The Armored Combat League (ACL) is what you get when you mix mixed martial arts fighters, history buffs, cross-fitters, live action role-players, weapon masters, and Fight Club fans.
Fighters train in The Knights Hall, located in an old warehouse in Nashua, New Hampshire, where they dive into the art of medieval style combat. The armor is real, the weapons they use are made of actual steel, and the training to use it all is intense.
“We are basically Fight Club with swords,” says fighter Cat Brooks.
The training needs to be tough because these athletes fight in anything from one on one matches to all-out brawls against other teams of fighters. Some areas are off limits for strikes and any kind of stabbing is forbidden, but everything else is fair game.
Combatants will use sword, axe and other medieval-themed weapons to bash the enemy team and are not afraid to use their armored fists to bring them down.
The teams have roles like strikers, who use one-handed weapons, grapplers to hold onto an enemy combatant before a punisher comes over to drop them. This is a sport where participants take a beating even with all that armor.
Many of these muscled fighters are self-admitted nerds and can be found playing tabletop or video games in their off-time. You can find them laughing over a geeky reference right before they beat each other in the ring.
ACL co-founder Jaye Brooks has been among the top ranked modern medieval fighters in the country for years, but the weapons he used to use were wooden and the fighting was less intense. One day he took a team to an International Medieval Combat Federation competition, but the fighting was a step up to what American fighters were used to and he says they, “got their butts beat.”
That’s when Brooks decided to open up The Knights Hall training facility in 2012 to train for the more intense combat in other countries. The training paid off and the American fighters were getting stronger and competing better.
Brooks was ready to take his passion to the next level, but was working a corporate job at the time. He decided to leave his job behind and pour his life savings into a full-time martial arts school to help armored combatants compete on the global stage.
Soon more students joined and his facility expanded to include more martial arts training, high-intensity fitness classes and resources for the gear they need.
The training is intense as these athletes prepare to handle the weight and heat that comes with wearing armor and having opponents smash them with steel. It has transformed his students into incredibly fit fighters, and made a huge difference in Brooks' life as well. He was physically transformed from 268 to 196 pounds by being “Knight Fit,” which is what he calls his diet and fitness regime for fighters.
“In 2011, I was basically an overweight guy working 70 hours a week, commuting a couple hours a day, just eating my life away and sitting at the computer,” Brooks said. “I had just gotten fat and was way out of shape. In order to compete with the younger guys in the sport, I had to get into shape.”
His idea spread throughout the region with other chapters joining alongside The Nashua Knightmares team, including The Boston Dark Knights and The Manchester Monarchs. ACL chapters have also opened across the country, and internationally, to grow the sport.
Growth is the key word and these fighters want their style of combat to break into the mainstream. Brooks wants to see the ACL develop a following and spread to more and more athletes looking for a new challenge.
For now, they train, compete internationally, and showcase their skills for the public in local competitions.
Fighters like Brandon Ross have found more than just a challenge to become a master armored fighter. He has found motivation to push his body to the limits and a brotherhood of armored friends.
"I was in the army for 8 years," he said, "What this really brought back is a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood I didn't have since then."