Weaponised martial arts bouts pave way for new spectator sport
A new high-tech combat sport was born in Wellington this week as six martials arts experts fought each other with blunted weapons.
There was plenty of sweat but no blood spilled.
That was thanks to the fact the fighters from Australia, Turkey and China were wearing "intelligent" carbon-fibre body armour equipped with an array of sensors to detect the location and power of hits.
The Unified Weapons Master (UWM) sport is the brainchild of Porirua-born martial arts enthusiast Justin Forsell who hopes it will become a major spectator sport.
Forsell came up with the idea while training at the Buddhi Swan sword-fencing institute in Bangkok in 1998, after pondering how to preserve the ancient skills he saw there.
The first "underground" UWM tournament was filmed at the Avalon studios in Lower Hutt in front of a small audience and will be edited before the footage is released online to fans over the coming weeks.
Kung Fu fighter Martin Soderstrom, aka "the Wolf", said he and his fellow fighters had developed an amazing camaraderie on location in New Zealand.
"We all love the concept.
"The armour is only going to get better, the weapons more true to life, and the format more exciting to watch."
The armour fully protected the fighters "vital areas" but that did not mean no pain, Soderstrom said.
"You will feel a strong hits on the legs and arms much more."
Fellow fighter Jim Campbell, aka "Fierce", said the sensors which link to a medical database and are used to detect hits and "kills" seemed fair.
"Sometimes you put a hit in that you think should have been a scoring hit but it is hard to argue with science."
UWM investor and managing director Rick Walker said the main purpose of the Wellington bouts was to test its second-generation armour ahead of further fine-tuning that could allow live events in front of a large global audience.
"No-one has ever put two weapons martial arts fighters in a suit before and let them go at each other full tilt. What is happening in our test event is the first time that has happened anywhere.
"This is not 'UWM announcing itself to the world'", he said.
"What we want is for this to be a live event where people can come along and support their favourite fighters in the flesh. That's the goal."
The Sydney-based venture was also looking at additional opportunities for the technologies it had developed, which could also be used to train police officers and soldiers, Walker said.
"We have people around the world approach us about adapting our suits for a range of applications.
"Nobody has ever put sensor-force technology in a suit of armour before. There are a myriad of people trying to do that, including a range of militaries, but no-one [else] has been able to make it work."