Shetland resident represents Scotland at the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships.

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

The isles have a varied and successful sports scene, with Shetland athletes and sports teams regularly participating in national and international competitions- 18 year old Varik Miller is the latest such athlete to travel far and wide for sporting glory. What sets him apart from the rest is the equipment he’s taking with him; a mace and shield, rather than a racket and trainers.

Varik’s sport is Medieval Armoured Combat- a frantic, exhausting and exhilarating sport where fighters in full armour fight with medieval weapons, such as swords, maces and halberds. Thus armed, Varik is currently travelling to Kiev, Ukraine, to represent Scotland as a member of the national team at the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships.

Taking Up Your Father’s Sword

Speaking to Promote Shetland, Varik explained how he became involved in this fascinating sport:

“Well, my Dad used to do re-enactment, Sealed Knot [English Civil War historical re-enactment] and that sort of thing,” Varik said, “and he discovered the IMCF Battle of the Nations videos on Facebook. He got interested and I just kind of jumped on.

“I picked up a longsword one day at training and went ‘Yeah, I want to do this!’ You just get a feel for it, sometimes you pick up a weapon… and just go ‘This is what I want, this feels right’.”

The sport has been picking up pace in Shetland since the founding of the local club, Vikingr Hjaltlandi, by Varik’s father Scott, four years ago. Now boasting a dozen members throughout the isles, aged 14 to 50, the club has already gained prominence in the national and international MAC scene.

“It’s actually really fun. All of us do it for different reasons,” Varik said. ““We train on Mondays and Thursdays, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. On Monday we do fitness training… and on Thursdays we do combat training, so a bit of maneuvering, how to move, how to use a sword, and sometimes we do a bit of ‘showy-off’ Bohurt [team combat] as well, just in soft kit.”

Combatants wear full medieval armour and fight with real (although blunt) weapons; a fighter loses if three points of their body touch the floor (i.e. being knocked down onto hands and knees). It’s fast, exciting and incredibly good fun to watch.

The Questing Knight

At the time of writing, Varik and Scott are in a van full of armour and swords, having already driven over halfway to Ukraine for the weekend-long tournament. It’s a 2,000 mile journey, taking over a week to get from their home in Mossbank, in North Mainland, to historic Kiev. On the way, the pair have already taken part in a combat demonstration at the World Axe Throwing Championship at Scone Palace.

The IMCF World Championships will see 300 warriors (of both sexes) from every corner of the globe descend on a 1-to-1 replica of medieval Kiev for 4 days of fighting, from as close to home as continental Europe, to as far away as China, India and Argentina. The sport is very popular in a number of countries, and several national TV stations will be broadcasting it with the same prominence as more familiar sports.

Varik explained that the fights are separated into different categories; this year, he will only be fighting in the 5-on-5 group battles:

“12 of us will be fighting in different categories,” he said. “Sword and shield, longsword, polearm, bohurt- the group fights which I’m in… but I do plan to do longsword eventually.

“In the 5 vs 5 (bohurt group fights), I’m against Denmark, Finland and Austria. Denmark, mainly, I’m scared of. I met them last year and they put a target on my head, so when it comes to the fight they’ll be actively looking for me. They’ll be hunting me down inside the ring.”

Clashing Steel and Camaraderie

To the uninitiated, the sport might sound scary, with the clashing steel, brutal fights and intimidating nicknames; such as the French Alp (a 7’ tall Frenchman), the Black Knight (an Argentinian fighter who has tempered the steel of his armour to pitch-black), the Cylon (and American whose armour is so highly maintained and polished it has a mirror-finish) and the French Ninja (a ludicrously fast fighter who, at only 5’ tall, can take down the French Alp in single combat).

Varik laughed this off- the MAC community could not be friendlier, or safer:

“You step into the ring, you beat seven hells out each other, you leave and buy them a pint as if nothing’s happened,” he said. “It is just a sport.”

Varik showed off his helmet, bearing a vicious dent in the visor, delivered by a halberd at the most recent training session. Given the amount of armour and padding, even taking a halberd to the face didn’t knock him down. He laughed at the damage, noting that the battle-scar added character to his armour:

“The only time you want it to look like [shiny] is if it’s brand new out the shop, or a display piece. That’s the only times you want it super neat.”

The IMCF World Championships begin on the 16th of May, and are being televised in a number of countries around the world, as well as being livestreamed on the IMCF’s Facebook and Youtube channels, so no matter where you are, you can see Varik fighting for Shetland.

The IMCF World Championships will be livestreamed on the IMCF’s Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/imcfederation/

Vikingr Hjaltlandi, Shetland’s Medieval Armoured Combat society, train on Mondays and Thursdays, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm in Lerwick. They can be contacted via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vikingrhjaltlandi/

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