Finding And Earning Your Place In The Armored Combat League
By Matt Kahn
If you have taken part in any team sports in your life, you know that part and parcel of being successful in that sport is earning your place among the members of your team. Between the training and sweating, you becoming a friend, a confidante, and a brother or sister-in-arms.
The sport of armored combat and the organization of the Armored Combat League is no different. If anything, it’s even more so in this case, because you are quite literally fighting alongside your teammates on the battlefield...bleeding with them, protecting them, watching their backs and relying on them to protect and watch yours.
Having taken part in other teams, I have never seen a tighter bond...nor have I ever seen a sport where it’s so hard to truly earn your place among your teammates as I have found in the ACL. But the rewards of becoming one of them is worth it.
Fighting in armor is not easy, especially if you have led a mostly sedentary lifestyle, beforehand. You are engaging in rigorous physical activity that is heavy in cardiovascular work with 65 to 80 pounds of steel encasing your entire body. Your helmet is one of the heaviest things you will ever put on your head. It will prevent you from drawing a normal breath, rendering you quickly “gassed” and feeling like you are trapped in a steel coffin. All this, while big mean men and women are beating the crap out of you with steel weapons...sound scary? It is and I was!
I’m a very small guy. As I sit here typing these words, I am currently the smallest guy on the Boston Dark Knights team, in both in terms of height and weight. Recently, I looked around at the membership of steel-fighting in this country and lo and behold, I am one of the smallest fighters in the entire sport. But no matter how small, you have to be able to hold your own on the field, regardless of the size of your opponent. And for someone like me, that was a very difficult thing to do.
I was never a physically intimidating person, (even when I was training regularly in martial arts), but I knew that the first thing I would need to do in order to be a positive contributing member of my team, would be to get over the “intimidation hump”. The only way to do this was to reach deep inside and get ahold of some serious stones. This is a work in progress, and at times, I’m not 100% positive I’m there yet... but this is what it takes when I have an opponent, with more experience or literally twice my size standing in front of me, so I mentally push and continually train myself to get by this road block.
The next step was the physical training. This was not easy for a guy use to sleeping in, sitting on the couch and eating ice cream… But let me tell you… If you want to earn your place among warriors, you need to train like a warrior. At the Knight's Hall we have a saying; “Deeds Not Words”.
Coming into the Hall I talked up a big game. Some of guys humored me by occasionally listening to me ramble on, but I knew they did not take me seriously. I hadn’t done anything to take me seriously about. People like to talk a lot, especially when they want to start something as awesome as armored combat. Having been a part of this for over six months now, I have seen other people come around and talk a good game. They've said they want to train and fight, but then when it came time for them to put up or shut up, they were nowhere to be found.
This does not make you part of the team. If you want to earn your place, you need to train like an absolute beast! You need to up your best physical game and push your limits, until it hurts. I went from no training at all, to training almost every day. Whether it's Knight-Fit, weight lifting, long distance running, or something else, you have to push yourself beyond your limits… and then you have to keep at it and look for the gains.
I train 5 to 7 days a week with the singular goal in mind, to become more effective to my team on the field. I needed to do personal training sessions, attend frequent classes, and go to lots of events, before I even started to gain any kind of real respect from the Knights Hall athletes that surrounded me… And that was only the beginning. It’s going to get harder now, as I prepare myself for the National Tournament in March and work towards earning a spot on the USA Knights National Team for the IMCF World Championship in Portugal at the end of May, 2016.
The last step, (which was really the first step), was creating a work/life balance between the training, the family and the day job. Right from the beginning of my journey were the life adjustments necessary to accommodate the commitment of being on the team. If you want to be successful at anything, you have to make it a priority in your life and still attend your loved ones and put food on the table… This is no truer than in the sport of armored combat. This is not a sport for dilettantes...this is a sport for committed men and women only.
I had to adjust my work schedule so that I could attend more classes at the Knight's Hall. I had to sacrifice nights that I could have spent at home with my brand new baby girl and my wife. I had to sacrifice spending time that used to be dedicated to playing video games with friends, going to the movies and dinners with family...
I knew that if I was going to have a shot of earning my place among the Nation’s best, go overseas and to be a welcomed member of my local chapter and National Team, I was going to have to make some hard choices. My willingness to commit to these changes was what my teammates wanted to know from me and what your team will want to know from you… Are you willing to make the hard choice to put the sport of armored combat as a high priority in your life as they do? Are you going to be there when they call you to arms? Can you be depended upon to not only show up, but perform well and conduct yourself with honor both on and off the field?
In the end, I am further along than when I started in this sport. I also have a long way to go. There are days when I feel part of the team.....but there are days when I still feel like an outsider… and in no way do I actually feel like I'm a valued team member, yet.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to strive to earn that, but it feels like some days that no matter how hard I try it’s just beyond my grasp. Becoming part of the team can be slow going. But work hard. Train hard. And be ready to step up when the time comes. “Deeds Not Words”, my friend. That’s what makes you part of the team.