SMEDEREVO — While fans around the world have been racking their brains over Game of Thrones, even filing a petition to have the final season rewritten, the comparison with the series has the Iron League athletes tired: "Our sport is ridiculed," says Jonas Freese.
Freese is national captain of the German squad of Historical Medieval Battle, a full-contact sport filled with knights in armor and with historical weapons such as battle axes, long swords, and clubs. The Iron League is the sport's umbrella organization in Germany. In early May, Freese led some 40 fighters in the Battle of Nations world championships held in the Serbian city of Smederevo. "We are often associated with the series, but we do not do fantasy," says Freese.
On the contrary, in the medieval martial arts, all that is happening is very tangible: Hematomas and bumps are the least you can get, and it is not infrequent to see blood flowing or, sometimes, bone fractures.
They're going to turn each other into mush!
The unusual martial arts has little to do with harmless knight games in which costumed performers revive the old days and pretend to fight. Freese and his colleagues have athletic ambition and they want to win duels and battles.
Sometimes, the sport is as brutal as an actual battlefield. "I was invited by friends to a tournament in Luxembourg and thought, 'My God, what are they doing there? They're going to turn each other into mush!'", says Alexander Jost, chairman of the Iron League. However, the clank of swords and axes did not stop him: "After a minute, I said: 'I want to do that too!'"
The German medieval warriors were fighting for medals at the Battle of Nations in Smederevo from May 2 to 5 along with 34 other nations. The Germans competed in the individual fights as well as in the classic "five against five" and in the "twelve against twelve" fights.
Battle of the Nations event in St. Petersburg, Russia — Photo: Battle of the Nations via Facebook
For the tenth edition of the World Cup, a competition of 150 against 150 was held for the first time. For the "mass battle", the German team had partnered with Italy and also fought alongside Russia, which eventually got a majority of medals. "With the 150 against 150 a dream came true for us. We have been hoping for a very long time for a full contact battle of this size," said Freese.
For the first time, women were also admitted to the competitions this year.
In the group battles, the goal is to defeat at least two of the opponent's units. In addition to the strong sword and ax strikes, the fighters also know how to use tackles similar to American football. Despite the various bruises and lacerations, the martial-looking sport rarely causes more serious injuries.
"It's an aggressive sport, it's a martial art, but in the end, you shake hands," said Gavin Stewart, vice president of the Historical Medieval Battle International Association (HMBIA). For the first time, women were also admitted to the competitions this year, but they fought in a special category.
Also, if the Germans envisioned going home empty-handed when it came to smaller battles, a triumph by Russia's side in the 150 against 150 was a safe bet. And after the heated battles, the opponents celebrated in the evening with a jug of honey wine and honor their friendships.
Editor's note: Germany got the bronze medal in female sword and shield, which was attributed to Melanie Gras, who also won bronze in the female pro fights. Germany's heavyweight pro fighter Sebastian Coors was awarded a silver medal.
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