EV men test their mettle -- and their metal -- at 'Battle of Nations' - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

EV men test their mettle -- and their metal -- at 'Battle of Nations'

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2012 7:41 am | Updated: 2:23 pm, Tue May 1, 2012.

This one is not recommended for wimps, or those who can dish it out but not take it.

It involves a good knock with a steel sword — sometimes a good wallop upside the head — and often results in getting knocked down, and maybe even knocked out.

For the last 17 years, Bill Woodbury of Gilbert and Simon Rohrich of Chandler have made an art out of playing rough.

But beginning on Monday, they will get to play much rougher in an exclusive competition — an armored world filled with swinging swords, spears and axes resonating of a medieval sport from an archaic time, say about the 14th Century.

From the force of previous battles, they have had their noses and arms broken, ankles sprained and have been knocked out cold. And it’s all done in the name of fun while roughing up an opponent to the point of submission or knocking them down — an act exclamated with gentlemanly respect and sportsmanship at the end of the battle.

Woodbury and Rohrich, both 37, left for Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday, proud to be representing the United States in what is billed as the Olympics for armored combat competition — “The Battle of the Nations.”

As members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Woodbury and Rohrich are among 31 members of the recently formed Team USA which is facing the final countdown in finding out who the toughest historical medieval combat team really is. Team USA, which is fielding a team for the first time in the four years of the event, will be attempting to knock off Russia, a perennial powerhouse and defending world champion in the Battle of the Nations. Poland, Italy, Denmark, Australia and Canada also will be fielding teams.

The Battle of Nations will be held from Monday through Friday at Fort Bema in the heart of Warsaw where men will don about 60 to 80 pounds of heavy metal, yield weapons and hit each other with full force. It literally will be a no holds barred event. Tripping, punching, elbowing and hitting from behind is allowed. However, one is not allowed to “thrust” a sword or other weapon into someone.

In fact, they had to upgrade their armor and weapons for the trip; here in the U.S. armored combat participants can only use wooden weapons. They also can hit an opponent anywhere; in the U.S., hits were more restricted. They said their trip is costing each of them about $5,000 to $8,000.

“It’s the experience of a lifetime and a grand adventure,” Rohrich said. “I have butterflies, but I’m excited and looking forward to coming unhinged on someone. I love the elevated level of violence and gentlemanly sportsmanship. Even cage matches don’t have weapons. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed.

“I’ll get to do intense battle while getting my nerd on,” he said, laughing.

The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Its known world consists of 19 kingdoms, with more than 30,000 members worldwide. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes and workshops.

At Battle of the Nations — billed as a martial arts-type sporting event — singles division battles are fought one-on-one with a sword, ax or shield, or a two-handed weapon. They include three 90-second rounds judged by the number of blows delivered.

Five-on-five battles are waged until there is only one person standing, with each nation picking five of their best fighters to battle against the other regime.

There are also 21-on-21 fights, where fighters can do just about anything to bring their opponents down.

In February, Woodbury and Rohrich, business partners of Chandler-based Elliptical Mobile Solutions — a company that builds computer infrastructure components and has filed about 25 patents — were among a group of more than 40 men invited to the Battle of the Nations American trial practice in Springfield, Ill. They were selected for Team USA based on their moves, strengths and sportsmanship.

On average, Woodbury and Rohrich participate in armored combat twice a week, and more recently have been training vigorously to prevail over their opponents. Russia, for example, is an average of 14 years younger than Team USA (28 to 42), but the U.S. squad has a significant size advantage (both height and weight).

“We plan to use our experience to our advantage,” Woodbury said. “The No. 1 thing is stamina. We’re an older team, but it will be a matter of who will last longer. I’ve been running (2.5 miles) everyday and have a strict diet.”

Woodbury also runs in full armor once a week, creating quite a stir as motorists often slow down to stare and take pictures.

Rohrich regularly works out in a gym. He said that Woodbury is in better cardiovascular shape than he is, but that he is stronger.

Similar to Civil War buffs who re-enact notable battles, Star Trek enthusiasts or those who participate in Renaissance fairs and don the clothing from that century, there are an estimated 2,000 people who participate in armored combat in Arizona alone, according to Rohrich. The Society for Creative Anachronism also has 35,000 members worldwide, Woodbury said.

Rohrich, who wrestled at Mesa’s Red Mountain High School in the heavyweight division, and Woodbury, who played offensive tackle for Phoenix’s Brophy Prep, first became interested in armored combat when they participated in a role-playing group similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Their role-playing master told them they didn’t have to pretend to be armored combat warriors; they actually could participate in the sport for real.

And the rest is history — or at least medieval history.

“It feels good to represent our nation at The Battle of the Nations,” Rohrich said. “We’ve spent about half our lives getting ready for this, but didn’t know what we were getting ready for until it happened. We just had to go.”

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