A violent new sports league is trying to make inroads in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s best described as full contact, MMA-style combat in medieval armor. The swords and axes are all real. These aren’t Renaissance Fair re-enactors; they’re only here to fight.
Welcome to the Armored Combat League.
“It’s family-friendly violence,” said Erik Saari, Pacific Region Commander for the ACL. “The way you win is by putting the opponent in the dirt.”
Saari is here from Sacramento to grow the Seattle chapter of the Armored Combat League. Right now, there’s only about five members.
There’s a $50 membership fee to join the league, and it has about 350 members nationwide.
“It is probably the most violence the average person will probably experience up close,” said Saari.
So who would choose to put on up to 100 pounds of armor, and take body blows for fun?
Meet Alexa Bennett.
“You put that helmet on, and you feel really cool,” she said.
Bennett is a computer science student who said she had no confidence when walked into her first practice 10 months ago.
“I went through a massive transformation after I started the Armored Combat League,” she said. “I was super overweight. I just joined in December (2016). I was 230 pounds.”
She went from a size 16 pant to a size 10. But she said the real transformation has been in her self-esteem.
“When you go out there, you’re in armor,” she said. “You’re not invincible, very clearly not invincible. The armor does its job, but we still get bumps and bruises. But it gives you a whole emotional confidence level.”
She’s one of the few women in the league, but she’s used to that in the field of computer science. And she said the men don’t go easy on her in the ring. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
Brenden Norseen is one of the Seattle chapter’s new recruits. The Marine reservist from Monroe is getting suited up in armor for the first time.
“I just saw it online, and everything was really cool to me,” said Norseen. “History mixed in with the full contact. Yep, that was it for me.”
Sean Dickinson also found the sport on Facebook.
“There’s a certain primalness to it, right? You’re just in the moment. You’re doing it, and when you’re done you’re really tired,” Dickinson said.
He’s an 18-year veteran of the Everett Fire Department and the dad of four teenage boys.
“My kids kind of think I’m a dork!” he said.
Dickinson has launched a new chapter of the league in Bellingham. Right now, he’s one of two members.
While the sport looks chaotic, it is governed by rules that have their origins in the 14th century. Saari said around that time there was a French king who wanted his knights and his soldiers to keep practicing for warfare in times of peace. He said they were having a hard time not killing each other, so they developed tournament rules, and that’s where a lot of the ACL rules come from.
Saari said all the athletes have jobs they need to go to on Monday morning, and the rules keep them from getting seriously injured.
Still, injuries do happen. The athletes have the scars to prove it.
During a demo day in West Seattle, one athlete sprained his wrist when he was hit after he lost his weapon during combat.
The athletes say that only proves this sport is real. And despite the pain, they’re having a really good time.
“Every day in armor is a good day,” said Bennett. “Even a bad day in armor, you’re hitting the ground, you’re like I’m in armor, it’s still a good day.”