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June 2014: Battle of the Nations - Combat Sports With True Honor

When I think of Medieval times, I think of kings and queens and swords and shields and also medieval festivals and historical reenactments, but Battle of Nations is far from any “play fighting” which you may see at a reenactment. This is full contact fighting in real armor with real weapons! This year’s World Championships are from June 12th - 15th in Croatia.

I first came across this kind of fighting in the summer of 2012 when the Battle of Nations held its annual world championships in Warsaw, Poland and I have to say that I was really intrigued and impressed not only with the fighting, but with the passion and complete obsession the fighters and other individuals involved have for the lifestyle.

How does it work?

Historical Medieval Battle (HMB) is full contact fighting with real metal weapons and armor. They have very strict rules and regulations about how exactly the armor must look and which time period it represents and also how the weapons must be constructed. Fighters take part in several different kinds of fights including everything from individual and group battles to jousting on horseback. While there, all of the attendees live in the medieval way by sleeping on hay in tents and preparing meals over an open fire.

The Events

1 vs 1 - This is an individual contest that has three different rounds. Fighters try to score points by hitting their opponent with their weapons. Each round you use a different weapon and shield.

5 vs 5 - A bit more chaos ensues in this style of fight due to the number of participants. The teams start on either side of the battle field, which is enclosed by wooden fencing and they charge at each other like something out of a fight scene in the film Bravehart! The object is to eliminate the members of the other team by knocking them to the ground. You must stay on the ground and not get up when any part of your body touches the ground besides your feet. The team with the last man standing wins.

21 vs 21 - How about adding a little bit more fuel to the fire? It’s the same concept as the 5 vs 5 battle, but this one is a bit bigger. Things really get tricky here because you have people attacking you from behind and sometimes double or triple teaming you. Basically anything goes here except hitting someone in the neck, behind the knees or choking someone with your weapon. Expect to see a lot of hockey style checking going on here as the fighters try to get one another to the ground.


All vs All - This is the grand daddy of the all, and the biggest battle of the tournament. All fighters (grouped by nations) are divided into equal numbers of two teams. This fight is just complete anarchy. Sometimes guys have no idea who they are even fighting against. It’s just complete and total chaos for 10 or 15 minutes as swords, spears, maces, axes and halberds are flying in every direction.

Professional Fight - This is also an individual fight, but it’s more along the lines of an MMA match with armor. Each fighter has a weapon and shield but you are also allowed to throw, trip, kick and punch your opponent. When the fighters go to the ground, the action is stopped and they are stood back up before reengaging. There are three three-minute rounds and you can win on points or by knockout. No submission techniques are allowed.

The Joust - Just like in the films, knights mount their horses and charge at each other with lances.

The Aftermath

For those who may think that these are just medieval-time-crazed fan boys pretending to fight, think again! These guys are tough and they know what they are doing. Some guys train year round in preparation for these fights. I saw many different injures including one guy from Austria who got his two front teeth knocked out after he got smashed in the face with an axe and another guy from Denmark who almost got his finger severed when a sword cut right through his glove. I also saw countless people who had dented helmets and as a result the armor ended up cutting their face or head. The ambulance staff (some of the only plain-clothed people in attendance) were called onto the battle field on several occasions and a few people were taken to the hospital. One time, while watching the All vs All group battle a ten pound chunk of meal flew past me, about 6 inches from my head. Somebody swung their weapon backwards when they were trying to attack someone and the metal object came right off their weapon and went into the crowd. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was the blade of an axe.

The most reassuring thing though, was how much respect the fighters have for one another. When they’re on the battle field, they attack each other as hard as they can with their weapons, but after the fight they all shake each other’s hands in the spirit of good sportsmanship.


The Lifestyle

During the four-day event, most people participating tend to stay “in character” the whole time, which means sleeping in canvas tents with hay on the ground as bedding, cooking in cast iron pots, preparing your meals over an open fire and dressing in medieval-style clothes. It’s almost like a LARP (live action role play). I’m not sure what some people enjoy more, the battles or just living this kind of lifestyle. And of course, it’s not only the guys who are taking part, the women also play a big role, cooking for their men, doing the washing, helping carry the supplies to and from the battle field and taking care of their men. 2014 is the first year when women will also be allowed to participate in the battles.


The Teams

The Battle of the Nations started off in 2009 and 2010 with only a few national teams from Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Belarus, but things seem to get bigger and better every year. When I was there in 2012 there were 12 teams and this year there are nearly 30 different countries being represented, even some countries who you wouldn’t even expect to have medieval ties also compete such as the USA, Argentina and Mexico.

Every year the team to beat is Russia. They are the largest team in numbers and have won the most competitions every year at the World Championships. The Russians seem to take the fighting a lot more seriously and train harder than most countries. They come to win.

What do you think about HMB? Should it be considered a real combat sport? What do you think about the competition and the lifestyle? Is this something for you? As always, feel free to leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter or drop me a line.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid)


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