Arlington residents Zoheir El-Eita and Sam Jenson flew to Arizona early this morning, after carefully packing 60-75 pounds of steel armor and stowing away their weapons into their checked luggage.
The two medieval steel fighters are set to compete this weekend at the Armored Combat League’s National Championship in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and a little finesse is necessary to get their gear across the country. Jensen, 27, studied up on exactly what he could and could not bring on board the flight, and weighed everything ahead of time.
The pair won’t be the only ones with a packing problem; the competition, from March 9-11, brings 49 fighters from across the country to “execute real medieval combat techniques to earn a spot in an international arena” while wearing medieval armor and using medieval weapons, according to a championship press release. They’ll be fighting with the Atlantic First Swords, a mid-Atlantic regional team.
Tournament play consists of one-on-one fights, three-on-three fights, five-on-five fights, and an “ultimate rush” fight of 16-on-16.
“Oh gosh, how do I describe it?” Jensen laughed before diving into an explanation of tournament technicalities. The overall goal is to fight the other team into submission, according to Jensen, by either “hitting someone so hard that they don’t feel like standing up any more or forcibly throwing them to the ground.”
Points are scored when players win a round, and a team needs 11 points to win. Rounds can last anywhere from 20 seconds to eight minutes, and the most rounds that Jensen has ever undertaken at once was either 23 or 24, but that isn’t normal.
“A man with 260 pounds of mass at a fairly quick rate will knock most people down,” said Jensen, so these melee rounds tend to last a minute.
The teams follow almost the same rules from French tournaments in the 1300s, with modern modifications for safety.
“I’d say we’re playing it a bit safer than the 14th century French were,” he added.
Successful steel fighters are chosen to represent the United States at an international championship in May in Scone, Scotland, about 45 miles north of Edinburgh.
While some of the local steel fighters may have discovered the sport through attending Renaissance fairs, Jensen was introduced by a friend living across the country who invited him to a tournament outside of Philadelphia.
Jensen was quickly hooked, and a month later he was getting his “butt kicked, but was absolutely hooked” and quit his pack a day smoking habit to get in better shape. He had been working odd jobs, at one point as a bouncer at D.C.’s Madhatter tavern, but nothing had been clicking.
“I was at a point in my life where, it’s cliche, but I was feeling listless,” he said. “I didn’t have a hobby or a passion, but I thought that this could be it.”
“If anything, I wish I’d found it sooner.”
Though he’s currently studying accounting and finance at Northern Virginia Community College, he meets every Tuesday and Thursday to train at Ashburn’s Silver Eagle Group Shooting Range with his usual, seven member team, the DC Juggernauts.
Jensen doesn’t think he’ll make it to the international tournament in Scotland, but that isn’t what’s important to him. The friendships made and the feelings of camaraderie and competition are enough for him — and he isn’t even sure if there is a physical prize to be won, anyway.