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A Love Letter to Buhurt by Jason Cope

“Buhurt is Love,” is, without a doubt, the phrase most-heard by anyone with any semblance of proximity to our sport. While it may seem contradictory, the sport’s unofficial tagline perfectly encapsulates the ideologies of community and care so often seen by anyone lucky enough to dip their toes in the proverbial waters of medieval armoured combat. I have met some of the most wonderful people in my near-decade foray in the sport – people who have given me the shirts off their backs and a roof over my head, opened the door to job opportunities, pushed me to see the world, and provided support and care when I have been at some of my lowest points. It is easy for me to say that I truly would not be here if not for the Buhurt community. 

My first steps into buhurt are largely unremarkable, so I’ll give you the SparkNotes™ version. I was a LARPer, then got into full-contact boffer sport (Dagorhir), then dabbled in the SCA. I couldn't find my real niche in the medieval combat community – no matter where I went, something was missing. Then, in 2013, I saw a video from the year prior of our USA Battle of the Nations team in Poland, and something clicked. This is what I needed. I scavenged the internet for any tiny morsel of information on the sport that I could find and, by divine providence, I learned that a couple of the guys on that same 2012 team were doing a demo 30-minutes away from my home. I cleared my already-barren calendar and prepared for my life to be changed.

After that day, which was glorious by-the-way, I began piecing together my kit with cast-off SCA armour, training with the “local” club (2 hours by car) whenever I could afford the opportunity, and immersing myself in the sport as much as possible. These days truly were the Wild West of buhurt in the USA. We had a less-than-comprehensive understanding of the rules of the sport, gathered by the participants of the year before’s Battle of the Nations, and a poorly Google-translated facsimile of the original Russian rules. No one had any great idea where to get kit, who to get it from, what was optimal for the sport, and horror stories of people losing fingers and breaking bones and being near death in the list were inescapable. It was insane and I was hooked.

Then, like many others have experienced, life happened. I was going to school, couldn’t afford to finish my kit or travel to practices, and buhurt took a massive step back in my priorities, though the love for the sport and community never wavered. This “dark ages'' of my medieval career lasted for a few years, with my Buhurt section of Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs only being satiated by online chats and low-resolution live-streams of tournaments around the world. I needed more.

Thankfully, in 2016 I received a call that a large international tournament would be happening on the weekend of my birthday a mere two hours from my house and they needed marshals. I had never marshaled before, but the opportunity to experience the sport at this level – with teams like Partizan, Iron Phoenix, the Mexican National team, Austria, and a plethora of others – couldn't be missed. I binged the still-poorly-translated rules religiously for the weeks leading up to the tournament with a renewed drive and fervor. I finally had a niche that was affordable, doable, and important. If I thought being introduced to fighting would change my life, being introduced to marshaling gave me a whole new life entirely. 

In 2019 I moved across the country to live in Portland, Oregon to live with a good friend I made through the sport. I connected with the captain of a local new up-and-coming team, Cerberus Emissus, and quickly linked up to get involved with the club. Daniel Krug graciously opened his doors to me and I rapidly made one of the best found-families anyone could ask for. I had regular trainings, a space to not only work on my fighting but also to marshal practices and keep sharp on rules changes and how to implement them. I also had a group of like-minded nerds (shout-out Gnome Squad) who kept any toxic-masculinity away from the gym and approached the sport with such a level of intense care and compassion that I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was the community I needed to be a part of. I started to understand “Buhurt is Love.”

In 2022, things started moving at an incredibly rapid pace. We were just starting to pull out of the COVID pandemic, people were itching to beat the hell out of their friends in consensual medieval violence, and Cerberus got the call that they were going to Buhurt Prime in Monaco and I was coming with them, alongside my long-time mentor Joe Cadieux, to marshal the cream of the crop of international buhurt. 

In the span of a couple months after receiving that call, so much changed. Monaco got switched to Belgrade, and the world’s eyes turned to watch the imminent invasion of Ukraine. The tournament pushed on though and we flew to Serbia to find out that, while we were in-flight, Putin’s armies made the official push into Ukraine and some teams would not make it to the tournament, To say that the energy at Buhurt Prime 2022 was thick would be a massive understatement. No one knew what the future of the sport would bring, we were scared for our Ukrainian friends, and Russian teams made it to Serbia to compete. It was concluded, after much debate, that the official tournament would no longer be happening, but in an effort to show “Buhurt is Love” – and to not waste the thousands spent on international travel – the teams that were present decided to still fight. 

After the (not) tournament, during the drunken revelry that so often follows, my team mate and fellow goblin, Jacob Dunn and I decided we would not be content to go home and write “thoughts and prayers” on social media when such a tragedy was happening so close to where we were currently standing, so we linked up with some of the Polish fighters and staff who were present and developed an ad-hoc plan for Jacob and I to come to Poland for an undetermined amount of time, stay with members of KS Rycerz, and volunteer our help in any way possible with the massive influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Poland.

The next couple months were a blur. We ingrained ourselves in our new temporary home, took some trips to work at the border camp at Korcowa, did some local volunteer work in Krakow, and I began to fall further and further in love with the fantasy of never leaving Europe. When the time came for Jacob to return home (we had long since ran out of money and were operating on metaphorical fumes), I made the snap decision to stay in Poland. I listed all of my worldly possessions back in Oregon for sale on social media, worked out with the team on shipping of goods, got a job at a hostel in the city working for pennies, and settled into my new life.

It was not long before I began diving into the community of Polish buhurt, one of the oldest and most prolific leagues in the history of our sport. I was asked to marshal a tournament in Niepolomice, local to Krakow, and my eyes were opened to the glory of European medievalism. People were in authentic clothes, fighters were coming from multiple nations and speaking multiple languages, and the tournament was held NEAR A CASTLE – which was insane to someone who’s closest experience to medievalism near a castle was local renaissance faires in the woods ran by people with names like “Jim-bob” and “Ol’ Hank.” 

Since then, I have had the opportunity to travel to places like Italy, Czech Republic, France, and Ukraine – all because of buhurt. I have met and drank with fighters and staff from countries all over Europe, spreading love in more languages that I can count on my fingers and toes. I have seen people from nations with centuries of animosity come together in brotherhood and camaraderie over our shared passion for this weird niche sport. I have got to experience the little nuances each pocketed community brings to rules, styles of fighting, and overall approach to the sport, and I’ve been able to gather a much more holistic and comprehensive approach to how I marshal and train. It’s been truly transformative. 

For the average European, it is hard to fathom just how massive the USA is. For an American to drive from New York to LA, it would be akin to a European driving from Lisbon to Moscow. In that span of distance, the European will cover multiple countries, all with their own languages, cultures, and customs. The American would’ve experienced almost none of this, aside from regional cultural differences within our own nation. 

What this means is that, especially in our sport, the opportunities for Americans to pursue the sport at the highest level are so incredibly limited compared to our European counterparts. The vast majority of people do not live within 2-hours of a club, so training opportunities are slim. Our tournament season is spread out over our entire country, and you’re lucky if there are multiple clubs within your state, let alone a few hours from you, so opportunities for competing (at any reasonable budget) are slim. Access to armourers and smiths is more limited or cost-prohibitive, so truly custom fit and well made kit is more of a hassle to acquire. It was truly hard for me to comprehend all of the barriers to participation that aspirants in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, and other largely-isolated – and massive – nations face when trying to compete in our sport. 

While there are pockets of feverish activity in the US in places like New England, Nashville, Dallas, Cincinnati, and the West Coast, the sheer scope of opportunity afforded to buhurt fighters in Europe is second-to-none. On any given weekend during tournament season, there is likely a tournament happening within a distance that would cost me less than $100 USD to travel. At any given time, I could travel mere hours and fight with or marshal a team that speaks a different language, eats different food, and likely has a much different approach to certain facets of the sport. Also, having national healthcare does wonders when it comes to ease-of-mind while participating in a dangerous contact sport. 

All of this has been to say that my life has been transformed by our sport and community. Without buhurt, and the people from all walks of life in all manner of different nations that I’ve met through the sport, I would not be alive and breathing, let alone living a new life in a new country with new opportunities to find and explore. This sport has allowed me to thrive, live out my dreams, and see the world in ways I could never fathom. Buhurt, even with all of its drama and violence, truly is love, and I can not wait to see where this community grows in the coming years with so much change.


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