When Westminster native Paul Friedel, 28, was in college, he didn’t know his interest in live-action role playing games and battling with his friends would lead him to compete on television.
It all started, he told the Times, with Dagorhir, a game with full-contact melee fighting using foam weapons like swords, bows and arrows, javelins, axes and other medieval weapons.
“I went through a really rough relationship [in college],” Friedel said running his fingers through his hair. He was sitting in his garage wearing a gambeson, or padded medieval jacket, with steel armor covering his legs and arms, and medieval-era leather boots on his feet.
“My buddies were like, ‘Hey stop miserying and go play this game with us, go be violent with us,’ ” he said. “I said, screw it. An excuse to go beat up your friends and drink beers with them after? That’s great.”
Dagorhir then led to rattan combat fighting, he said, which takes battles to the next level with weapons made of the palm known as rattan, instead of foam.
It was the accelerated violence of rattan fighting and his friend Andrew Dionne that led him in 2014 to steel fighting — a sport also referred to as Medieval MMA and Knight Fight Club, according to the History website — where his favorite weapons to use are one-handed and two-handed battle axes.
Dionne, 32, a Warrenton, Virginia, resident, used to be the ACL regional commander for the entire Atlantic region from New York City down to North Carolina, and is now a member of the Washington Juggernauts team.
He has been friends with Friedel for more than 10 years.
“He’s so good at this,” Dionne told the Times. “He made the Eagles, the Striking Eagles [ACL’s USA National Team], his first year — which is the best of the best of the United States.
“So Paul’s amazing at this sport,” he said. “His fighting style — his brutality, is really a very good way to describe the way he fights. It’s relentless. His punches are devastating if he catches you.”
When fighters are required to sprint carrying 60 to 80 pounds of armor, and the only rules for the most part are to not rip off each other’s helmets, hit directly behind the knee, or go for the crotch, it’s not just a hobby or game, Friedel said, but a sport that requires real training, effort and commitment.
It also calls for being a jack of all trades.
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“It’s not just a fighting hobby, it’s the camping hobby, I was an Eagle Scout, I was in the Boy Scouts,” he said. “The fact that I can go out and camp with my friends, and do these crazy sport event things at the same time is amazing.
“It also goes into the fact that I built most of my armor — I learned metallurgy, how to heat, treat, temper steel,” said Friedel. “Welding, I learned to weld doing this. There’s so many hobbies inside of the hobby.
“It’s insane I used to play Warhammer, paint little war figurines on a table and throw dice,” he said. “This is a lot more fun. I can go do crazy stuff and enjoy myself in the middle of the woods, I’m not stuck inside.”
But once he got involved in knight fighting, he needed to get a full knight’s suit — which Friedel said could cost anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000.
Although he made the armor covering his arms and legs himself, he did need help with his helmet and gauntlets.
That’s where Baltimore Knife and Sword’s lead bladesmith Ilya Alexseyev came in, with a helmet design based on 1380s armor from Novgorod, the East Slavic state that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the northern Ural Mountains from the 12th to the 15th century.
The steel helmet has a face on it, with two holes for eyes and forged lips to cover his mouth. Chain mail hangs under the mask to protect his neck.
To be historically accurate, the rest of the suit needed to match the helmet — to be within 50 years and 100 miles of every other piece of armor in the ensemble.
“We are required to document our armor,” said Friedel. “You're supposed to be able to trace everything back.”
Friedel has competed on behalf of the United States at International Medieval Combat Federation world championships in Europe and is headed to Ukraine to compete this May, so when he learned of the casting call for “Knight Fight” last year he sent his information to History right away.
As a 6-foot-7, 230-pound knight, he said he knew he would “make good TV,” but that the fighting is not like people see in the movies.
“I am not an actor,” Friedel said. “I am a hobbyist, but this is — all of us are athletes. We train like athletes. We work very, very hard to do this.”
He said he couldn’t talk about what will happen on this season of the show, but that there are 42 men, with each episode featuring six different knights battling until the finale, which is when the champion is crowned.
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“I'm not too shabby with fighting,” he said. “I try to eat my humble pie as much as humanly possible, but I'm not too bad at fighting.”