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Quick Q&A: Viking Fest Reenactor

Alan Stewart helps organize Viking Fest in Whitestown. Here, Stewart talks about the intricacies of scrimmaging with swords and axes.

How does a Viking reenactment differ from, say, what Civil War reenactors do?
There are records of what Civil War soldiers, or the Romans for that matter, did. You can even buy manuals explaining how they fought. That’s not the case with the Vikings. We have to piece together what little history was written down, and combine it with what’s been found archaeologically. We do the best we can.

So how do you decide how to portray Viking combat?
I’ve spent most of my life doing martial arts. Looking at Viking weapons, you can imagine how they might have been used.

What sort of gear is involved?
You have spears, swords, and axes. The most exhausting is the Dane ax. It’s basically a seven-pound head mounted on a six-foot pole that you have to lift completely over your head and then bring down on opponents. It was designed very specifically for cracking open metal helmets. It’s basically a giant can opener.

That sounds terrifying. How badly can you get hurt doing this?
The weapons we use don’t have a sharp edge, but are still very dangerous. The blunt edges could still bust through armor.

You guys really wail on each other during reenactments. How do you keep down the body count?
A lot of people wear lacrosse or hockey pads underneath their clothing. I don’t wear any, but our group is very strongly into safety. We give recruits steel weapons right off the bat, but at the same time, ingrain in them that they could seriously hurt somebody. And we have a specific way of targeting opponents. For instance, if your opponent is facing away from you and their back is exposed, you take a really dramatic slice to the butt. There’s no damage you can do there.

How bad have you been hurt?
I got hit on the spine and it hurt really badly. I got it checked at the hospital, but it was just an injury to the surrounding muscle. I’ve seen serious injuries, however.

Is this a good workout?
Oh yes. We wind up drenched in sweat, sore, and bruised. It’s not an easy thing to do. When we get new recruits, we recommend they start running. You won’t make it through a lot of our training unless you start improving your health.

What’s your day job?
I actually do this professionally. Though I also Uber for a little extra money.

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