting my breath back the other two got tired and one left leaving me to jump on the remainder latching on like a limpet refusing to let go, restricting his arms we waltzed about and both tiring I took the kamikaze route that I had seen on the videos and pulled him on top of me therefore taking us both out the game.

I was unaware of who won the round all I concentrated on was breathing deeply and trying to pay back my oxygen debt, lining back up I thought about playing a more tactical game rather than bowling in but this tactical thought process lasted only for a minute until the call to fight was shouted again, lingering back I waited for them to come to us. Closing us in I peeled off around the edge and tried to play the flanker only to meet their flanker on the side, engaging each other with a body-check we fell into the railings of the arena and he ran off leaving me to push myself back into the arena and I discovered my first opportunity for a proper take down. One of the opposition had just disengaged and was looking for another opponent but didn’t see me, digging my heels in I sprinted as hard as I could and with sword and shield hit him with my full weight on the blindside smashing him off his feet into the barrier; the feeling of utterly destroying a vulnerable opponent is elating.

This was the first of three take downs, my second was taking out one of the team veterans simply because I didn’t want to find myself toe-to-toe with him (which later in another bohurts happened anyway), he was pulling himself off someone who had failed to kamikaze the both of them and from a few feet away I sprung forth digging my knee as hard as I could into his thigh causing him to spin round onto his back; by this time I was knackered and feeling great withdrawal symptoms from my poor cardio but luckily there was only one left and two of us. Backing him into a corner he charged me and grappled me around the waist, trying my best to lever my body-weight on top of him it all came to a close with a halberd from my team mate smashing him in the back and my body-weight crushing him to the floor.

The third and final bout of the bohurts lasted only seconds for me, progressing down the arena I found to my horror the veteran that I had kneed to the ground previously, trying to get into him I saw his shield rise up and strike me in the face. I’ve never been punched in the face like that before, it scrambled my brains; stupidly I allowed instinct to overrule sense, turning my back for no coherent reason I felt a strike to the back of my head and my vision explode in white light at which point an overwhelming feeling of ‘game over’ came over me and I went to the floor more out of Cardio coma than anything else. Lying there, face down in the grass gurgling in my helmet I felt very happy with myself; I wasn’t sure why but I was happy, content with the feeling that I had paid my pound of flesh, I had received my kicking and baptism and could now progress properly into the ranks of Battle Heritage GB.

But it wasn’t completely over, after the last Bohurt I was stripping off my armour ready to go and sit in the shade and the All vs All was announced, I was going to be content in watching the veterans scrap it out when a marshal came over and asked if I was going to take part, I shook my head and said no. He looked a little disappointed about this and pointed out that none of the newbies were taking part, there was an opportunity there that I wasn’t going to let go. Even though I was dead on my feet, I requested my armour be put back on so I could enter the arena when the other newbies weren’t, this sport is hard at best and what I love about it is it’s do or die, sink or swim, make an effort, stand up and be counted; you want respect then you fight for it when others won’t and now was a chance to make that last ditch effort.

Staggering into the arena my tactical opinion was simple, go for the biggest one, show an effort and see what you can do against the biggest when you’re already tired; it was quickly answered by ‘not much’. The call was given and I ran headlong at the biggest man with the aptly chosen nickname ‘Big-Dog’, the man is ex-professional rugby and knows what to do when people run at him; he held his ground and dipped his shoulder. Hitting him was like running into a boulder, but this boulder forced me into the railing and looking back at the video it was very similar to one of those coke-can crushing machines in action, with me being the coke-can. However, it wasn’t Big-Dog that ended me. Releasing me from his clutches the person who I had my 1v1 with smashed the back of my head in and I nose-dived into the ground; again I lay there happy with myself, I had dug my heels in and fought when others chose not to. I felt I had done all I could with myself that day and what inspired me more was the companionship and camaraderie that was displayed between and after fights, but make no mistake; only the strong willed and strong of arm are favoured here.

Within this sport you will find lifelong friends from all over the world, you will unearth new depths to yourself that you thought you never had and everyone will tell you that you’ll have an amazing time and this is true but what is readily skipped over and not made clear to beginners is this: Every countries team, every regional chapter is a wolf-pack. There is a definite hierarchy that is to be respected; only those who are above standard make the grade and make the teams. You are expected to train hard and fight hard in your own time as much as when you are with the team and go above and beyond what you think is comfortable. Mediocrity is made up by the mass and you are to be exceptional, champion yourself through mental and physical conditioning. If you are sitting there thinking this is all too much and convince yourself you can’t do this then you have already lost.

Train hard.

Fight harder.

Alastair Dean.

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