The blow could have felled a cow, but Brooks’ response was calm: “That’s a point for you.”
The difference is that cows don’t wear armor, whereas Brooks and Luich were covered in steel, leather and cloth from head to ankle. Had this been a serious competition instead of the weekly workout at the Knights Hall on Lake Street, their feet would have been covered, too.
The duo and their friend Craig Nadler – three middle-aged Nashua residents who work in the tech industry – were indulging their extreme hobby of armored combat, a cross between mixed martial arts and medieval re-enactment that has a small but dedicated international following.
Brooks led the 2012 American team that went to Poland for the international Battle of Nations, the first time the U.S. has participated. They won the Best Debut Team award in the contest, which drew some 500 people, and Brooks came in 10th in individual combat.
The idea is to dress like a knight in the Middle Ages (12th to 15th centuries) and then fight like one, using swords, axes, maces, poles and other weaponry made authentic to the edge of lethality – no sharp edges, and no stabbing allowed. Judging from an observed workout in Knights Hall on the fourth floor of a renovated mill building, the battles are short, brutal, metal-on-metal loud, and exhausting.
“You’re wearing 50-something pounds of armor, but moving like boxing,” said Brooks, dripping sweat.
“You have to be in shape,” said Luich, who was equally sweaty. “He’s in shape, I’m not.”
The armor makes quite a difference, too. The fourth Nashuan in the room, David Jordan, audience manager at The Telegraph, wore a suit of armor that looked terrific to the layman’s eye but was made of steel too thin to withstand metal weaponry.
Jordan uses it for fighting with “swords” made of rattan, as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a less lethal version of re-enacting medieval warfare.
He would like to move up into the Armored Combat Sports, and during a reporter’s visit he tried a short stint against Luich with metal weapons. Because blows to the head aren’t allowed with rattan weapons, he was inexperienced at high defense, keeping his shield too low to fend off Luich’s careful thrusts that banged off Brooks’ helmet, which he borrowed.
“I got some dings to the head,” Jordan admitted later.
Brooks attributes much of his success to Nadler, who makes his armor. “He’s one of the best in the country, right here in Nashua,” Brooks said.
Nadler said he started by making chain mail at age 14. When he got a welder at age 15, it was only a matter of time before he was designing and building gauntlets – the armed gloves that have to combine flexibility and armor plating in a marvel of mechanics – helmets, breastplates and more.
This isn’t cheap: Brooks estimated he has $10,000 worth of armor, perhaps more. Even the most basic set will cost $2,000 by the time it passes safety inspections.
“The biggest barrier is getting the armor. It’s not cheap; it’s not easy to get, to get it right,” Brooks said. This is the main reason why participation in SCA fighting outnumbers armored combat hundreds to one.
Brooks started Knights Hall in early 2012 because of his own interest in the sport and to give others a way to get into it. He hosts armored fighting Tuesday nights, SCA rattan fighting Wednesdays, and a general class for beginners and other interested folks Thursday nights.
The 1,200-square-foot Knights Hall runs on a monthly membership fee, with about 15 regulars who train with Brooks. As the founder and owner, Brooks would like to make it into more of a business, covering costs like rental, heat and repairing drywall when 210-pound men decked in hardened spring steel get slammed into it.
Ideally, he’d like to expand the space, maybe start classes for teens or kids, riding the interest in extreme sports and one-on-one combat, plus the interest in historical re-enactment.
“We have room for folks who don’t want to be competitive. You can come into this from making armor, like Craig, or from interest in history – I was a history nerd in school. Even sewing, for making the costumes,” he said.
And, of course, the combat.
“Some guys just want to get together and bash,” Brooks added. “Nothing wrong with that.”