Many Yukoners will have seen members of the Company of the White Wolf at events around the territory. It’s hard to miss grown men and women dressed in full medieval combat armour, striking each other with swords and axes.
What many Yukoners won’t know is that the group is a competitive team and “nerd crossfit” who train regularly to form an important part of team Canada at international medieval fighting competitions.
The two largest international events – the Battle of Nations and the World Championship – take place during May in Rome and at Scone Palace in Scotland, respectively. The Yukon combatants will form one-third of Canada’s contingent in Rome and over half of the Canadians competing in Scotland.
The two events are hosted by competing world governing organizations, the Historic Medieval Battles International Association, which has hosted the Battle of Nations for about a decade and the International Medieval Combat Federation that began hosting the World Championship about five years ago.
Formed in 2015, it has been a quick rise to international competition for the Company of the White Wolf. According to Land Pearson, one of the group’s organizers, it took a bit of leg work and determination to establish a Canadian team with Yukoners, as well as some urging from one of the groups other founders, José Martinez Amoedo.
“After being together about a year, we knew there were other clubs around Canada,” Land said. “José said there is no one fighting for Canada, so I made contacts with other groups and in February 2016 in Montreal we started laying plans.
“At first they were skeptics; Yukon had come out of nowhere. We kind of had to prove ourselves.”
Gaining respect didn’t take the Yukon combatants long as they emerged on the Canadian scene. They’ve regularly been victors, lead by Land and his brother, Lake Pearson. Land competes in the sword and shield and began winning his competitions at the first Brooks’ Medieval Faire in Brooks, Alberta. Lake has been the lead longsword fighter for Canada and regularly wins the national competitions.
Later that year, the Yukoners were part of a split Canadian team heading off to the two major competitions. A team of Quebec and Ontario fighters went to represent Canada at the Battle of Nations and Yukon fighters were joined by one member from Ontario to represent Canada at the World Championship in Portugal.
And the events are not simply adults playing out their fantasy of being a knight during the Middle Ages. The competitions are treated as competitive events and like any competitive sport have rules and scoring, as well distinct competitive groups.
The events are separated as individual events, or duels, and the group events are known as “Buhurts” or “Bohurts,” which is a name that evolved from an old German word for tournament.
The duels are conducted in longsword, sword and shield or polearm. Polearms are essentially axes with longer shafts, like a spear.
The duels themselves are one-on-one fights and scored like boxing. Fighters score points by making a clean, unblocked strike to their opponents.
Five marshalls are assigned to each fight, two will be assigned to score each fighter and the fifth is in the list (the ring) for safety and enforcing rules.
Combatants will often salute or bow to the marshall and cross weapons to acknowledge they’re ready to fight and will often cross blades to signify ready again after the marshall has stopped the fight for some reason.
The matches themselves are normally three rounds, with the total points each round awarding a round to combatant. The first fighter to win two rounds wins the match. However, tied rounds are refought until a winner emerges and this can lead to some tense, overtime-like moments, according to Land.
“You could have the misfortune – like José in the gold medal round at the IMCF World Championship in Malbork, Poland in 2015 – and end up going seven rounds,” he laughed. “José thought the other guy had won and the other guy thought José had won.”
The group battles are scaled and can be conducted as five versus five, 10 versus 10, 16 versus 16, or 21 versus 21. They are quite the free for all and all kinds of strikes count, with a few strikes being illegal for safety purposes, such as to the neck. Fighters are eliminated simply by being knocked down. If three points of their body come in contact with the ground, the fighter is eliminated. Considering a fighter’s two feet are already consider two points of contact, the rule doesn’t leave much wiggle room.
Multiple opponents can gang up on other combatants, in fact that is commonly done to eliminate opponents. “There is lots of tricky stuff done, like blind-siding an engaged fighter, which we call ‘rooking,’” Land said. “Or using big axes to soften people up so they don’t want to fight anymore.”
A third Pearson brother, Sky, admits he chose an axe precisely for that reason. “I chose an axe instead of a sword for better impact,” he said. “If you’re holding a punch shield too, you will use that more than your weapon.”
Land experienced the impacts of a hard hit himself in Montreal one year. He took a big hit and decided that was it and removed himself from the competition. But the honourable nature of these competitions don’t begrudge anyone stepping out because it’s tough enough to get in the list in the first place.
A unique aspect of the sport is the equipment and the rules regarding acceptable armour. Like eastern martial arts, the medieval fighting is built on martial traditions and observing those are important. To capture that tradition and historical aspect, the unwritten rule is that anything that can be seen should be historically accurate. However, that doesn’t stop fighters from pushing the boundaries on modern attachments to places that can’t be seen. Helmets are often an item that have been altered for safety and for utility.
Ian Duncan has made some adjustments to the inside of his helmet to improve the safety. A modern chin guard prevents the metal from knocking his jaw when he is struck. And most helmets have altered holes and slits because vision and breathing are so important in a competitive environment.
All that equipment doesn’t come cheap. They estimate that a new basic outfit that includes all the necessary gear will cost between $2,000 and $3,000. And since blacksmithing isn’t a common practice in North America anymore, the armour is usually ordered online from Europe. Ukraine is the primary source of armour and equipment for the medieval fighting sport.
The Company of the White Wolf have a busy summer planned after their return from Europe. They are hosting a Canada day tournament, which has been held at the biathlon compound on Grey Mountain, and will feature fighters from Outside. Members of the group are registered to compete at the annual Brooks Medieval Faire in August and they will again host a tournament on Labour Day Dawson. You’ll be found on the Dawson museum grounds.
The group trains on Monday nights and welcome new members to see what they get up to. For more information contact them through their Facebook page, Company of the White Wolf.