The air reeks of sweat and sulfur; the groans and thuds of men in combat surround me. I stoop to pick up an axe and approach a stack of tires with white numbers stenciled on them, eyes leveled at a spot labeled “2.”
I slash and hack at the digit until it morphs into a battle-tested, steel helmet. I envision my foe reeling from the blows. He staggers backward but doesn’t fall. I gather the last of my strength (I had to transfer trains twice to get to this battlefield) and swing the axe again.
I am William Wallace. I am Maximus. I am The Hound.
“You’re not hitting it right,” says a man nearby, shattering my fantasy.
Indeed, I wasn’t. My wrists were turning too much at the end of my extension, and I was curving the axe inwards, almost striking the tire with the flat part of the blade. There’s technique involved in the lofting and heaving of medieval weapons and the warriors of the Armored Combat League take that technique very seriously.
With sweat sheeting off my forehead, and my smoker’s lungs feeling compressed, I pause to ask myself what I’m doing in a basement, on the edge of Harlem, holding an axe. And what about the other men? Why suit up in armor to do battle every week? How does this become someone’s consuming passion?