The first rule of the Armored Combat League, a.k.a. super awesome and realistic knight fighting, is to stay away from the groin, neck, and top of the foot. But if you've got a clear shot at your opponent's helmet with your double-edged battle ax, thou shalt swing away.
"No one is getting killed," said Andre Sinou, a Salem County man who cofounded the ACL in 2012.
Sinou, 52, is a recently retired Marine, so this may not seem as bizarre to him. He played high school football and tooled around with groups that fought with wooden weapons. Philadelphia also has Battleswords, where padded fighters attempt to smash "crystals" on their opponent's suit.
In West Philly's Clark Park, there are groups that play "capture the flag" with foam swords.
Wood? Crystals? Foam?
Meh, Sinou thought.
"We had heard the Europeans were fighting with steel weapons overseas," Sinou said. "I said, 'We've got to get an American league doing this.' "
Spectators and people who can't wait for that Game of Thrones fix can watch this play out this weekend, starting Friday, during the ACL's "New World Cup V" at the Dream Park Equestrian Center, 25 miles south of Philadelphia in Logan Township, Gloucester County. Tickets range from $10 to $30.
Sinou said the ACL has more than three dozen "teams" across the United States and Canada, including the Philadelphia Rhinos, Reno Sun Rams, and the Montreal Black Wolves, and more across the globe. The teams compete locally and regionally, anywhere from three-on-three to 16-vs.-16 in a full battle royal. The rule book is lengthy, dealing mostly with proper armor, weapons size, and off-limits body parts (like the groin, neck, and top of the foot).
"You can kick them in the head, though," Sinou said. "You can kick, you can punch, you basically fight until someone yields."
When a fighter makes three points of contact with the dirt, he or she is out of the competition.
"There are a lot of bruises, and occasionally someone breaks a thumb," said fighter Logan Greer, 23. "Concussions happen, but they're pretty rare."
Greer, a fighter with the Philadelphia Rhinos, blew out his MCL and ACL at the same time during one fight, but he's back after surgery and competing this weekend with a regional team, hoping to earn a spot on a national team.
"I was throwing a guy," he said of his injury. "I was trying to do a hip toss, and he landed on the wrong side of my knee. Your knee isn't supposed to bend that way."
Is the popular HBO series helping the sport's popularity? What about the Bud Light knight?
Who knows, but it would be fun to drink a beer while watching the combat, for sure.
"I'm just a medieval-history-buff kind of guy," Greer said. "The first time I tried it, it was as much fun as I thought it would be."
The weapons, which include pointed shields and maces, are not sharp, but they can be heavy, weighing up to eight pounds. New competitors learn quickly how exhausting play-murdering someone can be while wearing 60 to 90 pounds of armor, Greer said.
"Cardio is definitely the first hurdle," he said. "If you're exhausted and you can barely breathe, it doesn't matter how hard you swing the ax."
The armor is the most expensive investment, costing up to $5,000 in some cases. Sinou makes his own and sells it.
"Once you have it, though, it can last for decades," he said.
Sinou said the competitions never devolve into actual fighting, despite the bruises and occasional concussions. Most of the time, contestants go out for a steak and beer afterward.
Greer said his parents and some of his wife's family will be there, though his mother will likely be covering her eyes.
"Pretty much everyone across the board thinks I'm nuts," he said. "My dad thinks it's crazy, but he likes to watch. He's sort of my unofficial squire. My mom just thinks it's crazy."