This time, I am going to talk a little bit more about how we, the warriors keep ourselves safe on the battlefield. Viking and early medieval combat displays are very exciting events, that gather a lot of attention. The reenactors always ensure that the displays are dramatic, entertaining, competitive and as close to the historical combat techniques as practicable, whilst also remaining safe for all those involved.
It is fairly easy, when it comes to public safety- separate battlefield/fighting arena, double set of ropes, instructions from the organizers, signs etc.
But how do the fighters keep themselves from harm?
1. The Equipment
Warriors use protective equipment, to keep safe. Some of it mandatory, some optional. Let us start with a couple of mandatory items:
Gloves. Possibly the least authentic bit of gear we use, as the Vikings or their counterparts would not use them. A thick mitten or leather-reinforced gauntlet will not stop a sword blow cutting your fingers off. But it will stop a blunt weapon from breaking your fingers, by taking most of the force away from the blow. Without appropriately armoured gloves, a reenactor’s career would be very short and painful indeed, and finger/hand injuries are the most common ones seen on the field.
Helmets. Although not every reenactment society makes them mandatory, the one I am a member of does, and for a good reason. Head injuries can be very serious, and face injuries are not uncommon. A helmet provides essential protection to a warrior’s head, and gives him extra safety when getting into closely-packed shieldwall combat, where it is very easy for a blow to go astray.
Now, onto the optional pieces of protection, starting with the most basic and obvious one- a shield. No explanation necessary, I trust, and although it is not mandatory, as some warriors are using two-handed weapons, or maybe a weapon in each hand, each warrior owns one, because hand weapon + shield is the most common and basic weapon combination in reenactment.
Arm-guards. Again, not every warrior is using them- but I can attest to the fact, that they are very useful indeed. Made of thick, hardened leather, and cut into an appropriate shape, they are great at taking the “sting” out of a blow. The protection they offer to forearms and elbows has saved many a warrior from bruises, cuts and fractured bones. Especially, when a warrior uses an aggressive style of combat, or likes getting close to his enemies, thus exposing himself to more blows. In that situation, arm-guard are just amazing.
Padded armour. Otherwise known as gambesons. a gambeson will protect the warrior’s torso, legs and shoulders, as well as his arms. Made of multiple layers of batting and cloth, padded armour is amazing at absorbing kinetic force of the attack, and in doing so, preventing injuries. It is also a very good-looking piece of kit, and warriors wearing it appear more fearsome, and look more like professional warriors, ready for battle. The authenticity of padded armour in the Viking age is still disputed, but so far no one has come up with evidence, that it was not used, and so, it is allowed, with appropriate materials and patters being used. And did I mention, it looks cool?
Chain Mail. The best, most costly form of armour in the Viking age, mail offers supreme protection to its user. It is great at stopping cuts and was the dominant form of armour for many hundreds of years. Mail comes in many varieties, and a warrior may have a small “t-shirt”, or a full-length suit of armour, depending of his preference and availability of cash. Historically, mail was very expensive and only the richest and the elite warriors could afford one. In reenactment, mail is used as an elite kit item, representing warriors wealth and status- but it also offers great protection from incoming attacks, by absorbing their force. Plus, it looks even better than padded armour, and make a warrior seem truly formidable!
Miscellaneous. Many warriors also use additional protective equipment, such as modern knee-braces, or elbow pads, even jaw guards. Whilst not really authentic, these items can, and do prevent many injuries on vulnerable parts of the body, and warriors with long years of experience will tell you, that they area very good investment.
But equipment is not everything! even with blunt and rounded-off weapons, helmets and all protection imaginable, injuries would happen everyday if not for the most important factor- the warriors and their training.
2. The Warriors
Each warrior, who takes part in a combat display, must do so in a safe and controlled manner. It does not suffice to say “ok, I will be careful, not to take someone’s eye”. Each warrior must pass a series of safety and combat tests, to make sure he/she knows what they are doing. It takes skill and practice, to learn to use weapons in an entertaining, accurate and safe manner.
For each weapon they use, a warrior must pass a competency test, to prove he/she is able to use it safely and with skill. Warriors train regularly, and training officers watch over them, to make sure safety rules are adhered to. Whilst in combat, there are rules by which warriors must abide. There are body parts, we may not attack (head for example), blows we cannot perform (like thrusts). Warriors must also “control” their blows and “pull” them, when making contact with another warriors body.
What does it mean? It means, that the blow is made to look like it can kill, but is actually very precisely controlled, and never hits the opponent at a full force, but only hard enough to make it look convincing. Warriors are taught techniques, that make their attacks look vicious and deadly, whilst remaining fully controlled.
Warriors, and their training are the most important part of our safety system. It is a game after all, a hobby, and we want to make it safe for all those involved. Accidents and injuries do happen, as it is a combat sport. From common bruises, to serious injuries requiring hospital attention- but such occurrences are rare, and very seldom something actually happens, though many times warriors come close to an accident. It is because of our level of competency, safety rules and equipment, that we are able to enjoy our hobby, and share it with the public, for the benefit of all.