Grass Valley native will represent U.S. in armored combat world championships
May 10, 2018
Imagine a WWE-style melee with three, five, 10 or even 16 fighters on each side, recreating the mass battles of medieval times.
Now imagine each fighter has strapped on a full suit of authentically medieval armor, probably 60 to 90 pounds worth, and is wielding a weapon of choice. Sure, the sword is blunt and that mace does not have spikes. But the incredible exertion, and the potential for serious injury, is real.
This is not role-playing. This is full-contact armored fighting.
Jaye Brooks and Andre Sinou started the Armored Combat League in 2012. The league accepts all fighters looking to participate in full contact steel fighting. Members belong to regional or chapter teams of up to 12 fighters and chapter teams fight in head-to-head matchups for points. The best fighters within a region form a team for major competitions, but any fighter can try out for a spot on Team USA.
Those fighters — the best of the best — arrived in Scotland for the Thursday start of the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships. And among that number is Grass Valley native Alexa Bennett, one of the five members of the U.S. women's team. The U.S. teams will compete against 23 other countries from around the globe — Denmark, England, Mexico, South Africa, Australia and Japan, to name a few.
From couch potato to Valkyrie
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Bennett grew up here, attending Mt. St. Mary's and Lyman Gilmore before graduating from Sierra Mountain High School.
A self-described former couch potato, she learned about the Armored Combat League from a coworker in Sacramento.
"I didn't know this was a thing, which I think is pretty much everyone's reaction," Bennett said.
She tagged along for a practice and was hooked. She hasn't missed one since that first time, in December 2016.
"It's very brutal and very violent, so for a lot of women, it doesn't appeal to them," Bennett said. "I played a lot of video games, so this was right up my alley."
Still, she said, she was amazed at how quickly she fell for such an intensive endeavor.
"I've never been into sports," Bennett said. "I'm not sure why I was so well-suited."
The nearly 6-foot-tall Bennett went to work on her physique with a vengeance, dropping 60 pounds and 20-30 percent body fat in a period of six months.
Even learning how to wear a helmet — which weighs 18 pounds — was a steep learning curve.
"Training my muscles to hold that on my head while I ran around … I wore it in the kitchen, I would run down the hall, I was just trying to breathe in it," Bennett said, laughing. "My kit weighs close to 90 pounds. Just carrying that much weight taxes your body."
Under the armor, fighters wear protective clothing that includes a quilted long-sleeved shirt and pants.
The idea is to provide yourself as much protection as possible. That means full body armor including gauntlets, chest plates, cuisses and greaves.
"All of our gear is historically accurate," Bennett said. "In order to go fight in Scotland, I had to prove the authenticity of my kit. All the weapons are real, they're made of steel. They are blunted because we are not actually trying to kill each other — but it still hurts to get hit."
Bennett started a regimen of cardio and weightlifting, training five days a week at the gym and going to practice on Saturdays.
"It's a normal gym workout — well, maybe a little more intense than most," she said.
Bennett trains with roommate Santos Sanchez, the captain of the men's Sacramento team. Since there is only one other woman in Sacramento who fights in the league, Bennett typically fights men in practice.
Women and men fight under the exact same rules, she said.
"The women on (the U.S.) team are not to be messed with," Bennett said. "They're very scary. They hit harder than a lot of the guys do. So I expect to do well overseas with them."
Bennett said she does have a height advantage over most of the other women.
"These women fight as hard as the men do and are just as strong," she said. "When I fight men, I have to fight smarter because they're bigger than I am. When I fight women, I use more brute force."
Bennett was chosen for the international team six months after joining the league. She went to Denmark last year as part of the U.S. women's team with members from Michigan, Idaho and New York.
"I was very honored," she said, adding, "I put in a lot of hard work."
This year, Bennett is co-captain of the women's international team, the Valkyries, which will compete in a three-on-three melee.
Fighters have their choice of weapon in the melee. Bennett prefers a punch shield, a diamond-shaped shield you can punch with, and a mace.
"I love the adrenaline rush," Bennett said, adding that she typically is somewhat passive. "But I completely change when I put the helmet on. I become a fighter."
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.