Out how the men get­ting hands-on with his­tory pre­pare for their gru­elling con­tests

Men's Fitness - - Warrior Fitness -

weights, then swing­ing an axe around – while you’ve got an oxy­gen-re­strict­ing mask strapped to your face.

Smaller com­peti­tors will rarely stay still, hit­ting and run­ning and con­stantly try­ing to blind­side the op­po­si­tion. At 80kg, John Quayle is one of th­ese ‘rush­ers’. ‘If two guys are busy grap­pling and I’m on the other side of the lists, I’ll run to­wards them with my weapon drawn and ram the ri­val guy across the side or back of his head, giv­ing him whiplash,’ says Quayle, known as one of the UK’s tough­est com­peti­tors. ‘I ac­tu­ally knocked some­one un­con­scious do­ing that.’

The World at War

HMB al­ready has a size­able fol­low­ing in eastern Europe, where spon­sored tour­na­ments have ex­isted for more than a decade. But since the cre­ation in 2009 of the Battle Of The Na­tions – HMB’s ‘World Cup’ – com­peti­tors from the rest of the world have been suit­ing up and tak­ing part. There are now HMB fighters from coun­tries as dis­parate as Is­rael and Ar­gentina, and last year’s Battle Of The Na­tions saw com­bat­ants from 28 dif­fer­ent na­tions de­scend on the Croa­t­ian town of Tro­gir in June 2014. This year’s show­piece, tak­ing place in Prague, Czech Repub- lic in May, is ex­pect­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion from more than 30 coun­tries, in­clud­ing an­tic­i­pated new­com­ers China, Chile and Brazil. Team UK will be present for its third con­sec­u­tive year, and prom­ises not just fit­ter and wiser fighters, but a greater num­ber of them. There were 18 re­cruits in Croa­tia. This year, the na­tional ranks have swollen to 30 bat­tleea­ger war­riors.

‘HMB has taken off since last year in Croa­tia,’ says Annable, who is cred­ited with bring­ing the sport to the UK’s at­ten­tion af­ter find­ing some Rus­sian HMB videos on YouTube. ‘But com­pet­ing in Tro­gir was an

eye-opener for our new­bies. You get hurt the first time you com­pete. You go out there think­ing you’ve trained hard enough, then you dis­cover you haven’t. We’re tak­ing it a lot more se­ri­ously now, with diet, car­dio and strength train­ing all taken on board.’

The na­tion that’s set­ting the stan­dards at the mo­ment is Rus­sia, fol­lowed by neigh­bours Be­larus, Ukraine and Poland. In Croa­tia, the un­de­feated Rus­sians an­nihi- lated ev­ery­one. But given how se­ri­ously the moth­er­land treats the sport back home, the Rus­sian team’s dom­i­nance is hardly sur­pris­ing. ‘The Rus­sian fighters train fe­ro­ciously all year round,’ says Aus­trian HMB fighter and com­men­ta­tor Mathias Kainz. ‘Some are MMA fighters, which helps with their bal­ance and grap­pling, and all of them have been picked for their na­tional side through merit.’ It shows, too – watch­ing the Rus­sians in com­pe­ti­tion is like wit­ness­ing a freight train ram through a rusty old banger that’s stalled on a level cross­ing.

Bri­tish Bull­dog

Un­der Annable’s lead­er­ship, the UK al­ready has as­pi­ra­tions for the sport to be­come pro­fes­sional on home turf. There are cur­rently eight lo­cal clubs, or chap­ters, in the UK, and more have been mooted. The

na­tion’s grow­ing ranks of fighters also meet once a month for na­tional train­ing. But the most sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment was the UK’s first Na­tional One vs One Fed­er­a­tion cham­pi­onship, held in Waltham Abbey last Septem­ber, which was won by Quayle, a 30-year-old for­mer in­fantry sol­dier who served two tours of Iraq be­tween 2003 and 2007. Quayle took up the sport just three months be­fore com­pet­ing in Croa­tia, but his com­pet­i­tive boxing back­ground, quick feet and sheer ag­gres­sion have al­ready made him a pow­er­house on the cir­cuit.

‘I’m a tech­ni­cal fighter and I’ll pick on an op­po­nent’s point and keep work­ing it,’ the Isle of Wight res­i­dent says. ‘Strik­ing the legs, work­ing the head, smash­ing down on the col­lar­bone. You hit op­po­nents prop­erly in the ar­mour gaps and they’ll even­tu­ally go down. The foot­work is very sim­i­lar to boxing and Muay Thai, and I’ve brought that skillset into HMB.’

Pro­fes­sional vic­to­ries are of­ten ac­com­plished as much through knock­out and in­jury as by win­ning points. ‘I won my first cham­pi­onship fight by strik­ing a heav­ier op­po­nent with hard, re­peated sword strikes above and be­low his knee, which forced him to re­tire from the com­pe­ti­tion – a tech­ni­cal KO,’ says Quayle. ‘I won my sec­ond fight by crack­ing the other fighter’s hel­met.’

Fight Knight

Now look­ing for­ward to testing his prow­ess on a big­ger stage, Quayle ad­heres to a strict, five-day-a-week train­ing regime in­spired by Bri­tish Army meth­ods. ‘HMB is all about fight­ing in short bursts while wear­ing heavy ar­mour, so I do high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing, work­ing with a min­i­mum rest pe­riod, which mim­ics the fight­ing con­di­tions of mov­ing from one fight to an­other,’ he says. ‘Some­times I wear an M3 gas mask, es­pe­cially for hill sprints, to repli­cate the act of breath­ing re­cy­cled air in­side your hel­met. I oc­ca­sion­ally ex­er­cise in full ar­mour, but not too of­ten be­cause it can cause in­jury. Fit­ness is ev­ery­thing in this sport. Box­ers fight

three-minute rounds wear­ing 10oz gloves – HMB lads wear 35kg of ar­mour.’

The for­mer sol­dier has also col­lab­o­rated with other chap­ter heads in the UK to im­ple­ment the Bri­tish Army’s Fit­ness Test (BFT) into the monthly na­tional train­ing meets. BFT re­quires par­tic­i­pants to com­plete a se­ries of timed chal­lenges and high-in­ten­sity bleep tests, as well as a set num­ber of pres­sups and sit-ups. Tar­gets vary based on age and gen­der, as HMB has started to en­cour­age fe­male com­bat­ants (Battle Of The Na­tions held its first fe­male solo tour­na­ment last year, which was won, pre­dictably, by a Rus­sian CrossFit trainer).

‘I’ve been out in Iraq and I’ve never been as hot I was in­side my ar­mour in the 35°C Croa­t­ian sun,’ says Quayle. ‘BFT is to safe­guard our fighters against in­jury, de­hy­dra­tion and tired­ness and to help them en­joy HMB. The Rus­sians treat HMB as a sport and that’s why they’re world cham­pi­ons. We’re now do­ing the same.’

At Battle Of The Na­tions, the five vs five bo­hurts are cur­rently the main at­trac­tion for spec­ta­tors. By the third day of the four-day tour­na­ment in Croa­tia, many wounded war­riors were hob­bling around the crowded fes­ti­val grounds with ban­daged legs, arms in slings and bruises so un­sightly they looked

as if an alien crea­ture might be fes­ter­ing in­side them and wait­ing to burst free. But bo­hurts aren’t all about be­ing tougher bas­tards than the en­emy – team­work is an es­sen­tial part of the equa­tion too. ‘Tac­tics are a mas­sive part of it,’ says James Far­rar, Team UK’s 1.85m colos­sus. ‘The Rus­sians know ex­actly what they’re go­ing to do be­fore they go out on the lists. But we’re sharp­en­ing our play all the time.’

Far­rar, a for­mer his­tor­i­cal battle re-en­ac­tor, is the man charged with ed­u­cat­ing his team-mates in how to wield a weapon, bor­row­ing skills from a wide range of his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods. He puts his own con­fi­dence with han­dling a blade to use on the bat­tle­field too. ‘I’m a big lad so I’ll en­gage two or three peo­ple at once,’ he ex­plains. ‘Then some­one fit and fast, like John, will run down the flank and take them out from the side. In bo­hurts, plans only work in­side the first 15 sec­onds. Af­ter that you have to think on your feet, which isn’t al­ways easy be­cause you’re so full of adren­a­line.’

Dark ages

Although the sport is thor­oughly mar­shalled, scrapes and bumps are par for the course. Quayle says he won the na­tional crown while still re­cov­er­ing from a dis­lo­cated shoul­der, which he’d sus­tained while grap­pling a heav­ier, MMA-trained op­po­nent only six weeks ear­lier. But over­all, his ca­reer has been rel­a­tively in­jury-free. Annable has been less lucky. Af­ter be­ing thrown dur­ing one re­cent brawl, the burly cap­tain twisted his knee, caus­ing it to pop. He now faces an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment surgery.

At 44 years of age, Annable ad­mits that his body is more vul­ner­a­ble than it was. ‘I reckon I’ve got one year left of fight­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally if I’m lucky,’ he con­cedes. ‘All the new tal­ent are kick­ing us old guys out, but we’ll go out scream­ing. You can still ac­com­plish a lot aged 45 but once you’re fac­ing

25-year-olds who are do­ing the same train­ing as you, they’ll knock you out.’

Quayle doesn’t en­tirely agree. With HMB still in its rel­a­tive in­fancy and com­bat­ants still learn­ing and ad­just­ing to its fe­ro­cious de­mands, he be­lieves peo­ple of all ages can still com­pete ef­fec­tively – in the bo­hurts at least. ‘Boxing and kick­box­ing are an un­der30s game, which is how the Rus­sians are por­tray­ing HMB,’ he says, ob­serv­ing the fact that the Rus­sian na­tional side se­lects rel­a­tively youth­ful fighters. ‘But I think it’s still a bit too early in the sport’s devel­op­ment for it to be that way. Maybe the Pro and Tour­na­ment fight­ing will be­come an un­der-30s thing in ten years’ time.’

Lord and mas­ter

Be­fore his own joints start creak­ing, Quayle hopes to ful­fil two dreams: to blud­geon his way to the top of the sport and to see HMB grow and at­tract wide­spread re­spect. ‘I’d love HMB to be­come main­stream,’ he says. ‘Some see it as geeky and Lord Of The Ringsesque, but when they see it in the flesh it’s not what they ex­pected. It’s one of the last ex­treme sports you can test your­self at.’

Annable wants to keep open­ing more HMB chap­ters un­til the do­mes­tic sport is struc­tured like foot­ball, with a weekly na­tional league com­pe­ti­tion for re­gional clubs. ‘ I’m not sure if that’s just a pipe dream or not, but if the sport car­ries on grow­ing at this ex­po­nen­tial rate, I’d ex­pect us to have 1,000 mem­bers within the next three years, which is mas­sive,’ he says. ‘Ev­ery­one loves watch­ing us fight. So we’re just look­ing at ways to get HMB where we want it to be.’ Want to sign up? For more info on Team UK, visit face­book.com/ Battle Of The Na­tions UK Fed­er­a­tion. For more info on Battle Of The Na­tions visit bat­tle­ofthen­ations.ua

MMA train­ing is an ad­van­tage in the grap­ple-heavy bo­hurts

From left: the fit­ness test be­gins; testing weapons; fix­ing ar­mour

Annable looks on ap­prov­ingly as a con­tes­tant throws a head­butt

For­mer sol­dier John Quayle is one of Bri­tain’s best

HMB fighters


Hel­met styles vary – the im­por­tant thing is to make them sword­proof

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