Game of Thrones fans unite! Get ready for this real-life experience in Denmark as told by an actual fighter of the Armored Combat League.
To truly understand what you’re about to read, I think you’ll need to see a video first. Though, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you might catch on quick. The Armored Combat League is my hobby and passion and is almost indescribable in words. Here’s a video from this year’s World Championships in Denmark: IMCF 2017 Denmark vs England – USA .
How It Began
I’ve always been fascinated by warriors of the past. Vikings, knights, samurai, they all captured my attention at a young age. So, in the summer of 2014, I found out there were guys getting into suits of medieval armor and fighting each other. I had to find out what the deal was. They were actually just North of me in Nashua, New Hampshire, a place calling themselves, “The Knight’s Hall”. After seeing some videos of the competitions, I knew I had to try it myself.
I’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons since I was 9 years old, and I’ve done martial arts my entire life. I would’ve loved to combine the two into some sort of nerd-sport. I had seen some similar stuff, (Live Action Role Playing, or LARPs) but it just wasn’t what I wanted. Too much acting, too much costuming and pretending. I wanted something real, visceral, and frankly, I wanted something violent. The Armored Combat League and the Knight’s Hall was like coming home after wandering around my whole life. I walked into that hot, dim mill building three years ago, and haven’t looked back since.
The sport is pretty easy to understand and is similar to Game of Thrones plot – a deadly, medieval, battle for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and to claim the Iron Throne. There are two teams, made up of 3, 5, 10, or even 16 fighters. You chop, punch, kick, throw, and tackle people until the other team has no one left standing, and you’re declared the winner. The weapons are blunted, so no one dies. The 60-70 lbs of armor work too, having been developed over a thousand years to save people from exactly what we’re doing.
The goal is to go overseas, to the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships, and win a gold medal after battling the top teams every country has to offer. I made it in 2015, only eight months after starting my training, and after dropping around $2,000 on my own suit of armor. I found myself in Poland, in the shadow of a Teutonic castle from the 13th century, fighting in armor alongside other USA knights against the likes of France, Germany, and a dozen other countries vying for medieval combat supremacy.
My First Battle
It was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life. Fighting with a sword and a shield on foreign soil, in a thundering hailstorm, as twilight fell over the battlefield. It was straight out of Game of Thrones. “This is the way to see the world,” I thought to myself as a Danish giant chopped at me with a two-handed axe. After that long, hard, day of competition, I wandered around the castle grounds where they had set up tents while drinking and feasting with fighters from all over the world.
Traveling to fight in these weird armored combat tournaments puts me off the beaten path. I never expected to go to Poland, let alone go to somewhere as obscure as Malbork, but it was incredible. The people, the food, the castle; it all felt like I was, weirdly enough, seeing the true side of the country and not the touristy face of Poland.
I wanted to do it again in 2016, but wedding planning and life got in the way. That year the competition was in Portugal, and I hated seeing the close friends I had made fight without me. I swore that I wouldn’t miss this year’s tournament when it was announced that it would be in Spøttrup, Denmark.
Once again I found myself outside of the usual tourist norms. I didn’t spend any time in Copenhagen, despite wanting to (mostly for the delicious food). I flew into the tiny airport of Billund, that primarily serves the Lego company, and immediately saw miles of Danish countryside while driving to Spøttrup. Our driver, a fellow medieval fighter named Kasper, explained that we were in the “nowhere” of Denmark, filled with farms and green hills. I didn’t mind because Kasper was also showing us the non-touristy side of Denmark. We ate cold cuts, bought beer in big plastic milk crates, and talked as we traveled the two hours to the castle.
The castle grounds were broken up into five main areas. We first pulled into the recreation center, which was a massive gymnasium open to all fighters. Next was the modern camp, where I and other fighters stayed the entire week. Here, we showered and ate in the recreation center. A little further off was the medieval market, where vendors from across Denmark sold medieval souvenirs like wooden swords or drinking horns. Then there was the medieval camp, where fighters who enjoyed being immersed in the medieval aesthetic setup medieval tents and slept on furs. Then, finally, there was the castle itself and the tournament field. The castle was small with a moat and a courtyard. The tournament field felt like something out of Game of Thrones, which happens to be my favorite show (not surprisingly), surrounded by bleachers packed with cheering fans.
The actual fighting was a blur. I fought eight hard rounds for the USA 10-man team, all on a sweaty Saturday, and we got smashed, literally. We fought hard, but the 10-man team had a lot of new guys fighting in their first overseas tournament. Our 5-man team did better and placed in the top four while our 16-man team earned a silver medal. Some highlights of mine included surviving a hailstorm of Ukrainian axes, and kicking an Austrian fighter so hard in the stomach he swore in English. Oh, and cross-checking a Polish fighter off his feet seconds before his teammate did the same to me.
Fighting like this triggers something primordial in my soul and makes me feel like humans were meant to do this. Everyone’s lives are so comfortable now, so it’s a huge reality check to do something this hard. It makes you appreciate everything else a little bit more.
The memory I’ll hold on to most was the after party. After a hard, long, day of fighting, people were eager to cut loose. The owners of the castle lit the ancient courtyard with a hundred torches, and everyone gathered there for a party. We were all dressed in medieval clothes, drinking ale at long wooden tables, laughing, and talking about the fighting that had happened. There was a fire-juggler and a troupe of acrobats that did flips off of each other’s shoulders. There were Danish drinking songs accompanied by fists and mugs banging against the wooden table tops. I couldn’t help but think that if we were transported six hundred years into the past, nothing would have looked out of place.
Wanna see some European countryside and pretend you’re in Game of Thrones? Good thing we have discounted flights to get you there!