Full-on nerd rage
Knight Fights a brutal, painful, awesome experience

Full-on nerd rage

Knight Fights at last year's Snowdown stopped people in their tracks, wondering, "Is this for real?" This year the knights in shining armor are back./ Photo by Adam Telford

Jonathan Romeo - 02/02/2023

If you were lucky enough during last year’s Snowdown to stumble upon a scene in which a bunch of dudes in medieval armor were beating the hell out of each other and wondered, “What is this?” – you are not alone.

“When we start really hitting each other, you look into the crowd, and people are like, ‘Whoa, is this for real?’” Andrew Savage, ringleader of Four Corners Armored Combat, said. “It’s a mixed bag of concern and confusion. People have never seen anything like it before.”

And if you missed the event, but this sounds like something you’d enjoy watching, fear not – there’ll be plenty of chances to catch the modern-day knights whacking the crap out of each other at this year’s Shakespearean Snowdown.

“Until you’re there and hear what sounds like a car crash, it’s hard to communicate what this is,” Savage said.

While the melee looks like complete and utter chaos, there is, in fact, a method to the madness. The sport (and yes, it’s a sport) is called “Buhurt,” which has grown into an international spectacle with hundreds of competitors.

For many, Buhurt combines sport, history and camaraderie. And make no mistake – this is no staged WWE fight. The blows – and the pain – are real.

“This is full-contact nerd rage,” Tommy Karcher, a combat fighter, said. “It’s ugly, and it’s a dog fight, and people get hurt. But there’s just no rush like it.”

A brief history of walloping 

The history of Buhurt dates back to the 12th century when knights, apparently with nothing better to do when not at war, would fight in tournaments as a way to practice their skills, test weapons and entertain a populace that did not possess streaming services.

The problem, however, was that the knights kept killing each other, and that’s no way to maintain an army. So, the weapons were blunted, and over the years, massive tournaments would be held all over Europe.

“With a few minor modifications, we’re basically competing in the same event,” Savage said.

Modern day Buhurt (a French word that translates to “wallop”) traces its origins to Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

For years, Renaissance fairs and historical reenactments were commonplace, but people in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Belarus took it up a notch. They bought steel armor and weapons, and held full-on combat wars. The first massive tournament, held in 2009, was called “The Battle of the Nations,” and after word spread, more countries wanted in. Now, there are a number of competitions. There’s even a History Channel show called “Knight Fights.”

The sport further evolved in 2015 with the advent of “Pro Fights,” which basically are MMA/UFC anything-goes-style bouts. The only difference is you’re dressed in medieval armor and brandishing weapons that look like torture deceives from “Saw.”

Knights who say nee(d some cash)

OK, so does it work? First, you need armor and weapons, but not just any run-of-the-mill chain mail and two-headed axe. With Buhurt, there’s a strong emphasis on historical accuracy when it comes to gear.

Oftentimes, armor and weapons must be special ordered, usually from Eastern Europe. Armor can weigh 60 to 90 pounds (Savage said it takes some getting used to, but he plans to climb a 14er this summer in his armor).

“It’s like a firefighter with their gear; you train to become comfortable in it for a short period to accomplish your goal,” he said.

Any weapon of the medieval time is allowed – all kinds of swords, halberds, pole arms, axes, maces – pretty much anything you’d see in “Lord of the Rings.” Also, leagues require blunted weapons and set a max weight.

So how much does all this custom-forged, historical gear cost? Well, Savage said not much more than that new mountain bike. By far, the most expensive aspect is traveling all over Europe for tournaments, often hosted in historic castles.

Hurts, donut

Speaking of which, there are a variety of different matches, including:

• Melees – when teams (which can range from 3-on-3 up to 150-on-150) engage in all-out war. Literally anything goes, with a few exceptions, like no stabbing or strikes to the back of the knee. The team with the last man standing wins. Savage said this is the most chaotic of events, kinda like football and hockey mixed with fencing.

• Duels – this is a more technique-heavy demonstration, with point sparring and clean strikes to win. It’s very competitive, Savage said, and insanely exhausting. “It’s like Olympic fencing, but add 80 pounds of gear,” he said.

• Pro Fights – as mentioned above, this one is brutal. One-on-one combat with MMA/UFC rules, all with the goal of knocking your opponent on the ground. “It’s like watching a boxing match with swords,” Savage said.

You might be asking, “Does this f***ing hurt?” Yes, it does, those who are crazy enough to take a blow (not me), said. But, though bumps and bruises are common, the armor is highly protective, and serious injuries are rare.

“Sometimes you’ll get a spark in your helmet or have trouble getting oxygen, all while dealing with two people attacking you, and it’s chaotic,” Savage said. “But it’s a bigger adrenaline rush than anything for me.”

Just a friendly melee

Which leads to perhaps the most perplexing question: Who is crazy enough to do this? Well, a lot of people, it turns out, whether it’s gym rats looking for a niche competitive workout, history buffs or LOTR nerds.

“Everyone who dresses up in armor with swords has to be, deep down, a nerd,” Savage said.

Savage, for his part, is a martial arts instructor (and self-proclaimed nerd). He tried different types of fighting and swordsmanship, but it wasn’t until he found Buhurt about three years ago that he found his calling.

“It instantly felt like finding home,” he said. “The community around it is the best I’ve ever seen. You can smash someone in the face, and a second later pick them up and give them a hug. There’s huge respect for anyone who does this.”

For the past few years, Savage (whose day job is managing a gym and bartending in Farmington) has been setting up a team locally in the Four Corners. Now, he has about 12 members.

Karcher was solicited by Savage last year while working the door at Lauter Haus Brewing in Farmington. A week later, he was in Durango for Snowdown in full medieval gear bludgeoning strangers.

“It’s infectious; there’s just no rush like it,” he said. “And it takes time to get the breathing right, trust your armor and build up the strength, cause it feels like you’re fighting in a different body. It doesn’t look safe, but it’s pretty safe.”

Shane Gallegos was approached by Savage at the gym last fall. His first impression? “It looked like the nerdiest, most violent sport there is,” he said. “I wanted to do it. The total chaos of the situation looked like the funnest thing in the world.”

Sure, other sports, like football, can be fun, but “until you have an axe, sword or two-headed weapon swung at your face,” you don’t truly know what fun is, he said. Gallegos, who runs a business development and marketing consulting company, is so sold on Buhurt, he’s training to compete on Team USA.

“This is one of the best sports, because I can go full-out, and I’m not going to seriously hurt anyone,” he said. “I get to punch people and hit them with axes and not get thrown in jail for it.”

Live carnage!

During last year’s Snowdown, the Four Corners Armored Combat team captivated passersby in the parking lot of Steamworks and again at 11th Street Station. There was also a legendary night at a certain DIY space with a punk band a lucky few got to see.

So, with the Shakespearean theme this year, it only made sense to invite the knights back.

Thursday at the ACT will feature some melee and pro fights (and even a last-man-standing fight among local service industry workers). And on Friday and Saturday, a larger tournament will be held at the Renaissance Fair at the Durango Transit Center. One melee will even feature a massive 16-on-16 bout.

“There’s that saying, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth,’” Gallegos said, “and with Buhurt, you actually need to do both – stick to your plan while getting smashed.”

Hmm, kinda sounds like good advice for surviving Snowdown in general.