Every guy at some point in his life has likely fantasized about a hypothetical dream match — whether it be a bout between Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson or sumo-champ Hakuho clashing with the great Taiho. Those who daydream even more imaginatively would probably pit Batman against Godzilla.
Jay Noyes, however, is about to take one of those “what-if” scenarios to another level. As the CEO of Japan Armored Battle League (JABL), he’s preparing the group for its inaugural event on Feb. 23. And it may put an end to the fantasy debate: What if a samurai warrior and a medieval knight fought each other with their own weapons? Who would survive the match?
“This is a full-strength, full-power battle. It’s hard-hitting,” Noyes, 45, explained to The Japan Times.
The JABL will feature fighters in feudal-era (1185-1573/1600) samurai armor, wielding swords against opponents fully-equipped as 15th-century European knights. Though the outfits are, of course, detailed replicas, nothing in the ring, stresses Noyes, will be staged.
According to Noyes, who also is a fighter, this Sunday’s event will be the first “authentic” medieval combat to take place in Japan, and quite possibly the first case in history when a samurai and a knight go head-to-head.
Sports leagues such as Historic Medieval Battles and the International Medieval Combat Federation, for which participants don near-authentic period costumes and participate in unrehearsed fights, appear to have been gaining popularity over the past few years, particularly in Europe. And now, battlefield role-playing has enticed other kinds of people — a mix of martial arts and wrestling fans, not to mention enthusiasts of fantasy movies such as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings.”
As a “sport,” the fighters attempt to “slay” or knock each other out — it’s something akin to a National Hockey League brawl, except players wear steel armor instead of uniforms and, of course, they get swords and axes.
Of the three teams that will launch the JABL, two — the Sanglier and Dracones — will fight with Western weapons, while the Kuroganeshu will fight as samurai. The members of each three-person team all have day jobs — for example as English teachers or sales reps — but they also have experience in combat sports, whether it’s in Israeli martial arts or shootboxing for the knights, or in kendo and other Japanese martial arts for the samurai.
When it comes to discussing sword fighting, it’s almost inevitable that someone will suggest a battle between samurai and knights — possibly the most famous of noble warriors. It’s one of those random questions you sometimes see posted on website forums such as Yahoo answers, where someone might write: “The katana samurai sword is the best fighting sword in history.” Only to quickly receive the response, “Against a knight in steel-plate armor, though, it would be useless.”
“Samurai armor and weaponry was never used in medieval combat fights like this” a fighter for Kuroganeshu said during the JABL launch party last week.
The party, which took place at the Pink Cow, a restaurant-event space in Tokyo, showcased some of the Western armor that will be featured at JABL’s first event. But, as the fighter continued to explain, the Kuroganeshu team is still in the process of perfecting its samurai equipment. The outfits will be revealed in the ring, where the team hopes it will fight like true feudal warriors. “We are ready to take on the rest of the world,” he added.
According to international rules, the matches are fought in competitive categories, including one-on-one and team fights, which involve all members on the field. A panel of referees judge the number of clear blows one fighter makes to another to decide the winner, and in team bouts, a fighter is taken out of the match if he hits the ground.
Weapons are, of course, unsharpened. In Japan, as in many countries, it would be illegal to manufacture real ones, let alone fight with them. But the detailed replica suits of armor, which are made under strict guidelines, can weigh as much as 30 kg. Made entirely out of steel and leather, these can also cost up to ¥300,000. Despite the weight of the armor, there are no body-weight limits for a match, but hitting on the more delicate body parts, such as the groin or the backs of the neck and knees, is forbidden.
Kicking, shoving and most other combat styles, on the other hand, is OK.
Noyes admitted that before a match, he sometimes gets concerned about possible injuries — spraining wrists and ankles is, he said, commonplace. But once a duel begins, he falls into character and goes “all out.”
“I am perpetually injured” he said, before adding that he still gets back in the ring whenever he can, “because it’s fun!”
Originally from Missouri, Noyes came to Japan about 20 years ago. He began medieval fighting when he was in college and continued to teach historical combat after moving to Tokyo. Fifteenth-century German-style sword fighting is his specialty.
“Unlike fencing,” his historical combat school’s website says, “we teach practical sword fighting.”
Last year, Noyes served as the captain of the Japan national team when it went to France to participate for the first time in the Battle of Nations, a historical medieval battle world tournament.
“I am 186 cm tall and weigh 110 kg,” he said, talking about the experience. “But at international competitions, I am one of the middle-sized guys.”
According to Noyes, the Russian team easily ranks as the toughest in the world, but the Polish are equally aggressive. A full blow from such massive warriors swinging axes at full speed can not only dent a steel helmet, but also injure the opponent enough to bleed.
But, Noyes noted, when it comes to winning fights, it isn’t just about size. Teamwork and coordination can often outsmart physically superior fighters. He proudly added that Japan won some of its matches in France, including those against Spain and Australia.
One of the up-and-coming stars of JABL is 201-cm-tall Yasushi Ami, who will fight for Sanglier at the inaugural event, and very likely as a member of the national team at this year’s IMCF’s World Championship.
“I was scouted by Noyes,” Ami said. “One thing led to another, and here I am today.”
With his spiked hair adding an extra 10 cm or so to his height, Ami looks even sturdier than his mentor. You believe it when he says, “I am Japan’s secret weapon.”
The inaugural Japan Armored Battle League matches take place on Feb. 23 at Womb in Shibuya, Tokyo, from 11:30 a.m. Tickets are ¥3,000-¥4,000 (though front-row seats have already sold out). For more information visit www.armoredbattle.com.