What's It Like to Be a 21st-Century Polish Knight?
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What's It Like to Be a 21st-Century Polish Knight?

These guys want medieval combat to become Europe's premier martial art.

This article originally appeared in August 2014.

I arrived in Ciechanów just before the first battle of the weekend at the Castle of the Dukes of Mazovia. I was in town for the third Polish Knights Tournament. The weather had been scorching hot for weeks and looking at the knights in full armour around me, I couldn't help but wonder how they could stand this. "It's not that bad; the staging of the Battle of Grunwald last month was much harder," one said. "The thermometer under the armor reached 70 Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit)."


Suddenly, one of the judges shouted "START!" and weirdness was unleashed. Two of the knights chased each other around with swords while the audience cheered and applauded. With every hit, blades broke on the armor and shields of the fighters. They took this seriously—there was even a tent encampment set up around the castle in which Middle Ages enthusiasts were eating, drinking, and practicing their archery. This is where I met Thomas Duda, governor of the Banner of Knights of Ciechanów and a representative of the Polish Association of Medieval Combat. I asked him what it's like to be a Polish knight in the 21st century.

VICE: Could you tell me a little about why there even is such a thing as medieval combat in Poland?
Thomas Duda: The first Polish knights tournaments took place in the 1990s, but the whole thing was more like theatre back then. The fights were arranged and had nothing to do with sports, but that gradually changed as more and more people wanted to do this for real.

1998 was a breakthrough year—it was when we staged the first reenactment of the Battle of Grunwald. The event grew more popular as time passed and attracted many tourists from Russia and Ukraine.

What happened next?
Eventually we all agreed that in order to turn our hobby into a real sport, we had to form a union. In 2011, the Polish Association of Medieval Combat was launched. We want medieval combat to become the flagship European martial art—like tae kwon do and karate for Asia.


Besides the Polish Association of Medieval Combat, there is also the Polish League of Knight Fight. That was established two years ago and their main goal is to find knights who would represent Poland in a World Championship. Poland is one of the founder states of the IMCF [International Medieval Combat Federation]. So we are essentially determining the direction and the quality of this sport.

So what does one have to do in order to become a member of the Polish Association of Medieval Combat?
Any person who wants to join has to enter the novitiate for a couple of months to learn to focus, fight, and to make a medieval costume. The next step is deciding whether he or she wants to become a knight for real.

What kind of difficulties do recruits encounter?
The first barrier that must be overcome is the barrier of pain that you get from strokes. Even in the helmet and armor there are always some bruises and this is what you need to get used to.

Where does this need to cut people with swords comes from?
It's a bit like an extreme sport: There is an inherent desire for adventure, adrenaline, and combat in some. Some of us say that it's a male impulse that was exterminated with modern life. The most important thing is that we compete fairly. We fight each other sharply in the field, but in the camp we play together.

Are there ever any serious injuries?
Occasionally, but the armor is prepared to protect the body against hits.


What is the Battle of Nations?
It's the Medieval Combat world championship. The first event took place in Ukraine in 2010, inside the walls of Chocim Fortress. Two years later Poland was the host—the competition was located in Bem's Fort in Warsaw.

Who have you managed to defeat so far?
France, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia. In the individual classification we've won two gold medals and in the general classification Poland is the runner-up.

Who is the champion?
The United States! I know it's weird as they have no history of knighthood. Every time this topic comes up we say that the US is a nation of immigrants who came from Europe. So we think Americans have deep knight roots and full rights to promote this sport in the United States, and we are happy that they do.

This article first appeared on VICE UK.