Israeli ‘knights’ go to battle
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Israeli ‘knights’ go to battle

Heavy metal abounds at international medieval fighting championship in Rishon Lezion

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

An Israeli "knight" (right) spars with an opponent at the World Medieval Fighting Championship, Rishon LeZion, January 22, 2015. (photo credit: Ariel Shrooster)
An Israeli "knight" (right) spars with an opponent at the World Medieval Fighting Championship, Rishon LeZion, January 22, 2015. (photo credit: Ariel Shrooster)

For some people, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching a good fight. There are boxing fans, and also plenty of folks who tune in to pro wrestling on TV. And then there’s the crowd that likes to watch competitors dressed in medieval armor wielding medieval weapons go at one another other without mercy.

That sort of fighting is called Historical Medieval Battles (HMB), and a few hundred Israeli fans of the sport — some dressed as though they stepped right out of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest — gathered Thursday evening at the Maccabi House Sports Hall in Rishon Lezion to watch the World Medieval Fighting Championship: Israeli Challenge.

Although HMB involves several different categories and styles of combat, this particular event focused on “professional fights.” The one-on-one bouts entail three rounds of three minutes, during which the opponents attack each other with unsharpened steel weapons, such as swords and poleaxes. Everything is allowed except for blows to the neck, back of the knee, groin, eyes, feet, and back of the head. Fighters score points with hits, and the competitor with the most points at the end of the three rounds wins.

HMB, which started in Russia and is huge there, was introduced to Israel about eight years ago, and the country has sent a team to international competitions for the past four years. Last week’s event was the second time Israel has hosted an international pro fight competition.

Not surprisingly, a lot or Russian was spoken by the popcorn-eating fans in the stands in Rishon LeZion. Daniel Skakun chatted in Russian with his friends and took photos with a camera he had set up on a tripod. He does some medieval fighting himself, but with lighter armor than the 35-40 kilograms of steel the competitors in the ring were wearing.

“I’m into it not so much for the fighting, but rather because I like the role-playing aspect of it,” he said.

In addition to immigrants from the FSU, there were also native Israelis in the crowd.

Aviad Sela of Ra’anana and his fiancée Roni Gross from Rishon Lezion came because they were curious about the sport.

“This is our first time watching this. I like martial arts and Roni heard this was happening, so we came,” said Sela.

Yaniv Sasson came from Shafir, a moshav near Kiryat Malachi, with his three young children, ages four to seven.

“We went to a medieval fair last year and the kids really liked it, so we came to this,” said the father, who claimed he was not concerned about exposing his children to the violence in the ring.

“I like knights! They have swords and shields and it’s cool!” said Sasson’s six-year-old son Yonatan with excitement.

An Israeli "knight" kicks his opponent at the World Medieval Fighting Championship at Rishon LeZion, January 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Ariel Shrooster)
An Israeli ‘knight’ kicks his opponent at the World Medieval Fighting Championship at Rishon LeZion, January 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Ariel Shrooster)

The master of ceremonies, a large man dressed in a brown robe and white turban, provided a running commentary about the sport and the competitors, who had come from France, Belarus, Denmark, Ukraine and Estonia, in addition to various cities in Israel. In between his updates, loud, dramatic music and flashy lighting kept the fans pumped up. The halftime show featured a Scottish bagpipes band from Ukraine that had people dancing in the stands.

The home crowd was fully behind the Israeli team, including member Ira Rogozovsky, a 24-year-old Tel Aviv University student and airport security officer when she is not wielding a sword and shield.

Rogozovsky stumbled upon medieval fighting by chance a couple of years ago and decided the sport was for her.

“It basically mixes modern martial arts with medieval costumes. It’s tremendous fun and it combines sport with history,” she told The Times of Israel the day before the event.

The slight Rogozovsky, weighed down by her armor covered by a tunic with an Israeli flag pattern, faced off against a woman from Belarus. Rogozovsky had her competitor on the chains (the ring is surrounded by chains rather than ropes, as in boxing) and was in command for much of the fight.

When the judges pronounced Rogozovsky the winner of the bout, she removed her pointed steel helmet to reveal braided hair and beaming smile.

Then a fair maiden in a long, flowing gown handed the victorious Israeli “knight” a trophy. (This being a family-friendly event, the young woman was not dressed in tiny shorts and halter top, as can be seen in some videos from Russian competitions.)

“Israel! Israel!” shouted the crowd as Rogozovsky bounced out of the ring to make way for the next two fighters — two large guys dressed in chainmail ready to hack at one another with poleaxes.

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