Imagine your local Renaissance Faire.
|Photo from chicagotheaterbeat.com|
Then add some hardcore, modern day spice a la UFC and ECW to it.
|Photo from NY Times|
And ladies and gentlemen, you have what may be the most insane[ly awesome] sport to ever be contrived in the history of the universe. Medieval Combat. Yes. Blunt swords, shields, armor, and chain mail. It makes Medieval Jousting look like a peewee football game.
When I had first discovered this sport the other day, my inner adolescent wanted to grab old boxes and make armor and buy a pool noodle from Rite Aid so I can have a sword fight with my younger brother. He didn't know about this tidbit, but trust me, I would think he'd be all for that. Once I snapped back into adulthood, I started thinking: "Holy cow, this actually exists? In 2014? And it isn't scripted?" Lo and behold, there are Medieval Combat teams that exist around the world that involve armored men (women too) attacking one another with blunted weapons and defending with shields. Most teams are found in Europe, like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, but don't fret, the United States has a league for this as well. Please, ladies and gentlemen, try to contain your excitement.
Based on all of the research I've done, this sport has been traced all the way back to the year 2009. No, really, this sport is literally in its infancy. While this style of combat was born centuries upon centuries ago, this hasn't been seen as a competitive type of sport until recently. In fact, it started as a social thing in the regions within Kharkiv, Ukraine, and a league was formed soon after. Two world championship leagues [currently at odds, ironically enough] currently exist: the HMBIA (Historical Medieval Battle, known best for the "Battle of the Nations") and the IMCF (International Medieval Combat Federation). Allegedly, there was a split due to corruption occurring between nations in each league and a large amount of rule-breaking that was never reported. It really is as close to how most wars started in medieval times, if you can believe that. You can't script stuff like this--it still happens today.
For each tournament/league, there are rules. No, you can't do everything like you would in an actual war setting. If I could make any sort of parallels, there are similarities between fencing and judo with Medieval Combat. One set of rules permits tripping and strikes with the head and knees, while another does not. However, both will agree on no striking during weapon loss or when the opponent is on the ground, and where on the body one can and cannot strike. Both sets of rules can be read here (HMBIA) and here (IMCF).
Now that we've gotten the premise and the rules out of the way, you're probably thinking of one thing: This has to be the most dangerous sport that exists today. Believe it or not, it really isn't that bad. In fact, it can be considered safer than American football and even competitive cheerleading. There are the issues in which a knight can suffer a concussion from a poorly blocked blow that went to the helmet, but that's about the worst you can get. Some suffer arm and shoulder injuries (mostly from excessive swinging and blocking) and that can be expected from a type of sport like this.
The most interesting part of all of this is that each respective league keeps the history of Medieval Combat sacred and as historically accurate as possible. While there may be a points system and nobody is expected to die, most fights take place in well-fenced fields and proper padding and armor and weaponry that are used remain faithful to original counterparts. Plus (this is my favorite part), the next IMCF World Championships in Poland will take place at a castle. Holy flipping flip, how cool is that? While YouTube videos exist of fights where they have extreme metal music in the background showing the most painful-looking of hits, that can be rather deceptive of each fight. Sure, there is background music at the venue during each round, but the fights are at the same crowd and excitement level as a boxing match or an MMA bout, just with old school weapons and armor thrown in the mix. There are no reenactments; everything is true-to-form and no-bull.
Because it's a more history-based sport along the lines of martial arts, it has a slim chance to make it to the mainstream in media-booming regions outside of Eastern Europe. However, it has a pretty faithful following and is a pretty great spectacle to tak ea look at. You get history, entertainment, and a rush of excitement all in one. It's like Braveheart meets Highlander meets A Knight's Tale meets every single childhood swordfight you have ever had. And personally, I hope this catches on even more. If you want to see some fights and highlights for yourself, check these two videos out. (1 - 2)
[Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch some more videos and buy myself a foam sword to train.]