We were standing in the middle of the arena we’d be fighting in over the next few days, while we waited for the UWM leaders to announce the fight cards. I rocked back on my heels and took a few steps to get a feel for the surface. Didn’t want any surprises when the time came. Eventually we were joined by UWM Chairman Justin Forsell who proceeded to run us through the fight formats and rules. Every match up between two fighters would start with three rounds with our respective Weapon of Choice, followed by two rounds of Staff fighting, and then conclude with two rounds of fighting with Double Weapons. Justin himself would ref the fights, and the armoury team as well as a medic would be on standby. In addition, a Marshal At Arms would look after the weapons. Fights would be determined on points, where every fighter had a set number of “lives” that would be reduced any time the opponent hit so hard that bones would break if it wasn’t for the armour.
Next, the match ups were announced. Shen “War Demon” Meng would fight Jim “Fierce” Campbell, and Joshua “Ironheart” Bekker would face Rory “Red Rock” Trend. My opponent was to be Burak “Ronin” Urgancioglu, the Turkish swordsman who had extensive training in Kenjutsu. In other words, highly skilled with the Katana. Suddenly I was very grateful for the past few weeks of sparring against my shinai-wielding friend back in Brisbane.
As far as I was concerned, the fight between Ronin and I started that very moment – we just hadn’t taken to beating each other with weapons yet. While my mind started going through tactics, probable scenarios and possibilities, I let none of it show on my face. I was determined to give this my best.
On my way back to the practise room, I considered my options. Measurements were all based on sensor readings embedded in the armour, with science providing an objective judge. Basically, hit’em hard. This was going to present a challenge, as my Kung Fu training had focused more on speed and agility. I hefted each long staff before selecting the heaviest one. Should do the trick. Choosing what to go with for Double Weapons proved harder, as I didn’t want to go with sticks again. In the end, I decided to try something new – the tomahawk axe and Viking sword seemed like a nice combination, like a lead jab and a heavy cross.
With all Lorica pieces now in place, us fighters got do some strike testing. This involved suiting up in the armour, then standing still while another fighter hit you with increasing levels of force. It was impressive how well the Lorica protected you. When it was my turn, I was hitting Ironheart with maximum force without making a dent – although the sensors certainly confirmed bones would have been broken. He soon returned the favour, and although I could certainly feel the impact of the hand-and-a-half sword he was using, the Lorica shielded me from most of the force.
That night, a “dress rehearsal” fight took place with Burak and Shen going a couple of rounds in the Lorica for system testing. It took about half a minute before the friendly exchanges had turned into full on fighting! Everything worked as expected, apart from a cracked section in the ring wall where one of the guys almost got kicked through it. All team members and fighters left that day feeling excited for the upcoming fights.
Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail from this point on as we all signed NDA’s in regards to not reveal anything regarding the outcome of the fights. But suffice to say, the next few days went by in a blur of action, nerves and intense fights. Strikes, cuts, counters, kicks, headbutts, grappling and disarms. At the end of it all, every one of us had fought with all our strength. And when our strength failed us, we fought on with spirit alone. As the dust settled, a number of fights had been held and the most successful fighter was declared winner.
Alas, my lips are sealed in regards to what exactly happened in the fights. I can, however, speak freely about the other fighters and let me tell you, I’m honoured to have met them. I have written before on how exciting it is to have something like UWM emerge as a style-agnostic platform for all weapon styles to put themselves (and each other) to the test, so that was obviously the most inspiring to come out of this trip – but the ‘Original VI’ are a close second.
Each of them have earned their dues in their respective style through years of training, and pretty much everyone had solid experience in other styles as well. For example, Rory Trend is a long-time Sifu in the Ging Mo Kung Fu system, and Joshua Bekker has competed in Melbourne’s MMA circuit. Clearly, no one had been given a free ticket – and no one had an easy ride through his fights. I went into UWM’s VTC event with my guard up expecting, at best, a cold environment with every man looking out for number one. Surprisingly, I’ve never felt as strongly supported or bonded as strongly with fellow competitors like I did at that event. I’ve stayed in touch with everyone on Facebook, even got to visit some of them afterwards, and continue to be inspired by their adventures (a topic for a future post).
When the last fight had been held we were all asked to sign some of the materials for memorabilia, such as the giant banners, posters, even some of the weapons and shields that had been used in the fights. The last night was spent with a dinner for everyone involved. With the VTC event now over, I felt a great relief. Then I looked over at the armoury team and realised how much more pressure they would’ve been under, and I felt immensely grateful. If it weren’t for them and everyone else involved everything would have fallen apart, literally as well as figuratively. Our fights would’ve been useless if the armour hadn’t been individually fitted and maintained. We would not have been able to breathe or see anything if it wasn’t for perfectly fitted helmets. No scores would have been kept if the sensors weren’t registering, and so on and so forth. We may have been in the spotlight inside that ring, but only thanks to the enabling efforts of everyone working behind the scenes.
At one point during the dinner I ended up at talking to UWM COO David Pysden, which was a bit awkward at first. In my experience, people on that level tend to keep themselves aloft; all about the big picture, big figures and big players. Considering he’d normally be dealing with suppliers of high tech equipment, media production companies, even inquiries from the military, I wasn’t expecting much of a conversation. But again I was surprised to find that not only was he very easy to talk to, he also had a genuine appreciation and passion for realising the UWM vision. He was equally keen on hearing what my thoughts were on the armour, rule sets and the experience of fighting in UWM. It was refreshing to see that, even on the highest level, the people running the show have an earnest drive and vision for UWM. It bodes well for the future.
The next day we squeezed in a visit Wellington’s WETA workshop, famous for its movie props and special effects. The weaponry and armour pieces made for the Lord of the Rings movies were of special interest, although like many on-screen representations, most of the weapons would be too heavy and unwieldy to bring into actual battle.
Final destination was the Wellington airport, which was an attraction in itself – adorned with giant statues of Gollum and LOTR eagles certainly makes it stand out from other airports. Us fighters said goodbye to the UWM team and set about exchanging contact details and sharing photos and such from the past few days before we parted ways. The flight home was spent quietly pondering the lessons learnt, and there was plenty to think about. Fighting in UWM had been the most high profile event for me yet, and a major eye-opener. My horizon had definitely been widened, with a newfound respect for the other martial arts I had witnessed. It was clear to me how many areas I needed to work on in order to improve as a weapons fighter, so many things to work through – but not until after some well-needed quality time with the family.