Two Lithuanian television installers known as the “brothers of Beckton” have emerged as perhaps Britain’s greatest fighters since medieval times.
Alex and Evgeny Olechnovic are also amateur boxers, but at weekends engage in a sport that makes traditional battle re-enactments look about as threatening as tiddlywinks.
Full-contact medieval fighting involves real swords, axes and suits of armour. Battles take place in pens and can involve dozens of fighters. Participants are considered “dead” when they fall to the ground. The only rule protecting them from a genuine grisly end: no sharp edges.
Organised clashes are common in Russia and eastern Europe, from where the Olechnovic’s moved to Beckton in east London three years ago. But the sport is now becoming more popular in Britain, too.
The brothers are members of Team UK, a 30-strong army which last month competed at the World Full Contact Medieval Fighting Tournament in Montpellier, France. They were only knocked out in the later stages by Russia, the eventual winners.
“It’s hard to describe what battle is like,” says Evgeny, 30. “It’s a bit like boxing, but just imagine much more adrenaline. You don’t feel pain and even if you’re afraid of what’s going to happen you then forget about it.”
The brothers say serious injuries are rare, the odd snapped finger notwithstanding, as long as fighters wear good armour (suits can weigh up to 40kg). “At first my wife was worried,” says Alex, 26, “but now she enjoys wearing medieval dresses.” Nick Birkin, a spokesman for Team UK, which trains at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, says membership has grown from just eight last summer. “We had 1,000 spectators at our display on Easter Monday,” he says, “and we expect treble that when we put on a mini tournament for August Bank Holiday.”
The team will do battle with Spain, Germany and Belgium at the Bloodstock heavy metal festival in Derbyshire and will appear in a BBC documentary to be broadcast later this summer.