• Reuters


For the first time, two women are now free to whack each other with swords until one of them falls down in internationally sanctioned competition. This is progress.

The first such combat took place in Belmonte, a small town in Spain with a 15th-century castle, about 140 km east of Madrid. Sixteen countries in Europe, the U.S., Japan and New Zealand sent teams. Some 10,000 people showed up to watch.

“We made history for all the women in the world,” long sword runner-up Aline Planchon of Belgium said after hugging her winning opponent, Suzanne Elleraas of the United States.

Medieval combat as an amateur sport has been gaining in popularity since it began in Eastern Europe about 15 years ago, according to the International Medieval Combat Federation, which sponsored the event in Belmonte. It sets rules and specifications, like the length of a long sword: 115 cm.

The IMCF says it is the world governing body for “full contact medieval combat,” a revival of “medieval foot-based tournament fighting,” not to be confused with medieval re-enactments or jousting. The combat features fighters wearing up to 30 kg of armor colliding on the battlefield.

Another group, the Historical Medieval Battle International Association, runs an annual event called the “Battle of the Nations,” which it promotes as “the world championship” and will be held in Croatia in June.

In Belmonte, the U.S. took gold in all three individual women’s categories — long sword, sword and shield, and polearm — and in the men’s polearm competition. Poland took the top medal in men’s long sword and sword and shield events.

A pole arm, incidentally, is a weapon with a blade or a point or both, mounted on a staff that’s usually at least 1.8 meters long.

Among teams of three, five and 16 players, the U.S. again dominated.

“It’s one of the most awesome things you can ever do, go out and fight like this,” said Jesper, a Dane who did not give his family name. “It is major awesome.”

The equipment used by competitors is handmade. The weapons look menacing, but regulations require that edges be rounded.

“This sport is the best sport in the world. You’ve got adrenaline, you have men trying to hit each other,” said Jay Brooks, a competitor from New Hampshire. “It’s the most violent thing men can do with each other without really hurting each other. Our ancestors, if they looked at us, they would see it and say: ‘This is what we did!’ “

Despite the violent nature of the event, organizers say the injuries are roughly comparable to those in other contact sports. The beatings are brutal in medieval combat, but the armor is also heavy and protective, competitors say.

“Fair play is a big part of this sport. I always find it interesting that everybody thinks it’s an incredibly violent sport,” said Martin Casey, a British participant. “To a certain extent it is, but it’s all taken out on the field, and as soon as the fight is over we help each other up off the ground, we give each other a hug and go and buy a beer for each other.”

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