Early last year, in 2015, I took a few classes of a "Historical European Martial Art" (HEMA), the German Kunst des Fechtens (Art of Fighting) at the impressive Sword Carolina. There, as at other HEMA academies, skills such as sword- and spear-fighting and wrestling are developed as martial arts, with earnest and serious research being done into original sources and manuscripts. Faithful recreation is a priority, although the spectrum from let's-do-lots-of-arcane-research to let's-just-whale-on-each-other-with-swords is pretty wide in HEMA.
I had to stop because I moved away, but I'd still be at it if we'd stayed in the upstate of South Carolina.
During that time I also became aware of something called bohurts, where people spend intense amounts of time and money buying and making steel armor and weapons worth thousands of dollars, then traveling in search of battle with fellow hobbyists/deadly enemies. There are tournaments all over the country.
There's even a thing called The Battle of Nations. Go check out some highlights on YouTube. Seriously. You'll be glad.
So while I was checking out this HEMA thing in Carolina, I went to a bohurts meeting, had fun hitting people and checking out armor, and talking about full-armor combat. I put on a breastplate and let a guy whack me a few times with an axe. It hurt.
The sport is a worldwide phenomenon. One of the guys there was a former Team USA guy, but all were enthusiasts of the sport and talked animatedly and at length. I learned a lot that day. For example, it emerged during conversation that everyone is a little afraid of the Russians.
If you're a rugby player, you don't love playing Polynesian teams. Not just because they're built like trucks and run like bulls, but because they have a reputation for being just a little crazy, and maybe a little more given to punching, eye-gouging, and the other dark arts of the sport than other people groups might be. It's sort of an understood thing in the sport that playing Polynesians hurts more and is more unpleasant than your average rugby match.
That was how it felt when these guys talked about the Russians and bohurts. Not only is it huge over there, but the guys have a different ethic about the whole thing than the western nations. There are dudes in full armor just walking around all over Russia, and all they want to do is whack people's heads with maces and spear drones out of the air. Remember when this made the rounds last week?
Not only are these dudes a little violent/crazy, they are fully committed and highly skilled. There is an arms race underway and the Slavic peoples are pulling away, led by the Russians. Because they do things like the assault on a fort in the video below. Watch at least until they throw the log from on top of the fort.
This was seven years ago. The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do.