30 May 2023

Medieval mercenaries searching for new knights to join them in battle

| Jen White
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Men in suits of armour

The Illawarra’s newest sporting group, the Knights of Albion, in their suits of armour ready to do battle. Photo: Knights of Albion.

It’s just on dusk at Albion Park as a small group gathers around the boot of a car behind Centenary Hall.

A heavy sword in its scabbard is lifted up and carefully, reverently, handed around. It’s soon joined by an even heavier helmet with chain mesh on the face, closely followed by a titanium suit of armour.

Anton Summerfield, an Albion Park real estate agent by day, dons the suit and behold, he becomes a Knight of Albion, soon to join his band of merry men in a round of (practice) battle.

Anton and his fellow Knights of Albion, including club co-founder Scott James, are a small but passionate group practising buhurt, a form of battle undertaken by knights of the 14th and 15th centuries. They’re recruiting for new members to join their group and judging by the enthusiasm shown by two newcomers who’ve come along this Tuesday night to check out the training and what it involves, they’re well on their way.

The Knights of Albion is one of the newest of 15 clubs registered with the Australian Medieval Combat Federation who take part in full contact, unscripted medieval tournament-style combat.

It’s only a relatively new sport in Australia but over the past few years membership has grown to more than 170, with many members competing in local and international events.

The battles are called buhurts – from the French word ‘behourd’, which means “to wallop” – and involve a group battle typically of five vs five but can range up to 150 vs 150 in mass battles.

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The rules are simple – the team with fighters still standing at the end of the round wins.

What’s not so simple is that the knights wear full, traditional battle gear for the fights and are armed with medieval-style weapons such as axes, halberds, swords and shields.

“If you were a knight in the 14th or 15th century and didn’t have a battle, you just sat around and got fat, so the buhurt was a way of keeping the knights in shape,” Anton said.

Anton discovered the sport by accident about a year ago.

“I got bored and fell down the rabbit hole of YouTube and saw videos of a few battles. I thought it looked really cool and I’m not a violent person, I’m not a history nut.

“I used to be an amateur swimmer and I was looking to get back into something to lose some weight.”

Group of men holding shields with masks on.

Knights of Albion Committee members (front from left) Shannon Michels, Scott James and Anton Summerfield with some of their members at a training night. Photo: Jen White.

Wearing and carrying almost 40 extra kilos in regular buhurts has helped him accomplish that weight loss.

“There are different fighting methods – some fighters are more mobile and run during battles, I’m slower and more of a tank. I call it a lazy man’s fight,” he said.

The armour worn by the fighters – or mercenaries as they’re known – is custom made by a European blacksmith.

Every piece of gear needs to meet and pass certain historical and safety standards, from the helmet to the shoes.

And it’s not a cheap sport although Anton says the club is hoping to hook up with an Indian manufacturer to try to help keep the costs down. An “entry level” suit of armour is about $3000 – $4000 and then you still need your choice of weapon and shield.

However, newcomers to the sport spend about three months with senior, experienced fighters learning and training before donning the armour.

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Anton joined forces with anatomy technician Scott James to form the Knights of Albion about six months ago.

“It’s a sport based on camaraderie, a positive spirit and it’s safe,” Scott said.

“We’re not trying to kill each other; yes, the idea is to hit hard but the armour protects you. It’s based on museum pieces and we’re using the same pieces, the same shape and design – it’s like a modern-day tank and the weapons just glance off you.

“We train so we can fight safely, fight in teams and actually win.”

Anton describes the battles as “intense”, but without injuries – “it feels like being in a car when it’s hailing”.

“There are three very simple rules – no stabbing, no hitting the back of the knee or back of the neck,” he said.

“There are some tactics at the start of a buhurt but once you start it can be utter chaos. At the end of the day, 90 per cent of the strategy fails.”

Marshalls are in charge of the bouts and if fighters don’t follow the rules they can be warned or disqualified.

Anton and Scott are keen to educate the community about the sport and welcome new recruits. They are also stepping up their fundraising efforts to buy the soft foam practice gear and spare sets of armour so members can compete in national and international events. Women are welcome to join as are children, but only over 18s can fight in armour.

The Knights of Albion train on Tuesdays from 5:30 – 6:30 pm. For more information visit their Facebook page

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