Set against a French castle, men clad in shining armor and wielding blood-curdling weapons will fight until the last knight stands.
Augusta resident Bryan Cannata, 42, has prepared most of his life for this battle, a chance to duel with the best knights from around the world in full-contact Medieval fighting.
Cannata will represent the United States Armored Combat League team at the Battle of the Nations, the sport’s world championship held near a castle in France this May. The U.S. team is comprised of the top 50 knights in the nation.
“The sport we play – our lives are on the line,” he said. “This is as close as you will come to how people fought hand-to-hand in the Middle Ages.”
A 60-pound armored suit and helmet, mostly handmade by Cannata, is the line of protection between steel swords and maces and serious injury. The armor is a near-replica of that of a 14th century German knight.
The longest of his three steel swords measures 4.5 feet and the shortest just an inch shy of 3 feet. The weapons are blunt on the sides but no less dangerous.
“They can still do incredible amounts of damage,” he said.
Cannata’s most serious injury was several broken ribs at the tryouts for the national competition eight months ago. He was fighting against four men wearing full gear.
“I was essentially crushed on the rail,” he said. “They’re all running up like a linebacker waiting to tackle you.”
Cannata travels every weekend to train against knights along the eastern seaboard. During the week, he works in the information technology sector.
Since an early age, Cannata learned several different martial arts styles, earning a black belt in the Filipino-styles Kali and Escrima. He was introduced to medieval fighting by a former roommate while serving in the U.S. Army. The roommate was in the Society of Creative Anachronism, the precursor to Armored Combat League.
The U.S. Armored Combat League has 175 to 200 active fighters, Cannata said. It was formed a few years ago and first competed in the Battle of the Nations last year, earning fourth place.
Twenty-six countries will compete this year during a four-day festival, he said.
Many Europeans competing in the sport have trained since they were children. The average European knight is in the mid-20s and the average U.S. knight is late-to-mid 40s, Cannata said.
To stay physically fit, Cannata practices kick boxing and lifts weights. Every day, he runs a 5k and performs several hundred pushups and crunches. He also practices fighting movements wearing his full gear.
“What little boy didn’t want to grow up to be a knight?” he said.