Published on May 5, 2014
Gold for Poland in the male longsword event at the Medieval Combat World Champions and gold for the USA in the female category as women compete for the first time in the sport's world championships.
Adrenaline, emotion, pageantry, skill and violence - these are the elements of the Medieval Combat World Championships, an event drenched in history that emulates the tournaments of the Middle Ages where knights battled it out as they practiced for the real thing - war.
"The sport is based on the traditional 14th and 15th century tournaments, mostly the rules have been developed from a book by a guy called King René of Anjou and he wrote the seminal book of the tournament in the early 1400s," Australian Martin Cazey, a fighter for Battle Heritage - Great Britain, explains decked out in clothes fit for a medieval knight and a moustache to match the part.
The weapons used in the sport that has been popular in Easter Europe for about 15 years but has only just began to gain popularity in the west are the same as the ones used in medieval times in both weight, size and construction. Weighing from one kilo for the smaller weapons to three kilos, modern knights choose their weapons in the 16 v 16 and 5 v 5 events according to their preferences. Lighter weapons allow for more agility, heavier ones come down with more power but restrict movement.
"There are trade-offs, people have preferences and the big weapons like this two-handed ax can go up to three kilos, total weight over the weapon, so it's not the big Hollywood thing where people go 'rrrraaaahhh' to try to lift a sword," Cazey says. "You had to be able to use these things for hours on the battlefield and the (medieval) tournament weapons were not very different because tournament was just a practice for war."
And how do the knights of today prepare for the physical exertion demanded by combat?
Strength is important, Cazey says, but cardio training is also essential.
"If they can't last one to two minutes running around at break-neck speed wearing all this armour 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 explains.
Another element that is key is having the correct safety gear that is not only authentic in terms of design but also in quality.
"It's amazing the confidence that armour gives you. The first time that you put on a good suit of armour that is fitted to you, padded correctly, you realize, well that doesn't hurt," Cazey says. "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% injury rate over 500 fighters."
Despite the violence and weapons, which due to safety rules have been blunted, there is little blood in the sport and most injuries are in the form of torn ligaments and sprains.
The violence however is limited to the battlefield, Cazey says, and once off the fighting ground the atmosphere amongst competitors is respectful and friendly.
"Fair-play is big part of this sport. I always find it interesting that everybody looks at this sport and thinks it's an incredibly violent sport. To a certain extent it is, but it's all taken out on the field and as soon as the fight is over we help each other up off the ground, we give each other a hug and go and buy a beer for each other," he explains.
On Sunday, the last day of the four day event which began on May 1, fair-play and respect were on show in the finals of the men and women's longsword event.
Poland's Marcin Waszkielis took the gold in the men's event beating Britain's Lukas Cowal and with women joining the world championships for the first time the USA's Suzanne Elleraas from San Diego made history in Medieval Combat becoming the first female longsword gold medalist.
"We made history for all the women in the world," runner-up Aline Planchon from Belgium said as she stood next her opponent.
"It's fun, it's a good time, more women should come out and do this, we aren't really worried about being hurt out here," Elleraas said encouraging other women to join the sport.
In addition to longsword, tournament events include 1 v 1 polearm, 5 v 5 and 16 v 16 group events, and sword and shield fighting.
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