Ever wonder what it was like to really fight while wearing a full suit of armor? We’ve featured a few historical reconstructions here on Open Culture, including a demonstration of the various ways combatants would vanquish their foe—including a sword right between the eyes. We’ve also shown you how long it took to create a suit of armor and the clever flexibility built into them. But really, don’t we want to see what it would be like in a full melee? In the above Vice documentary, you can finally sate your bloodlust.
Not that anyone dies in the MMA-like sword-and-chainmail brawls. In these public competitions, the weapons are blunted and contestants fight “not to the death, just until they fall over,” as the narrator somewhat sadly explains. It is just a legit sport as any other fighting challenge, and the injuries are real. There’s no fooling around with these people. They are serious, and a nation’s honor is still at stake.
This mini-doc follows the American team to the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships in Montemor-o-Velho in Portugal. What looks like a regular Renaissance faire is only the decorations around the main, incredibly violent event. We see battles with longswords, short axes, shields used offensively and defensively, and a lot of pushing and shoving. Contestants go head-to-head, or five against five, or twelve against twelve.
Twenty-six countries take part, and I have to say for all the jingoistic hoo-hah I try to ignore, the American team’s very nicely designed stars and stripes battle gear looked pretty damn cool. The Vice team also discover an interesting cast of characters, like the Texan who wears his cowboy hat when he’s not wearing his combat helmet; the man who describes his fighting style as “nerd rage”; and the couple on their honeymoon who met while brutally beating each other in an earlier competition. (No, the knights here are not all men.).
There are injuries, sprains, broken bones. There’s also the madness of inhaling too much of your own CO2 inside the helmet; and smelling the ozone when a spark of metal-upon-metal flies into the helmet.
Thankfully nobody is fighting to the death or for King/Queen and Country. Just for the fun of adrenalin-based competition and bragging rights.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.