Welcome to the world of historical medieval battles, medieval full contact fighting. That’s fighting in full armour, with some frankly brutal looking weapons. A worldwide sport that you’ve probably never heard of but you really need to see. HMB is several disciplines; bohurt which is group fights of up to 21 fighters on each team, duelling is a points based scoring fight so much technical and pro-fighting 1v1 all out scrapping. There are different weapons categories too; polearm, longsword and sword and shield.
I caught up with The Swords of Cygnus, the English all Women’s team for some more info on this emerging and exciting sport. They’ve competed internationally for over a year together and are geared up to kick some very serious titanium ass in 2018.
What made you choose this sport in particular over other mixed martial arts sports or even boxing?
Jo: Swords. I had never taken any interest in other martial arts or combat sports before. I am fascinated by ancient and medieval history which is saturated with violence and war. Martial arts is as described, an art form based on strict technique and rules. In bohurt you can be trained to be a more powerful and effective fighter. However, the rules are minimal which garners the chaos that speaks to me more than something with too much discipline.
Steph: If I’m honest, I only started getting into watching UFC shortly before I found out about this sport! The reality is, although MMA and boxing are very tough and amazing sports that do cover the urge to fight, HMB makes me feel more like a warrior. Although in national and international tournaments there are specific male and female categories that do not allow you to cross over, in other events I can fight men and hold my own. It’s very empowering! Although I have been thinking about getting into MMA since alongside this sport.
Were you interested in history before getting into the sport? How far from Hollywood is the reality of wearing armour?
Steph: I was more into Celtic history- Vikings and all. I enjoyed watching historic war films etc. but I’ve been more preoccupied with the here and now. As for Hollywood, in the real world, there would be very few soldiers who had enough money to buy a full suit of armour. Even in the here and now, it’s very expensive! Armour is only comfortable if it fits right, and even then, it clatters and restricts certain full movements. I feel a lot of Hollywood go more for the LARP root – it may look very pretty or cool, but wouldn’t withstand a halberd.
Jo: I now see every medieval TV show in a different light. I can’t say that it ruins it for me though. Dragons I can believe in; but a dizzying lack of plate where the vambraces (arm plates for those of us unfamiliar) should be makes it unbelieve that there’s not more amputees on these shows.
When you’re fully kitted out in your armour, how much does it all weigh and how restrictive is it in terms of movement and vision?
Jo: Now I have my own armour I have good movement and great vision. The movement is improving all the time with training and it is starting to feel more natural as I get stronger. I’ve opted for a nasal helm specifically for the fact that my vision and breathing is much improved. Some people think it is a risk, but it’s been worth it so far.
Steph: A well-fitting suit of armour will not restrict movement too much, but full range can be difficult as plates can catch on other plates or straps. As for vision, that will depend on the style of helm you’re wearing, my griffin helm is my favourite style, it’s not as breathable or open as say a nasal, but it looks mean and guarantees protection. The weight will depend on what metal it’s made out of and how thick it’s cut – spring steel, mild steel or titanium are the usual suspects. I’m lucky to have a titanium brig (the body that covers your torso/back). My helm alone weighs around 6kg, I haven’t weighed the rest of my armour but my arms and legs are spring steel which is heavier than the brig. Typically a full suit will weigh at least 25kg if not more.
How hard is the training? How do you keep yourself competition level fit?
Jo: At the moment I train 3-4 times a week in the gym doing cardio and weightlifting training and about 5 times a week at home on a pell (wooden structure with tyres on) which a practice striking, combinations, footwork and power on like it is an opponent.
Steph: It can be difficult to motivate yourself to do solo training off your own back, which is the majority of training I do. Training with people is always easier because you do it together, even though the actual activities are still hard! One of the main motivations I have is looking at how far I’ve come since I started the sport, and how much further I want to get. I want to be recognised as a strong, hard and talented fighter. Not only that, but I HAVE to improve in order to keep up with my team and keep them calm knowing that the woman fighting by their side will not fall easy and will have their back, just as they have mine. Train hard, Fight easy.
What is the reaction from members of the public when they see your fights in tournaments? Are they surprised to see a women’s team?
Steph: Back on St Georges Day this year, we were holding a small event in Vauxhall, London. A few news crews came down to film the tournament and find out more. During this, one journalist said “...and one of these fighters; is actually a woman!” as if it was strange, spectacular and incredible. Of course, the ‘actual woman’ fighting in the list while he was speaking was me. I think public view is split between people who are not surprised at all, because women are branching out into more sports and other currently male dominated areas, and proving that we can ‘do it too’ if you like.
Jo: The public event shows always bring the best reactions. The best one I can remember was at Colchester Medieval Fair. We didn’t have anywhere indoors to get suited and booted so we started to don our steel next to the lists (arena) and everyone stopped to stare at two women amongst the guys actually putting armour on. Families kept stopping to ask us what it was like in armour and asking if we actually fight! They were shocked and impressed.
What is your favourite type of fight; duelling, pro fights or bohurt?
Jo: Pro-fights, they are the most violent. As the women’s fighting grows we will start to fight larger group battles which will be amazing but at the moment 3v3 can quickly become a bit of a stalemate and not that exciting from a tactical point of view. At least with pro-fights you can batter your opponent on the ground and you are guaranteed up to 9 minutes of fighting to prove your ferocity and ability. There are different techniques and skills used to pro-fight but it is more a show of dominance and aggression than duelling and I find that completely invigorating.
Steph: Bohurt used to be my very favourite when I started. Now I’ve been in the sport for over a year and had a chance to learn more and develop my skill and technique, I enjoy most fighting. The only problem I have with duelling, is that is purely points based and so you’re not allowed to shield punch, grapple or take down your opponent… which for someone who’s second nature is to shield punch; can find quite boring. Bohurt is still a favourite because you’re working as a team with your fellow fighters and can accomplish a lot more than you might ever be able to on your own.
Are there any other women or teams in the sport that inspire you?
Jo: Two women who have inspired me the most in the HMB world are Melanie Gras and Denise Töpfer. There are German fighters from Team Hollenbrut (devil in German). They are incredibly strong women who have inspired me as a fighter and heavily influenced my training programme from what they have shared through social media. They work incredibly hard at training and hugely motivating when you know that if you don’t keep up your training schedule that they are going to wipe the floor with you at the next competition. It’s a great incentive to hit harder.
Steph: Yes. My teammates and their drive and passion keep me going. They are truly my sisters. Every woman I meet in the list inspires me to keep going. The world of women’s HMB is expanding and that fills me with such pride, joy and excitement. Svetlana Fedorova is somewhat a leading light for female fighters as she is currently holder of gold in the womens categories she entered at the world championships this year. I hope to fighter her at Battle of the Nations 2018 in Italy. [Not HMB inspiration but: Rose Namajunas, in the UFC world, inspires me as she trains hard, remains calm in the face of her opponents, and is ever humble with her victories.]