The Ancient Art of Whacking People
(A blog from Damien Fegan, image from Abbey Museum Library)
You may be excused for thinking that combat at the festival is simply just whacking people with heavy steel objects. Not quite: stabbing, slashing, barging, tripping, buffeting, punching, kicking and the odd head butt also have a part to play. The steel objects in question are also not as heavy as you might imagine (see the blog on ‘He who hath no sword’).
As someone who has spent decades trying, sometimes successfully, to hit people with swords, I can give you some insights on the process involved.
First Point: Most importantly; the combats are not predetermined or choreographed. Combats performed on stage are choreographed as you need exactly the same outcome for every performance; it is very different on the tourney field.
Second point: The combatants are trying to hit each other with accurately weighted but blunted weapons. They are however not trying to hurt each other, which can be problematic when you are playing a high speed, full contact sport that involves hitting people with weapons. If you can imagine playing Rugby with axes you are getting on the right track.
Now before you decide that you are going to grab a wood-splitter from the shed and join in, you need to read on.
Third Point: Training- lots of it! The combatants are trained to control their fighting and will have trained for months if not years before you see them fighting in public. They are also wearing a lot of armour, though conversely they are also trying to hit their opponent where they have little or no armour to gain victory.
Fourth Point: There are rules, admittedly not a lot of them, but there are definite no-go zones for whacking with weapons. Think of where you don’t like to be hit, yep, there and the face and neck are out of bounds. The head however is a target as it is protected, a bit, by a steel helmet. Most combats use a system where a fully charged blow delivered to the body results in you losing the fight. From personal experience I have found that when all you can see out of your visor is grass or sky it is a good time to yield the fight. A worst case scenario is when all you can see out of the visor is grass or sky and then darkness or grass, sky, grass, sky, etc. In either of those cases you have most definitely lost.
Fifth Point: The fighters are not, or at least should not be, trying to injure each other. Hopefully you walk away from a combat with nothing worse than the odd bruise but more serious injuries such as concussion, fractures, dislocations, sprains and the odd puncture can and do occur. These are treated seriously by the fighters as there as great level of trust needed between them as they want to go home in one piece and not be carried home on a stretcher or worse yet, in a bucket!
Final Point: Yes it hurts!
You’ll see quite a bit of whacking with weapons at the festival this weekend, so don’t forget if you have a weapon, you need a permit!