By Cherry Casey
Fighting. It's a funny thing, isn't it? None of us quite know what to make of it. Is it noble, when Maximus Decimus Meridius finally gets his vengeance? Or knobbish, when Cleaver takes on Darcy? Whatever your stance, I'd hazard a guess that when your favourite fight scene’s on (Thurman vs Hannah: Kill Bill 2, if you're asking) your blood starts pumping faster, doesn't it? And you kind of wish you were one of those a-hooing 300, don’t you? Yeah, deep down, we quite like the idea of smashing the stuffing out of shit. But how does one go about it? Fist fights are frowned up and there’s no pizzaz to a pub brawl.
Well right now, it seems that medieval fight clubs are (channelling) all the rage across London. And if you're thinking pallid computer nerds barely bruising one another, think again. These fighters are fierce, fast and flipping nails.
You know that form of combat originating in the Philippines and used against Spanish colonialists in the 16th century? OK, how about that scene in Bourne Identity when Matt Damon wins a fight with a pen? Yeah — that is escrima. And urban escrima uses that martial art to teach self-defence classes in East London Fields.
Unlike many traditional martial arts, urban escrima uses weapons to fight with right from the start. But as head instructor, Nigel, says: "It’s not about just waving them around in the air. We teach co-ordination, speed and how to use these skills in everyday situations." Indeed, urban escrima makes no bones of the fact that this class is about real life situations — muggings, stabbings and spontaneous stair fights, because as Nigel points out "in real life you can’t just block, block, block — you need to know how to counter-attack".
Member: Hamida Tusufzai, 39, women’s sector worker
"I signed up to Urban Escrima about nine months ago because I was looking for a martial art group that differed from my past experiences, which were aggressive, macho and homophobic. From the minute I met Nigel and Charlie [the other head instructor], I felt included. The group is predominantly male but they’re kind and open. I’m attracted to fighting because it’s very powerful, and it’s a good way to channel natural aggression. It’s great for your confidence and imperative for defending yourself if you need to."
Want to hone your hardness? Head to www.urbanescrima.com to find out more.
While Urban Escrima tailors ancient combat for modern-day life, Viking fighting teaches you how to…. fight like a Viking. But as Maximus Von Bracey, leader of London Vikings, points out, it’s as much about camaraderie as it is about combat. "We’re not a toxic martial arts group and we want warriors within it to be friends. We encourage a strong sense of honour and duty." Even so, the fighting bit is still important. "People want endorphin rushes, whether through sky-diving or steel sword fighting," says Max.
The London Vikings fight according to the Jomsviking System (steel-mixed martial arts) and train in North London. Their battling abilities have taken them further afield however, from TV (check out Goughie’s Viking lesson on Talksport) to full-scale 300-a-side battle re-enactments, where — as Max puts it — "we fight to win".
Now of course, the point of re-enactments is that no one actually dies, and again, this is where the importance of the honour culture comes in. Before a battle there will be designated ‘kill zones’ on the body — if you are struck there, you need to bow out. But there are always those unwilling to admit defeat, so — in more hardcore battles — referee-types clump cheaters over the head until they cave. Quite the incentive.
Member: Ingrida Kyguolyte, 25, client executive assistant
"I descend from the Yotvingian tribe, who were fighters, kind of like the Spartans. I’ve been brought up really aware of my heritage, which is why I wanted to do something like this. I found the guys through Google and when I met them I felt so at home.
"When it comes to the actual fighting, you won’t do well if you’ve got a lot of aggression. It’s about thinking tactically, using proper technique and teamwork more than anything else. In fact I’ve learnt more about teamwork here than college or anywhere else. The aim isn’t to hurt each other — although accidents do happen. But you do get an adrenaline rush if you win. It’s great to feel like you’ve proved yourself."
Want to get your warrior on? Go to www.ulflag.com.
London Sword and Dagger club
Based on the swordmanship of Italian master Fiore Dei Liberi, these guys research medieval manuscripts in order to fully comprehend… OK, you got me. This one’s a little on the bookish side. Or, in the words of instructor Nigel, "a very nerdy martial art".
That said, the guys at LSDC aren’t messing around. This martial art has one very definite aim — to learn exactly how to kill someone with a sword. As Nigel puts it, "if members were dropped into a fight in the 15th century, they could hold their own". That means proper equipment is used, including sharp steel swords, and thus a lot of padding is needed. Nonetheless, anyone is welcome, however fit or able bodied. "We really include everyone and if anyone had a disability, we would work around it," says Nigel. "One member was a haemophiliac. Which was a bit worrying at first, actually."
Member: Megan Stannard, 25, database administrator
"I was looking to join a martial art and have always been interested in fantasy literature so this seemed like a good option. It’s good for fitness but also a really fun outlet if you’ve had a rough day. I’ve only just bought all the proper padded outfits so I used to be covered in bruises. But I was quite proud of them actually — it showed I was taking it seriously. There are members that are more involved in the scholarly side of things, but I’m more of a ‘doer’."
Do the original type of daggering at www.londonswordanddaggerclub.co.uk.