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The Mary Sue Interview: Medieval Full-Contact Steel Fighter Sandra Lagnese

BRING THE BOHURTS!

first-test-fit-armor

As I wandered through the hotel maze of Dragon Con a few weekends ago in Atlanta, Georgia, I found myself in the basement of the Hyatt looking at a sign that said “The Armory.” It’s basically a couple of rooms that add up to a veritable museum of weaponry throughout the ages. Don’t worry, it’s guarded and supervised.

I slowly made my way through one of the rooms, taking photos and oohing and ahhing until I came to a table in the back. It held the only items you could touch and handle, and on it I found a gorgeous (and heavy!) medieval helmet with tiny hearts cut into the visor. It belonged to Sandra Lagnese, whom I soon learned participates in full-contact medieval steel fighting—aka bohurts—and was one of the first women to join the Armored Combat League (ACL) USA Knights team. Yeah, I was impressed too.

Amy Ratcliffe (TMS): Tell me how you got involved in full-contact medieval steel fighting.

Sandra Lagnese (SL): A few years ago a new sport was evolving in the US called bohurts or medieval full-contact steel fighting. A couple of my friends that I had made through medieval reenactment were involved and made the teams to go to Poland and France for the Battle of the Nations international tournaments. I was definitely enjoying being a spectator, because at that point women were not allowed to join.

My husband was wanting to try out, so he was in the process of gathering research and money to build his fighting kit. Then a little over a year ago the announcement was made that the 2013/2014 season would include a women’s division. It was at that point when I looked at my husband and he just knew that I had to do this. Unfortunately, because we couldn’t afford to do two steel fighting kits in one year, he sacrificed his chances and helped me try out for the first year women’s team. He didn’t just stay on the sidelines, though. [He’s] been active in the US authenticity committee, refereeing at events as well as researching and documenting Eastern European and pre-16th century Asian armors. With the help of many friends to train and build armor, and new friends made in the proce,ss I tried out and made the team for the women’s 3 versus 3 melee team that competed at Castle Belmonte, Spain this past May. That’s Charleston Heston’s El Cid castle, by the way.

Team Valkyries, Lagnese is second from the right.

Team Valkyries, with Lagnese second from the right. Picture by Reed Harrig, used with permission.

TMS: Where and how often do you compete?

Lagnese: Well, for trying out for the USA Knights team (ACL Armored Combat League) the competitions were located throughout the US. But typically there are regional (local/state), divisional (there are three divisions currently splitting the US), and two national tournaments. The first few in the season were tough because I did not have a full armor kit, but the second divisional I went to in Virginia I competed in armor that was suited for rattan combat. By the first nationals in Springfield, Illinois, however, I had most of my steel armor kit complete, and [I] competed in that. By second divisional, my kit was 99% complete (I had to borrow gauntlets), and that was what I wore in Spain a few weeks later.

But because this sport is exploding in the US, there are a number of groups that offer steel combat fighting besides the USA Knights. To name a few there are: HEMA (Historic European Martial Arts), HMB (Historic Medieval Battle), EMP (Empire of Medieval Pursuits), The Adrian Empire, and Cut & Thrust in certain areas of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism).

Right now my plans are to focus on HEMA in the coming year. There are different rule sets to each organization, but I like sword fighting and cross training… especially if the mileage to an event is shorter! I’m planning on heading out to the Southeast Renaissance Fencing Open (SERFO) in Decatur, Georgia and entering in the steel and nylon sword competitions.

Some notable events coming up that may be in the readers’ areas:

ACL Pomme d’Or (Cloisters Cup) in NYC at the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park—Sept 28th
International Tournament of Chivalry (ITOC) inSpringfield, IL—Oct 17-18
ACL First Nationals—New World Cup at Expo New Mexico Horse Arena in Albuquerque, NM—Oct 25
Riddle of Steel IV in Oviedo, FL—Dec 5-7

Armor kit evolution

Armor kit evolution

TMS: What was involved in making the armor? Which parts did you help craft? And how heavy is it?

Lagnese: For a lot of people armor was purchased, and for some they are already armorers. The first step is researching and being able to document your armor. This is probably the the hardest step! But I loved it. My armor kit was based on late 14th century France. I used a funerary effigy of Sir Mathieu de Montmorency dated 1360 and various manuscript images, mostly from “BL Royal 20 C VII Chroniques de France ou de St Denis.” I had the wonderful opportunity to build some of my armor at The Knights Hearth Studio in Augusta, Georgia. There my friend, Bryan Cannata, and my husband Larry and I spent countless hours and days building armor. I learned how to use a Beverly Shear, grind and smooth the edges of the metal, do some shaping of the raw steel (most of that was done by Bryan, the more experienced artist!), and how to treat it so that it became spring steel.

For my helmet and cased greaves (shin protection), I worked out a deal with an armorer out of D.C. named Ilya Alekseyev, who is one of the featured artists at Baltimore Knife and Sword on the Man at Arms: Reforged webisodes. I sent him pictures of the manuscripts’ artwork I was using for my documentation, and he built my helmet based on that. We had one test fitting because proper fit is extremely important, and I can’t believe how incredibly awesome it is to wear it. It’s like when you buy the most comfy pair of shoes or jeans, and you want them to last forever and wear them everywhere. Overall, the total weight for all my armor is about 40 lbs., which isn’t that heavy because we built it with thinner metal and then hardened it.

TMS: What advice would you give to other women who are interested in competing?

Lagnese: Ask yourself why you want to do it… write it down… then reference that when you get down and add to it when you are inspired by new things. I was very attracted to three aspects of the steel fighting. One was the requirement for historical accuracy and documentation of the armor kit. I love researching and I love making costumes, so armor and soft kit are another avenue for me to explore my creativity. The second was the type of scoring and rules in the combat. For the duels category it is counted blows where there are judges who tally hits, and that is how the winner of a bout is determined. And for melee it is the idea of “last man standing.” Because of my strengths I was a flanker or runner on the battlefield. Some of these aspects are not the same or may be nonexistent in other fighting groups.

For me, I had been doing some kind of medieval fighting the past 7 years or so. But this was new. There are aspects of combat that shook my psyche and had me really fighting my mental weaknesses as much as the physical. But it can be a rewarding challenge to break out of not just the typical female stereotype but also to create a new you. The last reason was to be able to represent my country at a national competition. Having been a military veteran this was a unique chance for me as well being on the team for the first women from the US. My two sons (they are 7 and 9) look at me, a woman and a mother, in a whole other light now, too… I now they see strength and someone who isn’t afraid of doing things that they love doing.

Amy Ratcliffe is addicted to Star Wars, coffee, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.

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