Exercise is important. Some jog. Others play tennis. In Tokyo, a group of folks don medieval armour, wield swords, and beat the tar out of each other. Welcome to Castle Tintagel, a Middle Ages oasis in a hyper modern metropolis.
And when Jay Noyes, Castle Tintagel's founder, isn't teaching students the finer points of medieval sword swinging, he's imparting his knowledge to Japanese anime creators.
Twenty years ago, Noyes arrived in Japan to teach English, but ended up teaching medieval armored combat. Noyes is a long-time member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which, according to its website, dedicates itself to "re-creating the skills and arts of 17-th century Europe". The SCA is known for its large competitive battles in which thousands of people participate.
"Later, my interests became more focused, and I devoted myself to the lost styles of medieval combat, such as longsword and sword and buckler," Noyes recently told Kotaku. "I studied both by myself and with teachers in Germany and the US."
More and more students were interested in learning about medieval fighting tactics. Four years ago, Noyes set up Castle Tintagel as a permanent place for people to not only study combat, but also engage in it.
Students can don armor, which can weigh between 25 and 35 kg, and duke it out with rattan weapon simulators during sparring. "Rattan has a good weight and hits hard. Unlike bamboo, when it gets old it actually becomes softer, so it is relatively safe to use as a fighting tool," said Noyes. "For other kinds of practice, we have other simulators made of other materials."
Safety is of supreme importance. Castle Tintagel has its fair share of minor cuts, bruises, and pulled muscles, but all students are outfitted in armour that adheres to strict standards and are tested on fighting safety as part of their certification.
Once they pass, the students don't simply engage in a free-for-all. Rather, they play games, many of which would be instantly familiar to any video gamer that enjoys online multiplayer. "In fact," Noyes said, "there are too many options to list here, so I will give a few of the most popular."
*Standard melee: Two groups fight until the other team is bested.
*Flag melee: Much like capture the flag, the game is over when the other team takes a flag and brings it back to its own teams zone.
*Captain's melee: The dead on both sides resurrect endlessly. The game is over when one side slays the other side's captain.
*Warlord scenario: The opposite of a captain's melee. Everyone has one life, except the team leader, who resurrects endlessly. The scenario is finished when one side's captain gives up.
*Treasure scenario: The scenario is divided into rounds. Teams start with daggers only, and fight for treasure scattered about the field, which they take to a home base. At the base, between rounds they can use the treasure to purchase more troops and upgrade to better weapons and shields.
According to Noyes, who's been fond of PC game Total War more "than was entirely healthy", the "treasure scenario" is the one most influenced by video games.
The majority of Castle Tintagel's students are Japanese, but about a third of them are foreigners. Many of the students have experience in Japanese marital arts, such as kendo, but Noyes tries to keep the Western and Japanese styles separate.
"In the early days of the rediscovery of Western martial arts, there was a lot of crossover from known Japanese techniques as students of the art tried to understand the Western style," said Noyes. "The influence was so strong that it actually interfered with the rediscovery of the techniques because the Japanese styles rely on very different techniques and philosophies of combat than the Western ones. These days we try to not mix the styles."
Noyes is quickly becoming the go-to guy in Japan for medieval comabt. He recently served as technical advisor for Japanese anime Beserk and helped mixed traditional combat with anime fighting styles. He also worked as the martial arts instructor for the motion capture stuntmen and even did some mocap himself. "What was nice was the director was determined to blend authentic techniques with the more dramatic anime styles," said Noyes, who was given scene specifications, such as what weapons and then number of enemies. Then, he would create the fight scenes.
Noyes, like many martial arts experts, finds movies that don't attempt to recreate accurate combat difficult to watch. "The most grievously misused piece of equipment is the shield, which actors consistently try to use as some sort of counterbalance rather than a defense," he said. "Surprisingly some of the more recent movies have done better: In Lord of the Rings, they created several distinct styles, some of which were based on historical techniques."
While the Berserk animated film came out earlier this month, Noyes is currently on the lookout for a larger, permanent space so he and his students can regularly stage epic battles with huge numbers of combatants. For those interested in learning more about medieval fighting techniques or those just looking out for a different way to break a sweat, check out Castle Tintagel's homepage here.