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 last week in Belmonte, a
small town in Spain with a 15th-century castle, about 140km
east of Madrid. Sixteen countries in Europe, the United
States, Japan and New Zealand sent teams. Some 10,000 people
showed up to watch.
"We made history for all the women in the world," longsword
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 some 15 years
ago, according to the International Medieval Combat
Federation, or IMCF, which sponsored the event in Belmonte.
It sets rules and and specifications, such as the length of a
longsword (115 cm, or 45 inches).
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 (66 lb) of armour colliding on the
Another group, the Historical Medieval Battle International
Association, says it runs an annual event called the "Battle
of the Nations" which it describes as "the world
championship" and which will be held in Croatia in June.
In Belmonte, the United States took gold in all three
individual women's categories - longsword, sword and shield
and polearm - and in the men's polearm competition. The US
also dominated the competition among teams of three, five and
16 players. Poland took the top medal in men's sword and
shield and longsword.
"It's one of the most awesome things you can ever do, go out
and fight like this," said Jesper, a Danish knight who did
not give his family name. "It is major awesome."
The equipment used by competitors is hand-made. The weapons
look menacing, but regulations require that edges be rounded.
A polearm, incidentally, is a weapon with a blade or a point
or both, mounted on a staff that's usually at least six feet
"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 the US state of 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
Despite the violent nature of the event, organisers say the
injuries are about the same as those in other contact sports.
The beatings are brutal in medieval combat, but the armour 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," Martin Casey, a British participant, said.
"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."