With his dark head of thick Sicilian hair and warm brown eyes, DiGrazia looks more like your favorite uncle than a bloodthirsty contemporary Spartacus. It’s surprising that his powerful six-foot frame is capable of such violence.

2 hours from now, the New York Sentinels will face the Philadelphia Rhinos in a routine chapter match of the Armored Combat League (ACL). When the referee waves the yellow flag and screams, Fight! each of the players guys in their mid-twenties to mid-fifties will put on approximately 110 pounds of medieval-inspired armor and commence pounding the crap out of each other.

Part of a growing sport that started with small matches in Eastern Europe in 2010, the armored combat scene is now global; a yearly world tournament hosts entrants from more than 22 nations. In the U.S. alone, there are more than two hundred fighters on ten local teams. Fifty of the best are eligible each year to join the USA Knights, the national team that contends overseas. As of in 2014, women were allowed to eliminate in their own department.

The basic goal in ACL battling is to knock down all the combatants from the opposing side. Stabbing with a sword is unlawful, as is striking in specific locations, including the back of knees, neck and groin. Otherwise, anything goes. Many players use a mix of smashing blows, cross-checks, punches, journeys and kicks. Think MMA fulfills the Knights of the Round Table.

At a recent tournament in New Jersey, a player ended up in the emergency room after taking two ax hits to the face. At the 2014 world tournament in Spain, one contestant s finger was cut off in the heat of fight; in the spirit of feudalism, he granted the digit to his enemy in a Ziploc bag. Players on DiGrazia’s team started wearing steel cups, imported from a special armorer in the Ukraine, after an ACL gamer from New Hampshire got his plastic cup embedded into his flesh like a cookie cutter.

Dressed in black track pants and a tight black T-shirt, DiGrazia looks down at his crotch, the metal shining versus his pants. As DiGrazia continues to put on his armor, a procedure that can take some gamers up to forty minutes, he notifications a red smudge on his white belt.

" There’s something inside of me that feels comfy when I’m on the field and things are violent, DiGrazia said a few days previously. As a kid maturing in the then-rough Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, DiGrazia was a street rat, known for entering difficulty and drinking too much. He didn’t initiate brawls, but he was always excited to jump in. In one battle, he states, he was almost stabbed with a broken bottle. In another, his head was consistently slammed into concrete. Worry never ever actually signed up in my mind.

At twenty he joined the United States Air Force, but rather of following his long-lasting dream of becoming a fighter pilot, DiGrazia prioritized living with his sweetheart. She didn’t want him to see any action, so after boot camp, at his demand, DiGrazia was sent out to a base in Texas to train as an electrical expert. The majority of my life choices have actually been centered around the women I’m with, he states. I try not to do that now.

Three months later on, DiGrazia broke his back while fixing a telephone pole. The injury stimulated his addiction to alcohol and pain relievers, and DiGrazia retired from the military in 2004. The pain was so bad he needed a cane to walk. The next year his girlfriend left him and he got a job as a bartender, consuming to excess every night. For a couple of months, he had no home and slept on park benches, in stairwells and on subways, reading a Bible he took from church to consume time. His father, disappointed in his alcoholic son, only let DiGrazia in his house to shave and shower in between 8 and 8:30 a.m. In 2006, DiGrazia decided to sober up. He had rented a location a couple of months previously and had actually simply started taking college classes in hospitality management, which made him five hundred dollars a month from the military. He had actually initially intended to manage a bar, but his passions rapidly became more academic; by 2014 he had an undergraduate degree in sociology from Columbia, a master’s degree in finance from Harvard and a job as management consultant for a leading investment rely on Wall Street.

DiGrazia started to get in better physical shape. He used up running, and by 2010 was doing one-hundred-mile ultramarathons, which take him between 25-30 hours to finish. He likewise trained in Krav Maga, the martial art developed for the Israeli army, but yearned for a more intense sport.

In 2012, DiGrazia went to a sword-fighting competitors with a martial arts friend and fulfilled a medieval battle fighter. DiGrazia’s enthusiasm was instant: This exists? By 2014 DiGrazia had actually made the global group, end up being captain of the New York Sentinels and started offering instruction to brand-new players.

DiGrazia approximates that about a quarter of the middle ages fighters in the U.S. are armed forces veterans; a couple of are active military. When we do international competitions, it’s like war, says DiGrazia. Within the ACL, by contrast, players are more interested in one another s safety; players will extend a hand to a challenger kicked to the ground. Like soldiers, American medieval fighters follow a code of honor that consists of loyalty, justice and teamwork; in battle a similar all-for-one mindset applies. We shed blood with each other, states DiGrazia. In some cases, you need to sacrifice yourself for your associate.

At this afternoon s battle in a martial arts training center in a basement in Harlem that utilized to house a bathhouse DiGrazia is visibly the thinnest of all nineteen contenders, even when covered in 75 pounds of armor. DiGrazia tries out a two-handed mace for the first time, expecting he’ll have more striking power and a longer reach than with his regular one-handed weapon.

Standing on the tennis-court-sized platform where the fight will take place, DiGrazia and his team understand they likely will not win. They have only been together for nine months, and the league has actually completed the lineup of the opposing Philadelphia Rhinos (also a new group and doing not have a full set of gamers) with a few of the best and most experienced fighters in the league, from New Hampshire’s Nashua Knightmares. The team is understood for training as much as seven days a week, and for an aggressive fighting style that includes Jiu-Jitsu hits.

The master of ceremonies describes to the crowd that each three-on-three online game is worth one point; the first group to reach eleven wins. Let s hear it!

Three gamers from each group approach one another and quickly pair off into individually fights: whacking each other with axes and maces, kicking with steel-toed boots, charging full-speed with their guards and punching with steel onslaughts. Absolutely nothing quite prepares you for the eruption of violent sound like a hurricane sweeping through an industrial cooking area filled with pots and pans. The sound of weapons meeting armor is so loud that a man walks in from the street to see exactly what the hell is going on.

Each game is a brief, confusing spurt of violence that lasts anywhere from twelve seconds to three minutes. The just slow moments are when the fighters get locked in clinches. By the 4th round, the Sentinels are down 2-6, however DiGrazia hangs onto his confidence as he twirls his mace and rushes towards Evan Ringo, a 28-year-old from the Nashua Knightmares, whose weapon of choice is a dulled ax.

DiGrazia cocks his mace like a baseball bat and lunges towards Ringo s helmet. Ringo blocks the shot with his steel-plated forearm, and gets hold of the personnel of DiGrazia’s mace with one hand, tying him up.

Ringo nails DiGrazia three times on the side of his head with his ax, adding more damages to a helmet that’s currently among the most dented in the league, and kicks him into a corner of the wooden fence. Hold on, DiGrazia informs himself. Soon Ringo will be weakened.

A Rhino named Ray Witte then strikes DiGrazia two times on the helmet with his ax, so hard that his head whips to the. The audience gasps. DiGrazia can feel his brain rock, however aid is on the method.

A Sentinel releases himself in the air, kicks Witte from behind, and smashes him with his sword. DiGrazia, who’s still backed into the corner, takes advantage of his challenger’s sudden weakness. He becomes that street rat who delves into battles, that adrenaline junkie who risks his life for the high and hooks his right leg around Witte s left, shoving him to the ground with his shoulder a move he likens to Bruce Lee s popular one-inch punch.

Triumph for the Sentinels, at least for this round.

When once again the basement becomes a gigantic locker space, damp and filled with residual electricity, the knights participated in by the serfs, maidens and urchins of their immediate households. Some of the gamers collect around a TV to enjoy a replay of the match. In the end the Rhinos won 11-7, there’s no stress in between the winners and losers they all see themselves as part of Team USA and today s fight as just a training drill.

DiGrazia s helmet comes off, revealing bits of sweaty hair attached to his flushed face. He is unfazed by the ax blows to his head. It’s like eating breakfast; he says of the fight. It’s end up being a routine part of my life. For DiGrazia, middle ages battling feels no more harmful than a trip to the gym.

As a sensation-seeker, DiGrazia will probably always feel comfortable amid barbaric turmoil. For DiGrazia, middle ages fighting is more than just a hobby: It’s a lesson that violence does not have to be savage.

When there’s a guy breaking a bottle and trying to stab me or I’m getting leapt by guys at a park who aren’t worried about my well-being that s real violence, he states. While middle ages fighting I might pop a shoulder or bleed, however in the end its brotherly love.