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Buhurt knight Joona Hämäläinen: “You have to be a little bit loony”

Whilst visiting the medieval festival in Hämeenlinna in Finland (full report here), I discovered a new and magnificent sport of knightly fights, namely buhurt or medieval combat sport, MCS. It is such a fantastic spectacle, I don’t know how did we live until now without knowing more about it. I just had to find out more and what better way than to directly talk to one of its most distinct participants. We met with Joona Hämäläinen, captain of one of the competing teams, who happily shared his insights into all things armor, team comradery and why you do have a spark of craziness to go into it all.

Please introduce and tell us a few words about yourself.
I am buhurt fighter from Finland, representing Team Muurinmurtaja as their team captain and as the chairman of Muurinmurtaja Club. I started buhurt around two years ago and with hard work and a little bit of luck got to this position. In buhurt I focus on team and profight categories. As a person I am pretty chill dude and want to keep things positive. But as a fighter I am stubborn and don’t want to give up even when things seem grim – and sometimes I am a little rascal in the list.

What actually is buhurt?
Buhurt is a combat sport, or more accurately a medieval combat sport with full contact and fighters that have steel weapons and medieval armour. Armour and weapons have to adhere to specific rules for safety and for historical authenticity, while some organisations and countries have more strict rules than others. Buhurt hast its roots in eastern Europe and Russia in the late 90s. In Finland, buhurt arrived around 2013-2014. So it is a pretty young sport.

And there are many different categories in buhurt. Team categories range from 3 vs 3 to mass battles which have had maximum of 150 fighters per team, so there have been 300 fighters in the list at the same time. Most common team category internationally is 5 vs 5 but 12 vs 12 has got more attention lately. In Finland the most common team category is 3 vs 3 since we don’t have so many fighters around the country. Yet. Single categories are divided by weapons what are used, i.e. sword and shield, polearm, sword and buckler and longsword. These categories are more technical and you get points from good weapon hits. Then there is profight, which is more like MMA meets buhurt with free choice of weapons.

What’s in the spirit of buhurt?
We fight for honour and glory and appreciate the fight to the last bit of energy what you have left. At the same time, we are all one big family and the community around the sport is really warm. At least in Finland and what I have noticed is that in other countries the same spirit seems to reign.

What are its main challenges?
Balancing your life between buhurt and everything else. Since in Finland you can’t get paid for buhurt, you have to find time for training and organizing. And since the community around the sport is still pretty small, most of the organizers and workers are fighters as well.

As a fighter, the challenge is finding the most important things to improve and finding the way how to improve.

And what is profight?
Profight is a single category where mixed martial arts are combined with swordsmanship and other weapon masteries. You get points for every effective hit like punch, kick, headbutt, sword hit and shield punches. You can wrestle and grapple the opponent and if you get him down you get more points and have time to fight on the ground for a while. Profights have different weight categories, from lightweight to super heavyweight.

buhurt team (6)

Your advice to the newcomers?
Keep open mind and if you don’t first succeed, with hard work there will be improvement and success.

What kind of character it takes to be a good fighter?
You have to be brave, creative and motivated. Always looking for new ways to improve yourself and new ways to outplay your opponent. A good fighter is willing to push him or herself to better results. Being a madman is not a bad thing in the sport, you have to be a little bit loony if you are ok to get hit by an axe.

What do you like the most about the sport?
I really like to push myself and test the limits of my body. Fighting clears my head and it is great feeling to get in the list and focus on the moment. Aesthetics of the sports helps to get in the mood.

What’s the hardest part of being a buhurt fighter?
Finding the time to do everything. And injuries are a real risk and time consuming when those happen.

What do you think can be improved in the sport today?
Hard question. The organizers around the world have made really good job to get the sport to what it is today. In Finland, we just really need more fighters and I hope we get more people to work behind the scenes as well.

What is your impression on how the Finnish buhurt scene differs from other countries?
Can’t really say since haven’t been in touch enough with the fighters in other countries, but as far as I have understood, the Finnish buhurt scene has gained a lot of attention in the Finnish media in just a few years and I believe that’s not the case in some of smaller countries. Some countries have great scenes going – Russia, Ukraine, USA and England spring to mind.

What brought you to the sport and how did you end up in the team you’re currently in?
I was in Hämeen Keskiaika festival in 2018 and went to see buhurt matches. Since I was shy, my fiancé dragged me to the info stand to talk about buhurt. I met other fighters from Muurinmurtaja, which was the club in Tampere where I live and from that day onward, I have been there training almost every week and I just can’t get enough of it.

Tell us about the name of your club and what it means.
Muurinmurtaja is battering ram in Finnish. Literally Wall-breaker.

What’s your role in the team and those of your teammates?
I am the team’s captain, so I manage registrations to Finnish buhurt league and tournaments. I also manage plans and strategies during tournaments. I fight beside Mikko Jalonen, Janne Vilen, Ari Sinervo, Pekka Sinervo, Matti Schadrin and Laura Hedlund.

What’s in it for you, why do you fight?
I fight for honour and to win myself.

Where do you get the armour and weapons from?
Most of the fighters order armour and weapons from eastern European blacksmiths, from Russia, Poland and Ukraine. Some fighters make their own equipment.

buhurt team (5)

What region and time period is your armor from and how did you choose it?
My armor is European armor between 14th and 15th century. I just liked the appearance and it is protectiveness.

What influences your choice of weapon?
I use a falchion and punch shield. The smaller shield gives me better movement for grappling the opponent and the falchion because I was better with swords than axes but still wanted to hit hard, so the falchion is a compromise between those two.

What do you hope to achieve, as a person and for your whole team in the foreseeable future?
I hope our team gives a great fight in every tournament in Finnish buhurt league to every opponent this season and secures some match wins. We are improving every month, so it will be pretty interesting. As a person I hope that my effort and time is enough to my teammates leading towards the future – and in single categories I want to get more wins.

And until now, what do you consider to be your biggest success in the sport?
Probably getting recognition as a rookie of the year for forming a team for our club. And I won one tournament with MCS Satakunta in Vanaja tournament 2019 when I was as a mercenary for them.

What do you notice changed in you as a person since you started?
A lot. When I started I was a shy dude who liked to spend his time home playing drums and videogames. Now I feel more confident about myself and active. Getting in shape had a lot to do with that.

Do you remember your first battle? What was it like and how did you feel?
I was tired after two rounds, but Mikko said to me “if you feel like you don’t want to go in the list then we go one more time.”. Then we fought one more round with sword and shield.

If you’re not in the list yourself, which team or fighter do you support and cheer for?
Have to say for the MCS Satakunta and for fighter Kristian Jalo, who is one of my closest training buds.

Any specific fight or event that you’ve been in that is most memorable and why?
First official Finnish buhurt league profight match was most memorable. I got my ass kicked but I learned a lot. And even when I fell I didn’t give up. I remember there was lyrics of “Stand up and fight” by Turisas going through my head.

What other interests and hobbies do you have outside of buhurt?
Music, especially metal music, is my other passion. Playing drums and guitar is relaxing and fun. And of course, sometimes you don’t want to do anything physical, then I play videogames. And I like cats.

Which sports have you tried before arriving to medieval combat?
As a kid I was more active and did all kinds of sport but growing up my focus went to music and computers. So maybe playing drums was closest to sport what I did before medieval combat.

Do you have (sport) heroes or role models that you look up to and who inspire you?
Have to mention my fellow fighters from Finnish buhurt scene, Joonas Lammasniemi and Teemu Laiho. Then from other sports, the world strongest man Martins Licis gives great motivation and inspiration.

What goes through your mind right before entering the list?
“Hope I don’t trip when entering to the list”

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Tell us something about your teammates.
Mikko is the lightest one of us but damn the dude is hard to get down in the list. He is a fellow spirit and we also play music together every now and then. Mostly he plays guitar and I play drums.
Ari is always doing something. Not always the smartest way possible but doing something and that is most important.
Pekka is the team’s papa. Mostly teasing Ari for doing things and laughing in the background when Ari’s stuff doesn’t work out. But that is what brothers do.
Janne gets things done if no one else is. Great fighter even though he just started around a year ago.
Matti is a powerhouse. The amount of power that dude generates is scary.
Laura is a fierce woman. Doesn’t matter is there men or women against in the list she stands her ground.

Any fun stories to tell from your past experiences?
My whole buhurt career has been so much fun and full of new experiences that can’t name one. But the road trips to different events has been fun and the conversations during Sauna evenings are always refreshing. Getting to know so many people in a short amount of time is sometimes overwhelming and things mash into one big memory.

What makes a good captain and a good team player in buhurt?
Taking care of everyone in the team and looking for their strengths and trying my best to use them as effectively as possible. I try to keep everyone on the same page and give my support even in hardest times.

Do you have a motto as a fighter?
Stand up and fight!

As a captain, how do you motivate and inspire your team?
Focus on the positive and I make sure my team knows I am behind them to support and give more strength when needed.

How do you train and learn new techniques?
By improvising, learning from other teams see what they do, training with other teams, giving them new ideas and they give new ideas back. Then we go to our training hall and find things out first without and then with armor.

Do you have any rituals before fights?
Not really. After you get your helmet on then you just want to clear your head and mostly that is automatic. Sometimes you just get your rage on and go.

What’s your training routine, special diet, etc. on your regular training weeks and soon before tournaments?
We try to keep more training sessions for month or two before tournaments then keep one resting week to get strength back so you are in shape for the tournament. I am on special diet before profights so I keep myself in right bracket for our weight category.

Do you prefer to fight in a team or profight, and why?
I do like both. Sometimes I feel like I am not good enough for our team, then I prefer profight since it only depends on me and I only can let myself down. But I just love to do things together, so then I prefer team fights.

How do you recover after a fight?
A lot of food, protein and energy. A lot of sleep and then running or walking to keep my body moving so my muscles don’t get stiff.

What events are you preparing for next?
3.10. we have single tournament in hosted by MCS Aboensis. I am attending for profights and few weeks after that 24.10. we have a 3 vs 3 tournament hosted by Helsinki Medieval Combat. Both are training hall tournaments, so no audience.
Next event with audience is 28.11. Aulanko Knight Fight in Hämeenlinna where we will have our Finnish buhurt league season finale in the 3 vs 3 category.

What can we do as followers of your team and your sport, to support buhurt further and raise awareness about it?
Sharing content of the sport and getting friends know that the sport exists. You can find more information from HMB (Historical Medieval Battles), IMCF (International Medieval Combat Federation) and in Finland we have MCSF (Medieval Combat Sports Finland). And of course our team you can find on Instagram @muurinmurtajabuhurt and on facebook as Muurinmurtaja.

Interview: Marina Minkler
Photos: Askar Ibragimov

haemefest (3)

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Melanie Kircher, Tatjana Tattis Murschel, Grit Kabiersch, Marina Minkler, Jasmine Frey, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski