Photography by Michael Woodall
In the final duel of the History Channel’s Knight Fight last spring, Bill “Bamm Bamm” Woodbury and Brian Juranty bashed their flame-shaped swords together, and sparks flew. Later, Woodbury’s ax glanced off Juranty’s helmet. Woodbury took a mace to the knee but struck several blows to his foe’s head in the final heat. With that, the Chandler engineer/entrepreneur became the first Knight Fight champion. Armored combat is surging in popularity, thanks to medieval re-enactment groups, the History Channel and Game of Thrones. Modern-day knights fight with real (though blunted) weapons, and their armor is authentic to a specific region and time period. Woodbury competes with the Phoenix Smoking Dragons and has fought knights at castles from Scotland to Poland. He is the most recognized armored combat fighter in the U.S., with more national and international medals than anyone in the country.
How did you get into this?
One of the few times I did role-playing games (Dungeons & Dragons), someone said to me, “You know, you can do this in real life.” And I went, “Really?” So they told me about armored combat, and I started building armor.
What are the worst injuries you’ve endured and caused?
The worst injury I have endured is probably one of the many times I broke my nose. I split it about an inch wide to the bone and broke it. As far as the worst injuries I’ve caused – a few broken clavicles, some concussions… We’re swinging weapons that can weigh up to 8 pounds. And we’re hitting as hard as we can. My best friend almost died a couple of years ago. His helmet came off, and he took a poleax to the back of the head. He’s very fortunate. He’s had a full recovery and is back fighting.
Why do you enjoy it?
I feel like this sport calls to me as part of my heritage, my past. I have always felt I was born in the wrong century. This allows me to express what I really feel that I should be doing. It is not only something that I happen to have talent and a drive to do, but it gives me a great amount of satisfaction. I can tolerate a lot of the minutiae of life because I have this outlet where people sign a waiver for the privilege of me hitting them with an ax or punching them in the face. It helps create a certain amount of serenity in my life.
That sounds counterintuitive. Can you unpack that?
This type of combat creates elevated adrenaline and serotonin. And when you experience those types of high emotional states, it makes the rest of life seem a little more mellow. We’re finding that a large number of our guys are veterans with PTSD. And it helps them bring that same adrenaline and excitement into their life without it being a life-or-death situation… And while I’m not a veteran and I don’t necessarily have PTSD, I find a very similar effect.
What’s the atmosphere like among the competitors?
We are extremely violent with each other and yet maintain a high level of camaraderie. We are trying literally to kill each other, and armor prevents that. But as soon as the fight is over, there is no animosity; we care for our friends.