By: Jefferson Webb
Although I’ve heard some criticism expressed in the Historical European Martial Arts community within the past few years of the sport of the Medieval Armored Combat such as what we see in the Armored Combat League or in the International Medieval Combat Federation, there are some key points that we can learn from such a sport.
Let’s look at some of the, perhaps a bit unrealistic aspects of the sport first. Now, it needs to be mentioned that any sport needs rules, and while the average spectator unfamiliar with the sport of armored combat may think there are no rules, there are a number of them. One of these rules that changes how these men fight as opposed to actual Medieval and Renaissance armored combat was conducted is that there are no thrusts allowed in the sport of armored combat. This is for participant safety, and while we do thrust in my H.E.M.A. school, it’s understandable. We see fighters making what would be cutting / slashing strikes with their various types of swords against armored opponents, and it is common knowledge that of course this does little to nothing (in terms of causing death or injury) to an armored warrior of the period. With a sword, thrusts were used in the gaps and through the visor to defeat your armored opponent. Of course, there was also getting them to the ground and “finishing him rightly,” with a dagger/roundel.
The fact that the fighter must have good grappling skills to get their opponent to the ground, the ultimate objective in the sport, is quite realistic. We also know that the armored knight was not as encumbered by his armor as myth would have it. He was quite agile and able to get back to his feet fairly easily. If taken to the ground and then pinned / sat upon by another armored opponent, that makes life a bit more difficult and perhaps shorter. Likewise, there is what we believe took place at Agincourt when King Henry V’s archers essentially formed small teams that worked together to take down armored opponents and kill or capture them, but this is the same in unarmored fighting. Three or four against one odds will almost assuredly result in the death of the one in a stand and fight scenario. Nevertheless, the grappling skills utilized in the Medieval Armored Combat sports are valid, though there are special precautions / rules that help protect the knee joint as much as can be in such an environment.
A realistic aspect of this sport is the use of weapons such as maces and pole axes / hammers to strike your opponent with concussive force to aid in taking them to the ground. This is historically accurate in that one of the ways to halt an armored enemy was to strike him with a weapon designed to inflict blunt-force trauma. For the long sword and even good for the arming sword is the “murder stroke” where the pommel is used to strike the opponent’s head. I have not seen this done in the Medieval Armored Combat matches that I’ve watched, but they are making plenty of strikes that I feel are of roughly equal force to the head with other weapons.
While there is certainly much more discussion that could be had on this topic, even hours upon hours of discussion, I will make my final observation this: The sport of Medieval Armored Combat (as I call it here) shows us just how difficult it was to take down a well armored man at arms / knight on foot during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Watch the video I link with this posting and observe the beating these men are taking, and yet remain on their feet for as long as they do. While their training, conditioning and athleticism plays a part in this, you can be a winner of the World’s Strongest Man Competition and if you do not have protective armor on against a solid strike from a pole ax, you are either dead or seriously wounded. It’s that simple. I know that there are some added, modern protective elements worn under the armor and period-looking arming clothes by many fighters, but still, one of the greatest things I have learned by my observations of this sport is how difficult it must have been to face an armored opponent like this on a Medieval or Renaissance battle field. Imagine yourself a regular peasant or commoner unable to afford much armor other than some padding, and then being faced against a well armored knight or squire in the heat of battle. You’re not as well trained, you’re not as well armed (unless you still have your spear and you have some room to move around. This isn’t nearly as bad a situation one on one, though still not exactly ideal), and you’re not as well protected. What do you do? Not to mention, he probably has friends right close with him that are also pretty well equipped, if not also occupied with an opponent at the moment. It’s perhaps a pretty scary thought. Then again, you may be thinking, “Yeah, but what if I do beat him?”
This is not the end all be on piece of this topic, but a brief bit to touch on some comparisons and contrasts of what we know of actual Medieval and Renaissance combat actions involving armored men on foot, and the sport of Medieval Armored Combat today. This piece if essentially to give you some of my insight on this topic, and to promote thinking and meaningful conversation on the topic. I can tell you this, as someone who has been both a student and instructor of Historical European Martial Arts for well over a decade now, I think there is much to be learned not only from observation of the sport of Medieval Armored Combat, but in its participation as well. It is quite expensive to get into, which has been my only obstacle, but it is a sport of value and without question would make the likes of Sir Geffroi de Charny, and Sir William Marshal pleased to see.
Battle Heritage. “Game of Groans – The Sun Interviews Battle Heritage,” May 26, 2016. http://battleheritage.co.uk/game-of-groans-the-sun-interviews-battle-heritage/ From an article by Jacob Lewis. “Game of Groans: Sun Man Pummelled At The Medieval Combat World Championships,” The Sun, A News UK Company, 21 May 2015.
A.C.L., USA Knights. “I.M.C.F. 2015 16v16 Poland vs USA,” YouTube. May 2,2015.