So 19th March marks the day of the UK BotN Eliminations for the world championships to be held in Barcelona. But let’s back track a little first.
As much training as I had aimed to do, I of course hadn’t reached my planned goal, especially when it came to sword training; mostly due to a busy schedule of doing… well… everything! In fact, I’m a little a shamed to say that in the past month I only picked up my sword and shield about twice; however I have been working on weights to make sure I can not only lift, effectively use the weapons without getting overly tired straight away. The weekend before Eliminations comes round and I’m on the farm, rummaging through the clubs spare kit to find padding and armour decent enough to fight in. Being that I have a broad stature and meaty thighs, fitting into a lot of old kit from the boys works out pretty well and although it’s not perfect, it’s more than good enough.
Jump forward to Friday, BOOM! The killer-cold that took my boyfriend out of action for at least 4 days has finally found it’s way into my system and I’m dreading it! “If I fall as badly as Jordan did in the same time frame then I’m almost certainly more than useless on Sunday!” So, determined I try a number of things including sweating it out in a nice steamy bath, sleeping it off (getting a whole 8 hours sleep!) and most importantly nursing it with the miracle of grog…. because I was out of mead.
Saturday comes round and I’m feeling ok, my cold has got no worse, and regardless of what’s to come in that area, the fight will not wait! I have a nice roadtrip to London with Gruff and John, picking up Diana en route. If I’m honest, I don’t feel much of any emotion at this point, merely enjoy the journey and the car banter. We reach the hotel around 8pm to find those who have arrived before us. We hang around in the hotel dining area and share stories much like we would around the rawring fire at the farm, scaring other occupants away with our hysterical laughter before I finally turned in just gone 11 some time. It felt a LOT later somehow!
Sunday, we’re finally here, the morning of the much anticipated fight(s)! I’m still not overly excited, worried, happy, sad or anything. I think I’m more in a conservative state of calm. Something I’ve learnt from my gigging experience and it’s the best way I’ve found to deal with something akin to this, is to stay calm until the last minute then it’s too late for any fear or worry to take hold of you. UK Fed are the first to arrive at the academy, and we set up camp, prepare armour, make any last minute tweaks, (including getting that armour shiny as a bald mans head) and then wait. I have to admit, time keeping doesn’t seem to be a strong point of the day. Weapons checks were at least half an hour late, so it was just gone midday before any fighting started.
While we were waiting I try and scope out the competition. I know there are 4 other women who are to compete today, but I’ve never met any of them. The captain from White Company comes over and shakes hands with our guys, so naturally I step in so I can hear conversation and get an idea of what’s going on. White Company have one woman fighter – Rosie. Being that I’m not interested in 1v1 and just want to fight bohurt, we agree that Rosie and myself shall team up against Battle Heritages’ Womens team. Fantastic! Slowly I feel a little bubble of excitement rising in my stomach, still tame, especially when Sofie has been bouncing around like a kid let loose in a sweet shop pretty much since we arrived in the morning!
The fights start. First off, 1v1 mens longsword. By this time I’ve struggled into my padding and with the help of Jo and, well a little bit of everyone! – got into my armour. I know that the womens fights won’t be until after the mens, so it seems very early to get kitted out. With the recommendation of Dan however, I get into my armour (minus gauntlets and helm) so that I get used to moving about with the weight and restrictions it brings. The 1v1 fights, although fairly thrilling, feel drawn out and long. It’s great to see the skill these fighters have and the different styles, but after a while – unless it’s your team or someone you know, it gets a little old. So I go to and fro between the fights and our camp, making sure to drink plenty of water. Then finally it’s the womens 1v1! As I’ve said, I personally was not interested in fighting any 1v1 as all I want to do is bohurt. However, this was a perfect opportunity for me to have a little look and size up the girls I’d be fighting against, as well as the one I’d be fighting with.
I make a point to never, not even mentally, get cocky especially at this sport! Having only ever fought Jo in training, I simply did not know what to expect from any of the other women. Watching them fight now, it was still difficult to deduce how they would be in bohurt. The aim in bohurt is to basically get your opponent to the floor. The aim in the 1v1 is to get as many clean hits on your opponent as you can – no kicking, no punching, no grappling to the ground. The only key things I did pick up on were their strength in raising their shields, their foot work and how much aggression they had in their attack for this particular discipline. Then the bohurt fights started, and thus the wait went on.
The day drew on later and later and then Rosie comes over to talk to me. Her lift is coming soon and with a significant amount of fights for the mens teams left still to go, there was no way she could stick around to be on my team. NOOO!!!! I need to fight! I’ve been in my armour ALL DAY!! So I go to find someone who might be in charge to update them on the situation. A bit of unsure banter before it’s decided I shall team up with a lady from BH. So once again we chat tactics and wait for our fight.
I’ve been standing with my new team mate for a few fights when someone comes up and then she runs off in a hurry, I’ve not quite caught what it was that was said but it was fairly clear that this was it – we were next to fight. I take a second to compose myself then get my helmet and gauntlets, with the assistance of Lily we find a sword and shield and for the length of the last mens fight I acclimatise to the familiar stuffy cage surrounding my head with titanium protection. The men leave the lists. We enter.
If I’m honest, I don’t remember an awful lot of the first fight. Our main tactic was to stay together and focus on taking one of our opponents down first. I expect our enemy has a similar idea and figure maybe they will aim at me for I’m the unknown force to them. We all start off strong waltzing a strong pace to first contact. I remember pushing my opponent to the edge of the list like a tank. Shield punches, a few strikes of my blade but mainly bashing her with the hilt of my sword. We grapple all of us at the side of the list, as I notice my team mate has the other girl next to me. I remember at one point one of the girls runs around to my other side so I’m now in the middle of my opponents. Ensuring I don’t make it an easy angle of attack, I bring my shield swiftly up to her helm once, twice, while keeping pressure on the other fighter. I remember hearing someone yelling “go down. GO DOWN” as the clash of weapons hit armour. At one point I look up and see Dan there. “Step back so you can hit her” I think that’s what he said. Before too long, it was 2 on 1, me and my teammate now pushing the last fighter to the ground. We’ve won this round! But there’s at least one more round to go – if we win then next. If we lose the next round it will go to a 3rd decider round.
I’m breathing heavy now, I’m exhausted. I can tell by their body language that everyone else is in the same position. We reset. People had been yelling out and cheering during that first round. I don’t hear if they still are as we reset. Instead all I can hear are my own words to my fellow teammates during the mens fights. “Focus.” “You’ve got this” “Same again, punish them.”
I see an image of Barney in my head. His unfaltering, mean looking charge to his opponent. Everyone is tired as hell, but I know body language and perceived confidence wins a massive battle both for me and against my enemy. I raise my shield, bring my sword to my shoulder and make myself appear to be fresh and strong. The same again.
I move forwards with confidence. We seem to go for whoever is on our side. This time, after a bit of grappling and ‘last of my strength’ battering we end up on the other side of the list, at least 2 of us do. Some when my teammate and her opponent had taken each other down. I remember someone yelling “It’s all on you now Steph” and seeing them on the floor briefly as I spun round with my opponent. I can hear her heavy breathing echoing around the metal surrounding our heads. I wonder briefly if she can hear mine gasping as much as her own. We struggling on the side of the list for what seems like eternity. Both hanging on for dear life with one arm, attempting to trip each other up, push each other down. I’m much bigger than her it seems, not all in height but in breadth. Being that she’s a lot shorter and therefore has a low centre of gravity made it really difficult for me to twist and pull her down. I’m used to fighting guys either my height or higher. At one point I try putting my weight on her arm that’s holding onto the list. This is difficult again because of the difference in our height and not wanting to forfeit my own grounding. I remember Dans instructions. “Step back.” So I do, hilt bash verses shield punch to her head and shoulders. Every time I land a hit I hear a roar from the crowd beside me. I can only hear my name. I remember at one point we got tangled and the marshal stopped the fight to separate us. After the brief reset I look up and see her slumped over. I don’t have enough energy to charge her fully, but summon my might to once again bring my full force on her, we end up near the corner of the list this time. I remember thinking “Finish this. I am not going through this again today!”
More cheers from the crowd “She’s more tired than you Steph!”, “sweep the leg!”
I’m not sure how, but miraculously, FINALLY.. I somehow manage to pull over this stubborn woman and raise my tired arms in triumph.
That’s it. I’ve won… I’VE WON!!
I realise how loud the crowd behind me have become. Watching a dark video now, it turns out we were in that last fight around 6.30 -7minutes! I turn around to my beloved UK Fed and walk up to them to celebrate. Barney takes my sword, shield and gauntlets but I hardly notice save the relief of the weight being lifted from my arms. He helps me off with my helmet. Everyone is so excited! Congratulating me, exclaiming how intense and amazing the fight was. Dan reminds me to thank the opposing team and as I turn around to find them Barney has sneaked through into the list and grabs me in a victorious lifting embrace and I squeal with joy as he spins me around!
Once back on the ground I sift quickly through the list that has already filled with people to find my teammate and my opponents. I hug them all one by one, exchanging thanks, smiles and respect. We all fought with all our strength and gave everyone watching one hell of a show!
So I’m through to the world championships of Battle of the Nations. WHAT?! My first fight in armour was a mere 6 months ago! I still have a LOT of training still to go, and need to keep pushing myself to prepare for April. I can’t believe how far I’ve come! There are a few things happening in between which I hope to make, but one thing’s for sure,
See you in Barcelona.