THE man from Argentina was so big, he seemed to block out the sun. Easily over six foot tall, he looked even more formidable in his armour, his face imprisoned behind a helmet and chain-mail, with the tiniest of dark slits where his eyes should have been. In his hands he gripped a long polearm. On top of his chest armour he wore his team’s national colours.

He made short work of one early opponent. At the end the vanquished man whipped off his own helmet. A sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead. He glanced up at the big man and with a quick smile said something along the lines of, “You beat the ---- out of me!” The two men hugged. No hard feelings. The sand on their fenced-off arena - the list - bore the marks of their struggle. A few minutes later, an Argentinian fighter of similar imposing build entered the same list. It may even have been the same man as before. Using his feet, his strength and both ends of his polearm, he drove his smaller opponent, a South African this time, back against the posts. It was relentless, and victory was not long in arriving.

This was day one, Thursday, of the four-day, full-contact International Medieval Combat Federation (IMCF) world championships, at Scone Palace, near Perth. Teams had arrived from all over the world to take part - some 500 fighters in all, men as well as women. The fighters wore armour and carried medieval weapons - polearms, long-swords, swords and shields - and though their weapons were dulled and rounded in the interests of safety, injuries have been known to happen. That very same day, a Swedish player needed treatment after being hit, though he was later reported to be fine.

The website of the Australian Medieval Combat team sums it up: “We here at the AMC,” it says, “are all about full contact, full force, unscripted medieval tournament style combat. We use rebated steel weapons, wear real custom-made armour, we kick, punch, head butt, and throw knee and elbow strikes! It’s hardcore and unspeakably good fun to participate in or watch.”

I mention the Argentinian player to Ralph Campbell-Smith, from Crieff, one of the fighters in the the homegrown contingent here, the Scottish Knight League. “I’ll be honest,” he says, “I’m not exactly the biggest person or the tallest person, and you see some of these guys who’re six foot five. They’re in the army, they’re whatever. They are huge. Sometimes that’s an advantage, sometimes it’s not.”

Weekend days out: 15 National Trust for Scotland gems

Having good footwork is important. You do have to be fit to do this,” he adds. “I mean, you can spend as much time as you want in the gym - but, once you’ve got the kit on ... you’ve got a duvet on, you’ve got the weights on - and you get hit in the head. You can’t see anything. You can’t hear anything, and in about 30 seconds you’ve no oxygen left, you’re so hot. So it’s a stamina fight. It’s a stamina fight. So quite often, it doesn’t matter if you’re big: if you can’t breathe, you’re going down.”


Many of the fighters, it seems, are interested in medieval history, and in particular in the way that people fought each other then. “Dressing up, getting into kit and actually doing it for real is an amazing experience,” says Campbell-Smith, who is 40. “I love it. I can pass it onto my son, teach him about the history and also about the honour involved. It is incredibly violent: we do hit each other. But at the end of the day, you’ll be the first one to help your opponent up. If someone’s missing a bit of kit, it’s a case of, ‘we’ll help you’. The guys in the Scotland team,” he adds, “we’re so proud to be hosting this and to be the home nation, when, four, five years ago, there were just four of us in the team. We were just a bunch of guys thinking about it. Now, here we are, hosting it. So if we can do it, anybody can. It’s great fun.”

It stayed dry that first day. “The conditions are quite good,”said Hubert Filipiak, IMCF president, “because the wind gives the fighters extra oxygen in their helmet, and it’s not warm, so they’re feeling comfortable.” He was delighted with the involvement of Scone Palace, one of the most historic places in all of Scotland.

Weekend days out: 15 National Trust for Scotland gems

Everywhere you looked, there were people milling around in medieval costume. Mike Bushell, from the BBC Breakfast show, here for the day, received a lesson in medieval combat from two leading female fighters. “They put on some armour and they struck me a few times in the chest and the head, “ he told the Scone audience, “and then they said, you need to prepare for battle now.” Which is why he found himself in the Scotland team that took on Quebec. “This is really like stepping back five, six hundred years, to experience what it was like to be a knight,” he added.


One of the most entertaining parts was the 10-v-10 group fight in which one country takes on another, the winner being the team with the last man standing. The opening fight was Australia v England. As soon as the marshal gave the signal, fights broke out all over the list. Heavy blows from swords rained down down medieval helmets. Legs were kicked out from under opponents.

Weekend days out: 15 National Trust for Scotland gems

The losses quickly mounted up. “There’s three English fighters down now to four Australians,” said one of the commentators, after just 27 seconds. “It’s been hard to keep up with what is happening on the field, because there’s so much happening all over the place.”

Before long, there were just three fighters left, two Englishmen against a single Aussie. Could they bring him down? They tried everything they could. He did everything he could to remain on his feet. For at least four minutes the three men kept at it. “It’s a good thing this is a four-day tournament,” the commentator added, “because we might still be here on Sunday.”