THERE is a man writhing at my feet, drowning on dry land as he tries to catch his breath.
But our screams of “medic” are muffled by the clash of heavy weapons and the roar of the baying crowd.
By the time they cut off his helmet, he has stopped moving and I am sure he is dead.
That’s when I decide there is no way in hell I’m joining these nutters in a Medieval Combat match.
Thankfully, England team captain Mark Taylor came to and besides his disappointment at sitting out the final round he was totally fine.
The 35-year-old security consultant from Hailsham, Sussex later told me his helmet had been knocked back so hard by a French fighter that he was choked by his own strap – apparently it’s quite a common injury.
Medieval Combat is basically Mixed Martial Arts with weapons – a sport so violent that it makes Game of Thrones look like Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
England captain Mark Taylor had a close call in match
The growing pastime sees participants dress like knights and beat the hell out of each other with real axes, swords and any other historically accurate weapons they can swing at each other.
The main discipline is the team battle, with anything from six to 32 fighters in a melee that’s about as close to witnessing a real medieval war as you’ll ever get.
England fighters lay into a Scottish warrior
The aim is to be the last team standing and once a player hits the ground – whether through a KO, tackle or just slipping over – they’re out for the round.
Matches are a best-of-three affair and are fought on grass inside a wooden pen about the size of a tennis court.
I had followed the English team to Poland where they were competing at the second IMCF (International Medieval Combat Federation) World Championships against 25 other nations, including the USA, Japan and South Africa.
It’s a fast-growing sport with the UK-wide fighting club Battle Heritage able to field separate English, Scottish and Welsh teams for the first time this year after their membership doubled to 50 in just 12 months.
Hundreds of fighters and thousands of fans descended on Malbork Castle for four days of warfare and film-quality fancy dress.
Ahead of their first battle, England’s biggest brawler Luke Woods offered to give me a training session and because I had no idea what I was in for, I agreed.
Luke, a 29-year-old teacher from Caterham, Surrey kindly let me wear his bear-sized 30kg armour, gave me a heavy sword and shield and told me to protect myself.
I felt like a hobbit plonked in a King’s armour. Inside the helmet I had the peripheral vision of a dog in a vet’s cone and was panting after a couple of minutes just standing in the gear.
Luke was clearly enjoying the novelty of messing with such a pathetic opponent, I could tell because he had a massive grin on his face the entire time.
He might feint a sword blow, drawing my shield up so that he could take a clean kick at my gut, or whack my arms with the sword or mix it up with a no-nonsense shield-smash to the face.
The one difference between IMCF weapons and the real thing is that the edges are dulled and rounded so that they can’t cut and stabbing motions are banned.
There’s also a maximum weight but even the legal 3kg polearm – a giant kind of axe on a stick – will easily leave a dent in a fighter’s helmet and a ringing in his ears when swung at full speed.
Despite the weapon regulations and Luke going easy on me, I still learnt the meaning of “a chink on your armour” and hobbled away from the beating with bruises in unprotected places.
After surviving my training I was feeling pretty proud, until I met Kat Forte from Chester, one of three women representing England.
The 40-year-old mum-of-one had two objectives after giving birth last year – lose the baby weight and learn to beat the hell out of another woman with a sword – Medieval Combat it is then.
With her armour on and the aggression turned up you’d have thought there was a bar-brawling bloke under Kat’s helmet not the kindly mother I’d just met.
Her partner Paul Antrobus – who was holding baby Maria while mum headbutted a lady in the face – is also on the team and the pair regularly gear up to fight each other.
Paul, a 47-year-old network administrator said: “I fight her in the same way that I fight with anyone else.”
And Kat doesn’t hold her punches either, admitting she once broke her lover’s finger in brutal combat.
The one-on-one sword fights that I watched Kat fight in were a lot more tactful than the carnage to come in England’s 5v5 and 10v10 games.
Battle Heritage spokesman Nick Berkin explained: “It’s not Errol Fylnn. It’s you’re outside a nightclub and some guy wants to shag your bird – react accordingly.”
When 32 men run at each other in full battle gear it sounds like a car crash.
Some blows are so brutal you struggle to work out how the poor bloke getting pummeled is still living let alone standing.
The men spend hours adjusting and making repairs to make sure they’re safe on the field and it does the job – mostly.
The England team are full of tales of trips to the hospital, Mark has fractured his jaw in two places and dislocated his shoulder and last year the team came home with a tally of two dislocated limbs.
Mark explained: “We tend to suffer motor injuries. So knees, legs, hip-based injuries where people land badly.”
In between fights the pageantry keeps up the atmosphere as support staff, referees and fans wander about their period tents and food stalls in era-accurate dress.
While the most successful fighters strut around like rock stars accompanied by their WAGs dressed up as fair maidens and smoking hot princesses.
Many teams are made up of soldiers, MMA fighters, rugby players, strong men and bouncers.
You’ve definitely got to have a special knack for violence and Kat admitted, be a little mad.
Mark told me he likes the fact he can do “things that you wouldn’t be able to do in the outside world without going to prison for a long time.”
While ex-squaddie Mike Fogg explained that it was the only thrill that compared to his days in the army.
The 27-year-old security officer said: “The first time I put the armour on and had a scrap, the adrenaline was back and you felt on edge again. It’s a mix of excitement fear and adrenaline that I couldn’t find when I left the army. But this has definitely brought it back.”
Despite the extreme violence there’s also a lot of chivalry and sportsmanship, not just within the teams but between nations.
If a country fields a team with a man down the other side will almost always have one man take the knee once the game starts and they’ll always hug it out after smashing each other’s faces in.
Mark said: “There’s a lot of offensive historical banter between the nations but at the end of the day we’ll have a drink together after we dust each other off. We’ll all be joking and laughing about how we caved each other’s helmets in.”
England’s final tally this year was one gold and four silver, with only the home team of Poland between us and five gold medals.
As the English went to receive their second place medal the Polish warriors chanted “England, England” followed by the entire crowd.
On the same weekend Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao earned hundreds of millions in an over-hyped fight, these warriors fought just as bravely and were a lot more entertaining to boot.
These medieval warriors all earned zero prize money but every fighter left with more glory than Mayweather will ever get his grubby hands on.
I know whose fights I’ll be following from now on.
The above article is from The Sun Online and has been posted for those outside of the UK. The original article can be found here: