This Game of Thrones-like sport is drawing dozens of competitors to Okotoks

The clash of steel on steel. Swinging axes as other knights pull out their swords and shields.

This isn't just the picture of a medieval battle or a scene from Game of Thrones — it's a growing sport in Alberta and it goes by the name "buhurt."

  • Watch the knights brawl in the video below

"I know, it's a funny word," Richard Manns, president of the Heavy Armored Combat Society of Alberta, told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It kind of has a little bit of a historic reference. A lot of different meanings to it, but we tend to think of it more in terms of getting together to fight."

It's a modern take on historical battles and it's growing in Europe and Canada.

This weekend, about 50 participants will be competing at the Medieval Combat Winter Cup in Okotoks. Competitors are coming from outside the province, too, including B.C. and Yukon.

But what is it?

Not a re-enactment 

It's definitely a sport, rather than a re-enactment, Manns said, and it features different categories of combat.

There are one-versus-one duels, where particular weapons are allowed to be used like axes, maces, swords and shields, he said.

Then there are group battles, the technical meaning of buhurt, he said. Those are comprised of teams ranging from five to 150 people. 

The main point? Throw your opponents to the ground — at least three times, to be exact — for them to be considered finished.

Andres Kudacki/The Associated Press

It's played in an open field surrounded by wooden enclosure.

Even in the bitter cold, people go outside to fight, Manns said. Of course, they do so not before layering with a padded shirt and padded pants outfit — clothing reminiscent of the "old days," he said.

'Like Medieval times'

The armour is completely real and made of full steel, with each piece weighing between 15 and 25 pounds (7-11 kg), Manns said.

A full suit can weigh between 50 and 120 pounds (22-55 kg), he said, and much of it is shipped from blacksmiths in Europe. 

The full getup can be pricey, but usually it doesn't cost more than a full hockey goalie outfit, Manns said.

The heavy steel is part of what makes buhurt so tough, on top of it being a full contact sport.

"People tend to tire in the 15- to 20-seconds range," Manns said, adding it's the intensity that keeps people going.

"You are tired, you're angry, you're hungry — you're feeling all these things but you still keep fighting, you still keep working with the people that are beside you."

Photo Submitted by Richard Manns

It emulates the "medieval times," he said.

He said the weapons, though blunted and rounded off, mimic historical pieces but are much safer.

"We tried to find pieces that have been created in the past and do our best to reproduce them in a safe manner that can help us fight," Manns said.

There are injuries, too, he noted.

"Sometimes you get rung like a bell," Manns said, referring to being hit on the helmet with a steel weapon.

"We're not afraid of hitting each other."

Chance to join Team Canada

This weekend will be a chance for those in Calgary and beyond to make it big. While competitors are duking it out, they also will be vying for a spot on Team Canada.

Those who do make the national team will fly to Madrid, where they'll compete for the world title in May.

In terms of training leading up to the tournaments, Manns said it's about jumping straight into the sport and learn as you go.

"You lose a lot," he said. "And after you lose a lot, you learn what works and what doesn't … all of the sudden you're a veteran."

Andres Kudacki/The Associated Press

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.