Fight club goes hi-tech
A new hi-tech sport that will require modern-day ninjas to don electronic armour and do battle with handheld weapons may get its worldwide premiere in Wellington.
The Unified Weapons Master competition is the creation of Sydney-based startup Chiron Global, founded by Porirua-born martial arts instructor Justin Forsell and his Australian business partner David Pysden.
They envisage top athletes from about 100 martial arts codes fighting each other with "indestructible" polycarbonate weapons such as swords, axes, staffs, tomahawks and scythes, as well as hands and feet if they are disarmed.
"We will see ‘national champions' arise from within each of those distinct styles and we can't wait to have, say, the Japanese samurai master face off against the Chinese Shaolin staff master," Pysden said.
A team of designers in Wellington, including Lord of the Rings prop-maker John Harvey, has developed working prototypes of the futuristic-looking armour that combatants will wear.
The suit's 59 sensors, along with software and a supporting medical database, can calculate the location and force of "hits" and work out if they would have incapacitated or killed competitors.
The first invitation-only "underground" events will be held early next year, in either Wellington or Sydney, Pysden hopes. But he expected the sport would spread worldwide and attract television audiences, saying the company had been approached by broadcasters.
Forsell, who set up Porirua's FTA martial arts club before moving to Sydney in 2002, came up with the idea for UWM in 1998 when training with an 86-year-old krabi-krabong grandmaster at the Buddhi Swan sword-fencing institute in Bangkok.
The institute helped train Thai special forces and royal guards.
"They are amazing, highly skilled and lethal athletes but what I saw was nobody appreciated how good they were and I felt the art was in decline. I wanted to preserve and reignite interest in these arts."
Chiron Global has since brought that dream close to reality, filing 53 patents and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on prototype armour.
Investors backed their vision, pumping seed capital into the company in April last year. "We want UWM to start out as an ‘Anzac' project and then take it through Asia, Europe and the US," Forsell said.
Spectators would be able to check the injuries real weapons would have inflicted as they watched bouts, either through television animations or by getting more detailed information from smartphone and tablet apps.
Biometric sensors in the armour would convey competitors' body temperature, heart rate and oxygen levels to viewers. "It is going to be a really data-rich sport," Pysden said.
Because bouts might otherwise be over more quickly, competitors would be given multiple "lives", as in video games.
Forsell and Pysden were in Wellington yesterday to film new mock-combat footage for the thousands of fans following the company's progress on YouTube.
Pysden said earlier YouTube videos attracted 380,000 views.
The next step would be to manufacture 24 "production suits" for the competition proper, he said. These would incorporate LED lights to give another way for viewers to see the impact of hits.
"We are solving a problem that has been around ages with weapons-based martial arts, which is that there is nowhere you can compete safely, but know the outcomes."
The Dominion Post