Weekend warriors: The rising sport of knight fighting

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Do you ever dream of being in one of those fantasy shows? Well, there’s a growing community of warrior hopefuls who put on armor and use real weapons to live out that fantasy. 

These fighters call themselves knights competing in the league of Armored Combat Sports, a burgeoning sport that supports about 1000 knights across the country. And they want you to call them athletes. 

This month, during a fitness expo at the Long Beach Convention Center, nearly a dozen men donned armor and wielded metal weapons to brawl with each other out of love for all things mighty and medieval. 

“I think everybody in the league were people who did similar things... fighting with sticks or fighting with foam weapons. But we were always that one friend who took it too far and nobody wanted to fight against,” said Jake Schultz, who has competed in the sport for three years. 

He added, “So finally everybody across the country and world created one league where you can go as hard as you want.” 

During the afternoon of battles, men who worked day jobs as camera assistants and crane operators fought each other in short rounds until they could not continue. In the one-on-one duels, each armor-clad knight circled around a mat cordoned off with metal fences, trying to strike his opponent for points doled out by a judge.

However, in larger matches, fighters armed with swords and polearm weapons crowded out the ring in a king-of-the-hill match. The rules were “knights rules,” so punches and grappling were allowed. Just no stabbing. 

“It takes a special type of person to get hit in the head with a sword and get back up again,” said Jaye Brooks, who founded the Armored Combat Sports League in 2017. 

However, he added that the growing culture of fantasy in popular media has created a group of people eager to take on the challenge. 

“Nowadays with Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings and Conan and and all the popular culture that has spread around the country... it's part of our popular culture now. These are things that were all nerd things at one time. Now it's ours.”

Brooks began his fantasy knighthood at 16 years old, fighting at medieval reenactments where fighters used foam and wooden weapons. 

Then in 2011, someone showed Brooks a video of Russian combatants who had a modern take on the battles with real weapons. At that time, Europeans had grown the activity into a sport, culminating with an annual world championship match in front of a castle.

Brooks wanted in on the action and gathered a team of American knights to compete in Eastern Europe and won several duels. Shortly after, the History channel caught wind of these battles and created a show around it called “Knight Fight.”

All that attention led the league to grow from Jaye’s home state of New Hampshire to all over the country. 

Next year, Brooks hopes to expand the sport’s presence in California with a competition in Long Beach.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of different sports,” said Brooks. “And we’ve got men’s categories and women’s categories and open categories. And we’re just scratching the surface.”

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