Battle of the Nations - an Irish presence? (Long)

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Battle of the Nations - an Irish presence? (Long)

Postby brendan on Fri Dec 16, 2011 8:59 pm

I am sure that you have all enjoyed Natalia_UA’s videos of Battle of the Nations in the Ukraine http://www.livinghistory.ie/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=1862&p=14332&hilit=nations#p14332. She got me interested in the 2012 event in Poland so I travelled to the Battle of the Nation’s captain’s meeting in Warsaw on 9th and 10th December. I wanted to find out about Full Contact fighting and this seemed to be the place to do it.

What follows is a review of the captains meeting event; the training methods etc; the arms and armour usable; the nature of full contact fighting and the level of risk/reward it offers. Towards the end I address the question of whether I will do it.

Before I go any further let me be clear: This is not something that will be of interest to 90% of people involved in reenactment, nor should it be. There are different types of reenactment fighting. There are differences between choreographed stage fighting, freestyle reenactment display, Flags style competition fighting, HEMA and Full Contact Competition. The specific skills required for each of these differ. In full contact that there is an additional requirement to have not only skill but a level of fitness and armour are not achievable by most people; not to mention the willingness to be hit over the head by a metal bar (while wearing a strong helm of course). Personally, I see this as closely related to mainstream reenactment as Western Martial Arts (WMA) is.

Getting there
After getting “lost” at the airport I managed to make it to the 4 star Novotel Centrum where the event was due to be on the following day. It is a very nice hotel and participants in the event were provided free accommodation. It was a good start.
That evening I met a met a bunch of people from the other participant countries . A number of us went to watch one of the Polish teams training. Their training is highly focused on fitness and technique, with additional focus on dealing with multiple opponents who are battering you in the head. Obviously there is more to it than that.

The event

Friday... I expected a bunch of people in someone’s house or maybe a meeting room in a school or community hall, possibly in a pub when the initial venue was double booked….the usual.
Instead I found one of the most professionally organised events I have been at either personally or professionally.
I missed the memo about bringing a suit :oops: At least I wasn’t in full travel mode for the opening press conference. The opening press conference had about 30 journalists including film crews and simultaneous translation into English, Russian, Polish, German, Italian and French. They had merchandise! Following an initial presentation by the organisers each country gave a two minute overview of where we are from and how enthused we were to be there.

The afternoon consisted of a few phases. It has all blended into one at this point and I am not going to check my notes at this point. The main thing was clarity of purpose about what the event was and could be. Again I was impressed by the professionalism.

A good part of the afternoon was focused on presentations by each of the countries on where they are at and the issues they face.
What surprised me is that most countries have the same type of issues when it comes to full contact combat. A lot of these relate to the legal status of this type of fighting and the availability of Insurance to cover it. This would need to be seen as an extreme sport rather than reenactment and be insured accordingly i.e. no piggybacking theatre insurance.
I covered elements such as the number of people doing any sort of combat in Ireland, the type of training route that most people follow and the styles of fighting we use. I talked a bit about the way in which armour influences fighting. I was trying to make the point that we have people with skill, but not really that many skilled in fighting in a way that requires armour. I concluded with the expectation that if we got 5-10 people interested in this and active by 2013 we would be doing well (part of me was shouting 2012).

The types of fight that are part of the event include 1:1, 5:5, 21:21 and 50:50. There was mention of an "all vs all" fight which involves 1000+ participants on the field...I didn’t get a clear grasp of what that was but I think that it lies outside the competition. These competitive fights take place in a pool system and then knock out stages to final with teams guaranteed 2 or 3 fights. The whole thing is filmed by 17 cameras and from this year there are video referees who can impose sanction after the fight if the arena referees miss anything. All appeals are based on video evidence.

There were some minor communication issues related to intercultural stuff, but nothing that hampered the overall flow and direction of the presentations.

The evening was rounded off with a memorable eating and drinking session which resulted in some epic stories (and the recounting of at least one epic story about another Irishman over indulging in the local culture in the company of the Danish...

Saturday morning focused on countries that are relatively new to the event – Quebec and Italy who participated last year and Australia, USA, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belguim, Denmark and Transylvania (Romania) who have an aspiration to participate in either 2012 or 2013. Some representatives of the nations who have already taken part (Russia, the Ukraine, Baelorrussia, Poland, Italy and Quebec) were also present

After that we rounded out the day and the event with a visit to the Warsaw army museum which has loads of medieval weapons and armour.
I travelled home on Sunday after a pleasant evening talking about arms, armour and combat related matters.
It was a great event, well organised, good people and I came away happy that the trip was worth both time and effort.
As I was staying on an extra night (again thanks to the generosity of the hosts for providing the room) I was able to have some good informal conversations.

Training
Training was one of the first things I saw and a key focus of full contact fighting. The Russians run training 5 nights a week and are certainly leading the charge in that regard. There are very clear guidelines on how long a person should be training before they are allowed to ‘tool up’ and get stuck in to sparring. They usually make someone train for three months before giving them a sword.
A big part of the training is about building the fitness required to carry the armour through multiple bouts. This is something that I have seen precious little of in Ireland in any sphere of reenactment (but that is another story).
One concern I had was that this style of fighting was all about standing there and dealing out punishment until the other person falls over. However, while size and strength are valuable, speed and mobility are also key features that are actively trained for.
Of particular interest was the attitude towards training in armour: You must be able to do all the training exercises in your armour was one point. The other was that you shouldn’t train in full armour more than once every one or two weeks. Interesting stuff that will change how I approach armoured combat no matter what happens next.
Oh! And the Russians have training programmes to train fighters from the age of 5…how about that for finding out what medieval Knights were actually capable of.
I am not sure where exactly to fit this in this review but there is one part of this that might cause an issue for some people: The competition and event is male only – no female fighters need apply. Whether I/you agree with this or not that is the game and it’s their ball i.e. it won’t change.

Arms and Armour
I would have thought that more is better in terms of the armour – especially having seen the full halberd blows to the head. I was wrong. Actually most people were wrong. Seeing what the Polish guys were actually using surprised all of us.
Serge from Quebec went in there wearing very heavy armour last year but has scaled that back to the recommended 20% of body weight for this year (this includes padding). I have a lot of detailed notes on this type of armour including metallurgy.
Weapons are relatively light so my 2.3KG Lancaster Armouries falchion is too heavy…probably just as well. I guess I may as well sell it. 4 KG is maximum weight for pole weapons and something similar for shields.
After that its about training in the armour and with the weapons. Oh! Steel for combat and practice, non steel for training.

Risk and Safety
I had heard stories. Two helicopter airlifts last year was one of them (And still I went).
I thought it important to ask about this – to reassure myself and make sure that I understood the risk level when talking to others. I was able to get a lot of this information during the more informal discussions.

To give a perspective here I am fairly health and safety focused in combat. I have been fairly vocal on other threads on the need for increased protection and safer shots in mainstream reenactment where my injuries have included nearly losing an eye in a misguided sparring session, twice having a spear stop at my windpipe and another sword accident that resulted in my neck locking when I turned it a certain way.(that one required 2 years of visits to a Chiropractor).

I was impressed by the attitude towards safety that I saw amongst all the teams. The basic point is that no one should field who has not fought their way on to the field wearing armour. It has to be authentic to the time period represented by that individual and of the right quality. Modern sports armour is okay as a base layer so long as it is not visible.

In terms of the helicopter airlift they laughed, the very idea of getting a helicopter airlift in the Ukraine was funny to them (who would do it?) – and the injuries didn’t happen that warranted it. However, they will have onsite x-ray capability for Poland in 2012. They are not skimping on the preparations.

Having talked to the Russian team captain I got a fuller understanding of their attitude to safety. Up to 2008 things were a bit wild west. Then there was a incident and someone was badly injured. That was when they realised that there is a need to rein things in. This is a serious pastime on the level of amateur boxing but people need to go back to work on Monday morning. It’s competitive not psychotic.
The level of injuries is not in the realms of crazy. Last year a guy broke a thigh bone when a bunch of people fell on him. I saw something similar narrowly averted in Hastings 2006. Last year a number of people suffered knee injuries so directly targeting the knees is now an illegal shot. These injuries are not outside the bounds of what happens at ‘safe’ events. Otherwise broken fingers and a few other similar type injuries that would not be out of place on a hurling or football pitch.

They are taking safety seriously but expect people to field using correct safety equipment. The level of injuries is comparable to what I have seen in more standard re-enactment events. BUT the entry level of fitness and equipment is much higher.

So will I do it?
The entry requirements are high. I am a competent fighter and have fought in armour before. I have probably a thousand hours of worthwhile weapons training. I have 15th Century armour and suitable weapons. I have a desire for armoured fighting against armoured opponents – as opposed to against unarmoured opponents who are happy to hit but can’t be hit.
I don’t know for 100% that I am able to do this . I want to. I am not sure how I will react to repeated blows to a helm I don’t yet own.
But here is the thing. For the last number of years I have been frustrated at the lack of opportunity to take armoured fighting to the next level. And here it is. Through WMA events like Dijon and Fightcamp I have found a new direction for unarmoured combat, but still lack something comparable for the armoured combat. I think that this is it.

So yeah, I need a complete new set of armour if I want to do this. The Ukranian armourers have the experience and local guys will help ensure that the quality is good, but so too do some of the armourers from the United States (one of whom was present). So I can get one made. A new helm would be a minimum...would I trade up?

There are issues with my participation in full contact competitive fighting.
I need to get fit, fighting fit. That will be hard but not insurmountable…and it gets past my need to train with a purpose.
I need to practice armoured combat. This is not so easy, I will need to find someone else who is willing to buy the armour and put the hours in. And this probably needs to be done separately to any other reenactment type training that I take part in.
There is a risk to Full Combat fighting and I would need to ensure that I can get adequate insurance. Maybe this can be done. If not I take the risk uninsured…not sure I am happy with that, but yet.
There is the issue of non-participation of women as combatants. It is an issue; it affects competent fighters that I know. I can rationalise but it’s something I have to accept if I want to do this.
Team size is 5 fielding with 3 reserve fighters. I doubt that Ireland can get a full team together. I have other options here that I am exploring so I can bypass this. 1:1 combat seems to be the next level on in terms of intensity and discouraged for beginners. And in this I am a beginner.
To augment the basic fighting I will need to do some cross discipline stuff, particularly to deal with grappling and close quarters stuff.

This is a journey I had not planned on...

WHO IS IN?

My next step will be to start getting the cash together to buy the equipment and then start on the training. Funding and geography are my enemies here but that is my problem.
Then of course I have to get like minded people to train with. This may not be as big a problem as I had thought based on some initial discussions.

In conclusion. This is not something that will replace any existing competitive or non competitive reenactment type combat that takes place in Ireland. I still enjoy and take part in that stuff and have the control to differentiate my shots. It is something different.

Anyone who might be interested give me a shout via pm and we can take this off forum – I am not entirely sure that this is within the bounds of what the forum is about and don’t want to get in trouble with the moderators!

Brendan
*edit to correct typos
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brendan
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Re: Battle of the Nations - an Irish presence? (Long)

Postby finnobreanan on Sat Dec 17, 2011 5:07 pm

Good report Brendan. I hope your call meets with success. After watching the video, I know there is no way in God's Green Earth that I could do anything like this. Best of luck.
Finn O'Breanan
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Re: Battle of the Nations - an Irish presence? (Long)

Postby knightofredemption on Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:41 pm

As I have been promoted to Site admin and have more than a passing interest in this, I think it within my remit for me to say I am happy to keep this thread open for interested parties to exchange information or ask questions that may be relevant to all who are interested. This is not a forum dedicated to any one aspect of living history, and while there may well be differences in the way some of the sports armour is made, to look at, this event is in the truest sense living history. Bringing back the spectacle and ethos of The Grand Melee.

Top marks to Brendan for a very enlightening report and for making the trip on our behalf.
Everything in moderation, including Moderation.
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