Second part of my time during the Vital Target Combat (VTC) event hosted by Unified Weapons Master (UWM). 

(Kindly reproduced from Lobo’s (Martin Soderstrom’s) blog, which you can find here.)

 

We were standing in the middle of the arena we’d be fighting in over the next few days, while we waited for the UWM leaders to announce the fight cards. I rocked back on my heels and took a few steps to get a feel for the surface. Didn’t want any surprises when the time came. Eventually we were joined by UWM Chairman Justin Forsell who proceeded to run us through the fight formats and rules. Every match up between two fighters would start with three rounds with our respective Weapon of Choice, followed by two rounds of Staff fighting, and then conclude with two rounds of fighting with Double Weapons. Justin himself would ref the fights, and the armoury team as well as a medic would be on standby. In addition, a Marshal At Arms would look after the weapons. Fights would be determined on points, where every fighter had a set number of “lives” that would be reduced any time the opponent hit so hard that bones would break if it wasn’t for the armour.

Next, the match ups were announced. Shen “War Demon” Meng would fight Jim “Fierce” Campbell, and Joshua “Ironheart” Bekker would face Rory “Red Rock” Trend. My opponent was to be Burak “Ronin” Urgancioglu, the Turkish swordsman who had extensive training in Kenjutsu. In other words, highly skilled with the Katana. Suddenly I was very grateful for the past few weeks of sparring against my shinai-wielding friend back in Brisbane.

As far as I was concerned, the fight between Ronin and I started that very moment – we just hadn’t taken to beating each other with weapons yet. While my mind started going through tactics, probable scenarios and possibilities, I let none of it show on my face. I was determined to give this my best.

 

On my way back to the practise room, I considered my options. Measurements were all based on sensor readings embedded in the armour, with science providing an objective judge. Basically, hit’em hard. This was going to present a challenge, as my Kung Fu training had focused more on speed and agility. I hefted each long staff before selecting the heaviest one. Should do the trick. Choosing what to go with for Double Weapons proved harder, as I didn’t want to go with sticks again. In the end, I decided to try something new – the tomahawk axe and Viking sword seemed like a nice combination, like a lead jab and a heavy cross.

With all Lorica pieces now in place, us fighters got do some strike testing. This involved suiting up in the armour, then standing still while another fighter hit you with increasing levels of force. It was impressive how well the Lorica protected you. When it was my turn, I was hitting Ironheart with maximum force without making a dent – although the sensors certainly confirmed bones would have been broken. He soon returned the favour, and although I could certainly feel the impact of the hand-and-a-half sword he was using, the Lorica shielded me from most of the force.

There’s something seriously disconcerting in just standing there whilst being struck

That night, a “dress rehearsal” fight took place with Burak and Shen going a couple of rounds in the Lorica for system testing. It took about half a minute before the friendly exchanges had turned into full on fighting! Everything worked as expected, apart from a cracked section in the ring wall where one of the guys almost got kicked through it. All team members and fighters left that day feeling excited for the upcoming fights.

 

Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail from this point on as we all signed NDA’s in regards to not reveal anything regarding the outcome of the fights. But suffice to say, the next few days went by in a blur of action, nerves and intense fights. Strikes, cuts, counters, kicks, headbutts, grappling and disarms. At the end of it all, every one of us had fought with all our strength. And when our strength failed us, we fought on with spirit alone. As the dust settled, a number of fights had been held and the most successful fighter was declared winner.

Probably my favourite action shot from our fight, even though Ronin is totally getting lucky here

Alas, my lips are sealed in regards to what exactly happened in the fights. I can, however, speak freely about the other fighters and let me tell you, I’m honoured to have met them. I have written before on how exciting it is to have something like UWM emerge as a style-agnostic platform for all weapon styles to put themselves (and each other) to the test, so that was obviously the most inspiring to come out of this trip – but the ‘Original VI’ are a close second.

Each of them have earned their dues in their respective style through years of training, and pretty much everyone had solid experience in other styles as well. For example, Rory Trend is a long-time Sifu in the Ging Mo Kung Fu system, and Joshua Bekker has competed in Melbourne’s MMA circuit. Clearly, no one had been given a free ticket – and no one had an easy ride through his fights. I went into UWM’s VTC event with my guard up expecting, at best, a cold environment with every man looking out for number one. Surprisingly, I’ve never felt as strongly supported or bonded as strongly with fellow competitors like I did at that event. I’ve stayed in touch with everyone on Facebook, even got to visit some of them afterwards, and continue to be inspired by their adventures (a topic for a future post).

Tinkering behind the scenes

When the last fight had been held we were all asked to sign some of the materials for memorabilia, such as the giant banners, posters, even some of the weapons and shields that had been used in the fights. The last night was spent with a dinner for everyone involved. With the VTC event now over, I felt a great relief. Then I looked over at the armoury team and realised how much more pressure they would’ve been under, and I felt immensely grateful. If it weren’t for them and everyone else involved everything would have fallen apart, literally as well as figuratively. Our fights would’ve been useless if the armour hadn’t been individually fitted and maintained. We would not have been able to breathe or see anything if it wasn’t for perfectly fitted helmets. No scores would have been kept if the sensors weren’t registering, and so on and so forth. We may have been in the spotlight inside that ring, but only thanks to the enabling efforts of everyone working behind the scenes.

At one point during the dinner I ended up at talking to UWM COO David Pysden, which was a bit awkward at first. In my experience, people on that level tend to keep themselves aloft; all about the big picture, big figures and big players. Considering he’d normally be dealing with suppliers of high tech equipment, media production companies, even inquiries from the military, I wasn’t expecting much of a conversation. But again I was surprised to find that not only was he very easy to talk to, he also had a genuine appreciation and passion for realising the UWM vision. He was equally keen on hearing what my thoughts were on the armour, rule sets and the experience of fighting in UWM. It was refreshing to see that, even on the highest level, the people running the show have an earnest drive and vision for UWM. It bodes well for the future.

The next day we squeezed in a visit Wellington’s WETA workshop, famous for its movie props and special effects. The weaponry and armour pieces made for the Lord of the Rings movies were of special interest, although like many on-screen representations, most of the weapons would be too heavy and unwieldy to bring into actual battle.

I call this one ‘Epic Trolling’

Final destination was the Wellington airport, which was an attraction in itself – adorned with giant statues of Gollum and LOTR eagles certainly makes it stand out from other airports. Us fighters said goodbye to the UWM team and set about exchanging contact details and sharing photos and such from the past few days before we parted ways. The flight home was spent quietly pondering the lessons learnt, and there was plenty to think about. Fighting in UWM had been the most high profile event for me yet, and a major eye-opener. My horizon had definitely been widened, with a newfound respect for the other martial arts I had witnessed. It was clear to me how many areas I needed to work on in order to improve as a weapons fighter, so many things to work through – but not until after some well-needed quality time with the family.

–       Lobo

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First part of my time during the Vital Target Combat (VTC) event hosted by Unified Weapons Master (UWM).

(Kindly reproduced from Lobo’s (Martin Soderstrom’s) blog, which you can find here.)

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now. As you may recall, my last post was about how I’d gotten picked as one of the first fighters to fight in Unified Weapon Master’s (UWM) test event.

The intention was to write this post once my fight video from the test event had been published online, but alas. Shortly after they published the first fight video, UWM was contacted by a number of media production companies that were all highly interested in the rights to the remaining videos. Long story short; in a recent press release it was announced that they will be partnering with Bunim/Murray Productions to produce a TV show around the next UWM Call to Arms, and unseen VTC1 footage could obviously bring a lot of value to that venture. However, you can still view that first fight video below – Red Rock vs Ironheart:

A million views, not bad

As is common, life threw a spanner in the works. The month leading up the event was a challenging one, where my family and I moved from Sydney to Brisbane. With only a few weeks to go I had no academy, no gym and no training partner. So I explored the neighbourhood and found a local Karate dojo that advertised weapons training (amongst others) and explained my situation to the dojo’s Shihan. We worked out an agreement where I could spar now and then with one of his black belts, who would use a Shinai to simulate the Katana they would normally use.

When the time came I was able to travel to Wellington, New Zealand to attend the first ever UWM event. Apparently the other fighters had all arrived already and gotten to know each other. From watching the UFC show ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, I expected the worst – thuggish behaviours, butting egos and producers hungry for drama. I was thoroughly relieved to find that the UWM team ran a much more professional event!

The fighter themselves were an interesting bunch – trained in Kenjutsu, Kung Fu and HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and of different nationalities and backgrounds. What they all had in common were the traits that are usually cultivated through martial arts; a focused mindset, respectful manners and a quiet but solid sense of confidence. That, and a keen interest in seeing the UWM vision succeed –  to honour, preserve and reignite weapons martial arts that have been practised and developed over thousands of years and using modern technology create a new, global combat sport and entertainment experience.

From left – Wolf, Fierce, Ironheart, Red Rock, Ronin, War Demon and UWM Chairman Justin Forsell

The UWM team had a done a great job in selecting their ‘Original Six’, as we came to be called. Every one of us had a strength to him – ranging from Rory Trend who gave a sense of a grounded, almost immovable stability (Red Rock, indeed) to Jim Campbell, whose underlying ferocity often saw him in heated debates. Other qualities shone through as well, like Burak’s habit of thoroughly analysing every matter at hand. UWM had also given us ring names, with mine being an easy pick – ‘Wolf’, from Lobo, which had been my Capoeira nickname since many years.

Next followed a couple of days of all things UWM – armour fitting, shooting promos and training for the upcoming fights. As a the premier event, it was crucial to get everything right. There was a whole team dedicated to the Lorica, as the high-tech suit of armour had been named. The men and women in this team put in an obscene amount of effort, working around the clock to get everything in place for the upcoming event. The below image is from the event’s pit crew, showing some but not all involved.

The UWM VTC1 Pit Crew

Personally I found the armour very different from what I was used to, as my style (Jow Ga Kung Fu) relied more on agility than force. I had a feeling I’d come to regret not training in heavier gear, but the time for regret was long past. In spite of the suit weighing in about 19kgs the range of motion was surprisingly wide, allowing for kicks and even cartwheels. The Lorica was also extremely protective, as would show later in the strike testing. Wearing a helmet with such weight and restriction of vision was new to me. We all needed to adapt to the mechanics of the armour. For example, I personally found out that throwing roundhouse kicks was a bad idea – although the weight behind the technique gave it much more power, the added momentum also “carried” you past the target and left your side and back wide open to counterattacks.

UWM VTC1 Weapons

We also got to test out the weapons we would use in the fights. UWM had taken requests from us fighters beforehand and provided synthetic versions of our weapons of choice. The others grabbed their weapons and tested them out, commenting on their point of balance, reach and so on. I had initially opted to use a twin set of the Chinese Dao sabres as my weapon of choice, but after some early testing with the synthetic version I quickly realised they would be too unwieldy for me to use with proper skill (not so for Red Rock; with his massive physique, those things were like toys). So as per my request, I would instead fight with two sticks, as commonly seen in Filipino martial art of Escrima. But make no mistake – even though I was fighting with sticks, my techniques and tactics were still straight out of the Kung Fu sword techniques I had learnt at the Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy.

Snapshot from the training room

We set out to test the synthetics with some friendly sparring, which may have gotten somewhat passionate at times. Immediately I found that I had made a good choice with the sticks. As this first event would focus on inflicting blunt trauma, the simple but sturdy sticks provided a great balance between speed, dexterity and forceful impact. I also got the see the others in action, giving me a healthy dose of respect for every fighter. As it hadn’t been announced who would be fighting who, I tried to get a read on each participant in order to get a head start on my upcoming fight.

The event was now only a day or two away, and so we moved base to the TV studio where the fights would take place. For the first time, we got to see the arena had been set up for the event. A wide circular area, ringed by a wooden barrier, was surrounded by lighting rigs and cameras. The walls were adorned with large banners of each fighter, with the Lorica now sporting our respective livery. For us fighters, change rooms and a spacious training room with practise targets had been set up. Meanwhile, the UWM team wasted no time in setting up their armour workshop, tech command center and media hub. The stage was set.

The VTC1 Arena under construction

It was not long before we were told to gather in the arena as the fight draws were about to be announced. On the way there, I looked at the others and kept wondering – which of these guys would I be fighting?

 To be continued…

– Lobo

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As some of you may recall, we had a really positive response to the very early designs for the women’s “UWM Amazon” armour we released several months ago (see picture), and fielded enquiries from a number of experienced female weapons martial arts warriors at that time keen to join their male counterparts in early UWM test events.
While we still have some way to go in terms of producing a customised women’s Lorica, there may be an opportunity sooner rather than later for female weapons fighters to put the Lorica to a competitive test wearing a customised version of the male Lorica. We are also considering prize money for the winner in the area of USD$15-20,000 or even more.
If you’re an experienced female weapons martial artist and are interested in being a global pioneer for women in weapons martial arts, in a UWM event, could you please send us a message asap via Facebook, post a comment here or register your interest by email at [email protected]
Also, if you know of any great women weapons fighters we should reach out to, please let us/them know.
Thanks everyone.

Pugno, Ergo Sum
UWM

 

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With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

We recently had a chat with Scott Brailey, a member of the UWM combat development team, who has previously battle tested the Mk I armour, and who worked closely with the six fighters to help them adjust to combat in the Lorica Mk II.

 

The Trainer

Tell us about your involvement in UWM.

Prior to VTC 1 my primary role was combat testing of the Lorica Mk I. Feedback from that experience was vital for the evolution of the current Lorica Mk II.

 

What was your role in VTC1?

Having combat tested the Lorica Mk I, I was in a unique position to act as a trainer for the six fighters. I also functioned as the “Master of Arms”, with responsibility for the safety checking and provision of the fighters’ weapons for each match.

 

You have worn the Lorica Mk I in a battle-test situation – could you describe the experience?

It was confronting! The Lorica Mk I was heavier, had no cooling system, and was built from different materials to the Lorica Mk II. The field of view was smaller and the airflow into the helmets was limited. The upside though was the feeling of safety when wearing the Lorica. You still dealt with the inertia of a blow but the initial impact force was dispersed exceptionally well throughout the armour.

 

Having gone through a rigorous test event with multiple weapons what are some of the challenges that the fighters need to contend with in terms of fighting in the Lorica?

The fighters have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There is a sensory overload when you first wear the Lorica. You have to adjust to the weight distribution, your focal point has to change when looking through the visor to maximise peripheral vision. You get very hot, time seems to slow down and your breathing is somewhat restricted by the armour.

 

How do the fighters need to adapt their training style when wearing the Lorica?

Fighters need to adjust to their new dimensions, figure out their mobility restrictions and adapt or abandon techniques accordingly. In preparation to fight in the Lorica fighters need to train wearing extra weight, limit heat loss, restrict their vision and respiration rate.

 

As the VTC trainer how did you prepare the fighters for VTC 1?

My focus was fighter safety. All fighters were tested or trained on their break falls as they were now carrying an extra 18kg. We tested their conditioning in full armour to help determine the length of the rounds. Many of the styles represented by the fighters use weapon techniques based on the cutting edge, when weapon sparring without armour or with light armour you have to decelerate the weapon before impact, however, in the Lorica you don’t. As VTC 1 was a blunt trauma simulation I worked with each fighter adjusting cutting techniques into crushing blows.

 

What are some of the key observations you saw on the day as to how the different fighters reacted to their first time fighting in the Lorica?

Fighters who had worn armour (European and Japanese) before adapted faster to wearing the Lorica. The vision restriction really affected one fighter. It was much hotter in the armour than all the fighters expected. Every fighter gained a higher respect for the styles of the other competitors. Every fighter felt he was under conditioned. Most importantly they all left as friends.

Unified Weapons Master - Avalon Studios, Lower Hutt, New Zealand on Thursday 31 March 2016. Photo by Masanori Udagawa. www.photowellington.photoshelter.com.

VTC 1 Trainer Scott Brailey with Jim ‘Fierce’ Campbell (right) and Josh ‘Ironheart’ Bekker (left).
Photo by Masanori Udagawa.

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With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

The Armour Designer

What considerations did you need to bear in mind when designing the Lorica Mark II? 

One of the key things was the scale ability of production levels.  The ability to produce in reasonable low volumes and then, if required, extend to higher volume is often impossible or over-looked in design particularly with prototyping. Many great products have failed as they were unable to meet early high production demand. We are very aware, from the feedback of our growing fanbase, that we need to be able to move to production quickly.

How did the Lorica Mark II differ from the Lorica Mark I and how did this impact on the design? 

Our first suit was built very much as a prototype. We outsourced production within Wellington’s film industry and used rubber as a base material to help absorb shock.

The suit was heavier and somewhat cumbersome so restrictive for fighting. The electronics were generally an installed addition after suit production so the level of tech was limited by the mass of the suit.

Our second suit draws from my motorsport design and engineering background, specifically borrowing from Formula 1 and aerospace technologies. Most of the production took place in our new specialist Wellington workshop, with some outsourced to motorsport manufacturing stalwarts in Europe.

The suit is made of a carbon fibre composite and is a much lighter, stronger suit than the Mark I. While the design seeks to retain and progress the aesthetic and successes of Mark I, it is far more complex. Essentially, to protect the electronics, we’ve designed and built two suits in one – the outer layer and inner chassis layer working to encapsulate the electronics.  Under that we have a purpose-built technical suit, harnessing the layers to the fighter.

The shape of the armour takes in to consideration the hard armour material and the current sensor technology requirements. I compare the Mark II to a car in terms of its total complexity, while the Mark I was more our starting point – critical costume prototyping.

How is the Mark II superior to the Mark I design? 

The weight and density of the materials means we have a lighter more mobile suit.

It works with the fighter and affords improved dynamic performance. The suit is stronger and protection is far superior. We have also improved the thermal control. All this ensures comfortable fighters and exciting, faster, lengthier combat events.

What changes will you incorporate into the next iteration of the suit as a result of VTC1 and feedback from fighters? 

Across the business we are looking at numerous options for refining and adding to our electronics. These changes should give us a reduced suit profile, ultimately eliminating bulk and extending coverage beyond vital areas. Very exciting times!

As the designer how do you balance off safety, functionality and weight while designing the Lorica armour? 

The first priority is always safety. This is a difficult part of a triangle of design – encompassing safety, weight and mobility in the Lorica.  We combine extensive consultation with very experienced fighters and sound engineering principles to bias the triangle to suit the needs of our sport. This is a standard dilemma in motorsport and aerospace industries.

We are lucky to have access to cutting-edge light, strong materials and, with materials and fabric technologies rapidly advancing, our options for achieving safety, weight and mobility are only growing!

What was the greatest challenge in designing the Lorica Mark II?  

The greatest challenge when designing the Mk II suit was making very rigid technical armour that worked with the fighter.

This of course has already been done very successfully for centuries, however what has not been done before is to make hard armour that satisfies the needs of high impact sensor technology as well as protecting against weapons-based martial arts.

Ancient armour was designed to protect the wearer from existing relevant combat styles and weapon technologies. Our armour must protect against pan-global weapon combat styles of any era and has the additional design challenges of requiring secondary armour layers (to protect the vital electronic systems and sensors).

These challenges mean we have developed and implemented many world-first technologies within the armour. Excitingly, there are many more new technologies to come out over the next few years as we roll out new designs and improve current solutions based on our real combat testing.

So the greatest challenge was designing armour that protects both our precious fighters and sensor tech, with a profile slim enough to ensure mobility and so give us great entertaining combat action!

VTC 1 The Armour Designer.

VTC 1 The Armour Designer. Photo by Masanori Udagawa.

 

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With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

The Technical Controller

What did your role involve?

My role was to ensure that the technology in the Lorica suits was operating correctly and to manage the operation of the scoring system. With the Lorica suits it involved bringing all of the eight independent sensor systems in each suit online, ensuring that they had power and were operating correctly and communicating with the scoring system. I was also responsible for the communications network that the suits operate on and ensuring that there was no interference from other devices on the network. The control desk operator is also responsible for communication with the referee and the fighters and with the lighting director, and for operating the scoring software.

What did you learn from being the controller?

I learned that that there are many interdependent parts in the Lorica suit and the importance of the integration of the mechanical and electronics sides of the suits. A great learning was the importance of extensive testing and that the best way to learn is by doing. That is what the test event was about – finding out about how the sensor tech and Lorica suits performed in a full contact combat environment, what areas worked well and what areas require further refinement or improvements.

What was the most difficult thing about the role as controller?

One of the most difficult things was due to the location and setup of the pit crew area and the distance between that and the control desk. It meant a lot of running back and forth across the arena when there were technical issues such as flat batteries or loose connectors. It also meant there was a lot of traffic between the pit crew area and the control desk. For future events we learned the importance of locating these areas more closely together.

What did you learn from VTC1 in your role as controller?

That we have come a very long way in the eight or so years that we have been working on this business. The event proved that we have developed the suits and tech sufficiently far to successfully hold a full contact combat event, which was a major milestone for us. There are many areas where we can still improve, but the event showed me what a talented group of people we have working with us and the extraordinary things that can be achieved when talented people collaborate and work closely together to achieve a goal. All of us learned a lot about working crazy hours as well but we came through with some amazing content and some exciting fights and a clear plan on what work remains for us to continue to improve the suits and the technology.

What will you do differently next time?

I would make sure that we spend more time in pre-event briefing on the technical side for the pit crew so everyone has a really clear understanding of the importance of ensuring that all parts of the suits are set up exactly as they need to be to perform at their optimum levels.  This was very much a function of time pressure with the first event. Also any issues with sensors going offline had to be investigated and rectified and sometimes it wasn’t obvious where the problem lay, so we are developing better diagnostic tools in the software to help to isolate the causes of any issues for future events. There were a significant number of documented learnings from the event and we are already applying a prioritised list of those learnings to enhancements to the suits and the sensor tech and software.  It was amazing how well the event ran given the huge time constraints that we had.

VTC 1 The Technical Controller.

VTC 1 The Technical Controller. Photo by Masanori Udagawa.

 

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With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

The Referee

Why do you need a referee at all in UWM?   Doesn’t the tech determine the scoring?

VTC1 was our very first UWM multi-warrior test event in which we put to task our new carbon fibre armour, the Lorica Mark II.  We had already conducted a range of full impact safety tests but were not sure how the armour and tech would hold up under full combat conditions and with different body shapes.  So, my primary role as referee was to focus on warrior safety, then to ensure the UWM Laws of Combat were complied with, and then to keep the fight flowing as much possible.  People want to see weapons in action, but when kills are recorded the ref has to jump in and indicate a life has been taken.  To do that, the ref gives a “throat-slitting” gesture to the warrior who had just lost a life or had otherwise been determined by the force measurement tech to have been “incapacitated”.

Why did you have an axe and shield?

That was a bit of an experiment and we will continue to experiment with different formats.  HEMA refs use staffs, but Asian weapons refs do not, so we wanted to try our own thing and be style neutral.  Also, the ref was not wearing carbon fibre armour but less protective softer commercially available armour.  Given some of the weapons we used are more than the weight of a baseball bat the composite UWM shield, which includes a layer of Kevlar, was chosen to help protect the ref against wild swings and weapon throws.  I remember taking a really big hit on the shield in the Wolf vs Ronin fight.  The shield can also be used to smother warriors, especially when they are locked for too long against the wall or have gone to ground for too long and need to be broken up.  A short bearded axe (tabarzin style) was also chosen as its beard can be used to hook arms and weapons if needed to help control a situation.

When were you required to intervene?

In addition to indicating a life being taken by using the “throat-slitting” gesture, and also to get the action moving again when the warriors were locked up for too long either against the wall or on the floor, we had a few safety moments where the armour came loose.  For example, one pauldron got ripped off and one of the side plates came loose too, so I had to jump in, call time halt, and summon the Pit Crew to make fast repairs – safety first.

In addition, we had a rule that warriors had to pick up any dropped/lost weapon within a time period or forfeit it, so I picked one up to enforce the rule.  But afterwards, we asked why did we have that rule at all?  Just leave it there, if they trip over it, tough shit, if they pick it up later on, great, if the other warrior picks it up and uses it against its owner, great!

What did you enjoy most about being a VTC1 ref?

First up, it was a real honour to be the first ever UWM referee.  Working out how to interface with cutting edge technology and its application to an ancient combat format – it’s really different and you have to improvise.  While this was a BETA test event, the tech worked better than expected, but there were still a number of tech glitches, and overcoming those and learning how we will do it all better next time was a brilliant experience.

However, the real highlight for me was working with the VTC1 UWM Warriors, the “Original Six” weapons fighters who travelled a long way internationally to put themselves on the front line for a combat format, harness of armour and technology system that they had never experienced before, because no one had.  I have huge respect for them and their pioneering spirit.  Plus, when you are in the arena with them and during each break you can see them pissing sweat and totally exhausted, you know they are giving it everything they’ve got. Each one of them is a true ambassador for the real spirit of martial arts, and it was a privilege to work with them and listen to their feedback.  I hope they will be back for VTC2, though I think we will be opening up a couple of extra places to the wider public, not just members of our Gladiator Program.

What did you learn from VTC1?

As a team we recorded numerous “lessons learned” from the VTC1 test event.  We are prioritising those for VTC2.  They are gold.

Next time the referee will need to try to create more combat flow, speed up the action and encourage other formats.  I was disappointed we did not try fights where our warriors were given one life only, or other weapon mixes like staff vs bokken, or staff vs twin kali sticks, (short vs long) or projectiles.

In addition, we had issues with the two way microphone in the referee’s helmet so had to revert to old school comms tech and visual cues to determine when the kills took place. We definitely have a range of tech improvements we will need to continue to make not only to the armour but the whole format.  However, that is precisely why we ran VTC1.

Finally, the warriors are so keen on winning they forget to showcase their skills sometimes.  In Gladiator, Maximus declares to Proximo “I am required to kill so I kill, that is enough.”  However, Proximo explains to Maximus “Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom”.  UWM warriors will need to win, but also entertain.

How do you think the role of the referee will change as UWM evolves?

As the UWM tech continues to be enhanced and we add better and better CGI, fight formats will have to adopt and so will the referee.  Microphones and helmet cams inside the helmet will add new dimensions.  The ref will be able to speak to the warriors in the helmets during a fight and the audience may be able to hear that.  Team events and/or mixed terrain formats will add to referee complexity.  It will definitely be interesting!

VTC 1 The Referee.

VTC 1 The Referee

 

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With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

The Fighters – Josh “Ironheart” Bekker 

How long did it take to adjust to wearing the Lorica?

I’m not sure to be honest. All the fighters had up to two weeks prior to VTC1 of dedicated training to help prepare for the Lorica but more time is always better. I still think I would like some more time in the suit to become 100% familiar with it.

What was the most difficult thing about fighting in the Lorica?

There are a few things that certainly make the Lorica more difficult to fight in. First is the weight, I feel that Jim (The Fierce) and I may have possessed an advantage in this area; with more experience fighting in armour given our HEMA background. Also your peripheral vision is somewhat reduced which makes it harder to determine where your opponent’s weapon is coming from.

What was the best thing about fighting in the Lorica?

For me the best thing is definitely the ability to objectively determine the strength of the strikes and the winner. This is something that is missing in the current format within the majority of weapons based tournaments. Also knowing that both my opponent and I are 100% safe whilst able to fight at 100% intensity is absolutely awesome.

What suggestions do you have for improving the Lorica for future events?

If the Lorica had a lower profile with reduced weight that would be fantastic. Obviously you don’t want to compromise the high level of safety that the Lorica currently offers.  I think it’s about finding a good balance.

What changes would you like to see to the fight format for future events?

I think the community has had some fantastic suggestions. One idea that I particularly like is the introduction of a shock or movement restriction in areas where damage has occurred; although getting the tech right might be a bit tricky. Full body sensors would also be great. However, I personally wouldn’t want limbs to be scored as highly as vital targets – as this can encourage “sniping” of the hands for example and would reduce the viewer’s enjoyment.

How do you think you adapted your fight techniques as a result of wearing the Lorica?

Well in terms of cuts, they have to be a little bit wider than one would usually strike, as your profile is increased due to wearing the armour. I also noticed that I needed to block incoming strikes higher, due to the helmet being larger than what I’m used to. Furthermore, in regards to the blunt trauma scoring, you also want more follow through with your strikes, so there’s probably a little less flow between cuts as a result.

Having reviewed the fight footage how do you think you would adapt your fight strategy/techniques differently in future events?

I’m definitely one of those people that beats myself up and looks at the footage saying “You should have done this” or “Why’d I do that?”.  I thought that my fight with Rory was a little on the scrappy side, for a weapons bout. Although, I know a lot of people kind of liked that. But from a technical perspective ultimately I think I should have worked on my footwork and circling more to maintain the distance better; which is definitely something I’ll work on for my next fight.

How have you changed your training as a result of UWM – wearing the Lorica?

I have upped my physical training by adding body weights to my normal training regime. I identified endurance as an area where development was needed, given the additional weight of the Lorica suit. I have also included restricting oxygen intake to simulate the closed helmet environment of the Lorica suit to improve breathing and VO2 capability for the next UWM event.

 

Josh "Ironheart" Bekker

VTC 1 Fighter Josh “Ironheart” Bekker. Photo by Masanori Udagawa.

 

Posted by: | Categories: Meet The Team | No Comments

With our “Meet the VTC1 Team” Series we get up close and personal with some of the key personalities behind VTC1 including the fighters, the referee, our technical controller and armour designer to get their thoughts on VTC1 – what worked well, what challenges they faced, the many “lessons learned” and the next steps on the journey to create the Formula 1 of combat sports.

The Fighters – Rory “Redrock” Trend

How long did it take to adjust to wearing the Lorica?

It took me until about the 6th round to become remotely relaxed in the confined space of the helmet and to become used to the massive increase in heart rate and body temperature. Add to this a completely foreign opponent, with different weapons and techniques, this all contributed to the initial stress of the opening rounds. What was the most difficult thing about fighting in the Lorica?

The most challenging aspect is that your peripheral vision and depth perception are reduced.  This makes it more challenging to anticipate precisely where the strikes are coming from and where they are going to land.

What was the best thing about fighting in the Lorica?

Being able to hit my opponent with full power without fear of harming him. It is a very realistic way to train full contact to the head and torso. 

What suggestions do you have for improving the Lorica for future events?

Introduce a visor that increases the field of vision, maybe something that pulls down.

What changes would you like to see to the fight format for future events?

I’m more than happy with the options available. I think with more time in the suit including training and practising instead of fighting will help to improve the flow when fighting.

How do you think you adapted your fight techniques as a result of wearing the Lorica?

This was what I was most disappointed with, I personally did not adapt very quickly or effectively.  I am confident within my style but not used to competing wearing armour. Like all things practise is critical so I’ll be focused on practising hard with the added challenge of wearing armour.

Having reviewed the fight footage how do you think you would adapt your fight strategy/techniques differently in future events? 

I think like most styles there are back foot fighters not willing to commit to the fight and waiting for counter attacks.  I think this is a much easier way to fight but if you have two people using the same strategy, it makes for a very hesitant and uninteresting battle. Setting the pace of a fight is more exciting but is less effective in the conditions where weapons are exacting quick kills. In short, in future I will not be over committed but will look to approach with a more balanced attack and defensive strategy.  

How have you changed your training as a result of UWM – wearing the Lorica?

I have purchased full contact training equipment with more restrictive vision.

 

Rory “Redrock” Trend

VTC 1 Fighter Rory “Redrock” Trend. Photo by Masanori Udagawa.

 

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Last week six leading weapons martial artists took to the UWM Arena in Wellington, New Zealand to compete in the first-ever Vital Target Combat (VTC) Underground Test Event.

The event was a great success and feedback from the fighters and attendees, as well as our own observations from the event will be used to continue to improve the Lorica armour and the fight format.

Check out the exclusive video in the link below from Stuff.co.nz and stay tuned as we put the finishing touches on our own content, which will include UWM commentary, slow-motion replays and interviews with all six fighters. http://bit.ly/VTC16

Weapons martial artist Fierce takes a break in between battles. Image: Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ

Weapons martial artist Fierce takes a break in between battles. Image: Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ

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