Israel may be the startup nation, but it's also a leader in more classical skills. That was highlighted this week, when a team representing Israel conquered challengers from around the world to take first place in a medieval knight-fighting tournament.
The location was the eastern Austrian town of Hainburg, a quiet place where the composer Joseph Haydn was a choir boy in 1736. According to the Facebook page of the Austrian association for medieval knight duelling, which organized the tournament, first place went to the “Underworld” team from Israel. It was not the only prize Israel won. Third place also went to an Israeli team, part of the national delegation called simply “Israel.”
Team captain Michael Margoulis sounded excited in his telephone conversation with Haaretz. He was on his way to Croatia, where the World Medieval Fighting Championship will be held next Thursday. “We fought like lions and brought in results”, he said. His shoulder was injured in one of the duels, but he said that all is well. He promised good results in Croatia as well. “Our fighters don’t compromise; they fight until victory is achieved. We’ll give it our best, despite some injuries we sustained.”
The win in Austria is the biggest achievement to date for the Israeli team, which competed against teams from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina and Austria. They don’t expect to reach the top again in Croatia, but hope to improve their standing, from eighth place to the top five. Russia has been world champion for the past four years.
“It will be very hard, but we want to advance”, said Margoulis. He and his team-mates will also take part in a duel known as a free-for-all, in which all the national teams are divided into two groups which then fight each other.
Margoulis, who is 29 and lives in Kiryat Ono, came to Israel on his own at the age of 15. He served in the IDF as a sharpshooter and as a trainer in face-to-face combat. He currently works in IT, and during his spare time he runs a club for medieval fighting in Petah Tikva. A special training arena was built there to accommodate the sport.
His deputy, Michael Apelman, is a security guard with a sense of history. Besides studying history he also takes part in a movement for historic reconstruction of the medieval age and has gone to three international tournaments with the national team. The Israeli team has eight male combatants and one female, Ira Rogozovsky, 23. After serving in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade she now works as a security officer at Ben Gurion Airport.
Another member of the group is 30-year old Sergei Forman, from Nazareth, who injured his nose in a competition in Belarus last year. Despite his injury he participated in the first international competition held in Israel last January, where he hurt his nose again. When he's not doing medieval fighting, he works as an operating theater nurse.
The Israeli contingent is made up of members of knights’ clubs from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Petah Tikva and Beer Sheva, each of which has its own specialty. Their equipment consists mainly of protective gear, such as metal helmets and an armored suit including arm and leg guards, and a set of swords. “These aren’t honed. There is no intention of hurting an opponent,” team members explained. Their training includes archery using traditional bows, 12th Century-style fencing, duelling and team combat.
The team is not recognized by the state, although knight fighting is recognized as a sport overseas. Nevertheless, team members are proud of representing Israel. They collect funds on a website dedicated to such projects. “We’re a small team from a small and beautiful country and we really love our new sport”, says their website.