Two armour clad warriors face each other in the field of battle, armed to the teeth. One wields a sword, one a fearsome axe. Faces are hidden behind black, industrial grilles, reminiscent of Darth Vader's gruesome mask. The combatants take a step toward each other and pause. A bell sounds and the fighters launch themselves at one another, twirling in a capoeira-style flurry of strokes, before one lands a sickening blow... and the fight resumes.
Does this sound like a familiar film? An enjoyable Xbox game? How about real life? That's right. Thanks to Australian start-up Unified Weapons Master, fully-armed, weaponised combat will soon be a possibility. Inspired by the abundance of martial arts and other fighting styles, and frustrated at the absence of viable fighting opportunities, the company decided to create a way to use weapons in a competitive arena - without having to call it a fight to the death.
Keeping participants cosy and safe is the Lorica, a modern-day carbon fibre suit of armour. Protection from impact and penetration is afforded by means of rigid plates, backed up by a combination of impact-absorbing polycarbonate material and elastomeric foam. The suits have undergone intensive testing, and are stronger than they need be. Digging past the protection, one finds the real beauty of the system - the electronics concealed inside.
Accelerometers and piezoelectric sensors are tripped whenever a blow is landed on the suit. The configuration of sensors picks up the force and location of each blow, and all this sensor data is transmitted to a ringside computer, which keeps score in real time. Drawing on medical research, the scoring system will work out how much damage each blow would cause to an unarmoured combatant - offering Tekken-style battle feedback. UWM engaged a former military engineer specialising in high speed encrypted solutions, to help develop a customised high-end commercial communications solution.
The UWM utilises the Analog Devices ADXL377, a three-axis 200G accelerometer, chosen because it represented the best-priced option to provide the required high-G measurement and three axes. The analogue output also made it easy for UWM to carry out quick tests and debugging with an oscilloscope.
“Although the fighters have high levels of protection in the Lorica , there is still plenty of energy transfer through the suits so the fighters feel the impact of the strikes” explained David Pysden, Co-founder and CEO, UWM. “This is not a sport to be entered into without significant mental and physical preparation, and previous full contact combat or sports experience. Fighting with weapons, even with advanced body armour, can still be very dangerous and is not for the feint-hearted.”
The carbon fibre in the suit's construction saves weight, and the suit is engineered to allow freedom of movement and agility, suiting more energetic styles of combat. The second iteration of the suit, currently in development, is touted to be lighter, cooler and less restrictive than the 25kg Lorica Mark I. Helmet cam technology allows viewers to experience combat from the fighter’s perspective for the first time, and inbuilt microphones allow viewers to hear the sounds of real combat and communication between fighters and their coaches. The suits will also incorporate biometric data capabilities including the ability to measure fighters’ heart-rates, oxygen saturation levels and body temperature.
When asked about the effectiveness of different weapons, and the most effective weapon so far, Pysden commented: “Currently our medical, concussive, soft tissue and fracture profiling database covers blunt trauma. All of the weapons we have trialled to date are real but blunt composite, hardwood or heavy rattan martial art weapons. To date, the highest impact force we have recorded in testing has been a composite Gladius at around 800 kilos of force in a single strike, which is enough to fracture almost every bone in the body. The fighter who delivered this strike weighed in at around 82kg and is 180cm. However, it is not necessarily a question of which weapon is most effective on its own, but more a question of how skilfully the weapon is wielded. If a powerful Gladius fighter cannot land a strike on his or her opponent, and fails to block the opponent’s strikes, they will lose.”
UWM's aim is to test differing styles of combat against one another, eventually finding out which styles dominate and which fail. With no existing previous record of inter-disciplinary combat, tested over an even playing field, UWM has been approached by dozens of specialists from different martial arts seeking to enter the foray.
“For us it’s about honouring, preserving, and reigniting interest in weapons-based martial arts - arts that have sort of slowly drifted off of people’s radar since the invention of gunpowder and projectile weapons,” continued Pysden. “Since then, there’s been no forum in which to see weapons-based martial arts practiced, and we want to change that. Our objective is to promote a new global combat sport with weapons. So the unified in Unified Weapons Master is about bringing all the different weapons arts from all around the world together in a single competition. There’s roughly 300 distinct martial arts practiced around the world, and of those styles, 96 of them are either entirely weapons-based, or have a significant amount of weapons-based training in their curriculum. What we want to do is bring all of those styles together in a competition, much like UFC did with mixed martial arts.”
We asked Unified Weapons Master where the inspiration for the suits' aesthetic design came from, and David Pysden responded: “When we started to design the suits we looked at a wide range of different armour, including 2,500 years of historical armour, close quarter combat armour such as that used by military and law enforcement agencies, sports armour such as motorcross and Lacrosse gear, and futuristic armour such as that featured in movies, comic books and video games. Our designers spent a lot of time thinking through the specific needs of UWM to come up with a design that would meet our high safety and protection requirements, be able to be fully “teched up” (including sensored, something that no armour in history has had to contend with), provide good articulation and mobility, have an in-built cooling system, and also look cool.”
For most of the above objectives, we will have to wait until the day the Lorica becomes commercially available to know whether or not UWM has been successful. With regards to Pysden's final quoted objective... could anything look cooler?