Just don't call it a hobby, LARPing, or play fighting. For Rotorua's Nicholas Matepo Waiariki Historical Medieval Battle is a serious sport. One which has taken him to the other side of the world, twice, seen him represent his country and given him a new brighter outlook on life.

His opponent has a brutal looking two-handed axe hefted over his shoulder.

Nicholas Waiariki can only just make out the lethal weapon through the narrow slits of his visor.

Breathe, he reminds himself.

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Nick knows there are four other opponents out there but his view is reduced to a small window in the 2mm thick steel protecting his face.

Breathe.

The screams of a small crowd are muffled under the thick padding of his helmet.

Breathe.

The air under his visor begins to taste stale.

Breathe!

Like drums of war his heart races. The marshall screams, "fight!".

A cyclone of medieval carnage erupts.

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Two teams collide like mad rutting bulls. Swords ring off steel limbs. A large man in black armour brings an axe, crashing with a loud clang, down on his opponent's head.

Nick Waiariki representing New Zealand with teammate Matt Shaw.
Nick Waiariki representing New Zealand with teammate Matt Shaw.

In less than 30 seconds Nick has gone from standing motionless to charging his enemy, weathering several hard blows from a heavy sword, to falling into a crumpled heap of bodies.

"Stop fight," the marshall yells and officials rush to untangle Nick's body from others lying in the dirt.

When they lift his visor they are greeted with a wide cheeky smile.

"You ok?"

"Yeah bro," Nick replies while sucking in deep breaths of fresh air. The battle is one of many that take place across New Zealand for participants of the sport Historical Medieval Battles (HMB).

For Nick, finding the sport and its small but devoted group of New Zealand followers has been a life-altering experience."People do not understand that this is a serious sport.

I think their ideas are driven by the media too much. They always refer to fiction like A Knight's Tale and Game of Thrones. But that sort of mindset is a million miles away from what the reality really is."

Nick has been competing in HMB for three years. The sport's birthplace is Russia in the early 1990s.

It involves full contact fighting wearing historically accurate medieval armour and using blunted steel weapons.

Nick Waiariki has represented New Zealand on the world stage in the battles.
Nick Waiariki has represented New Zealand on the world stage in the battles.

Unlike staged battles, HMB is full force blows, refereed by marshalls and involves both wrestling and weapons fighting techniques. The sport has more in common with wrestling and boxing than it does with Olympic sword fencing.

It is considered the closest thing a person can get to a real medieval battle without actually killing someone.

In the prestige events, called Buhurt, teams of five to 21 combatants face off in massed battles. New Zealand has been sending representative teams to international HMB and related events for at least five years.

Nick, who works the night shift at Rotorua's Red Stag Timber, says people always have the same reaction when he tells them what he does.

"They say, 'oh that's the sort of stuff you do in the movies' and I'm like... umm no!

"I really wanted some of my workmates to see what I was doing and I think they came away with a fair idea like, 'oh its really not like Game of Thrones'. It's a game of beatdowns," Nick laughs.

"Some of the guys at work do Thai boxing or jiu-jitsu and they think that's a hard sport. I'm like 'you need to come and try this bro'.

A Historical Medieval Battle in action.
A Historical Medieval Battle in action.

"If you think that sport is hard, how about you come get whacked by an axe. You may not like it, but it'll change your whole mindset about this sport."

Despite its apparent violent nature HMB is comparably safe for fighters with strict rules placed on armour, the weight and style of weapons and how they can be used.

"To me, it's an endurance sport," says Nick.

"You have got to be really, really fit to do it. You feel so much heat in that armour."

The full weight of a fighter's armour can be anywhere between 25kg to 40kg. It is a mixture of thick textiles, for padding, and 2mm thick hardened steel plates for protection.

"All I hear when the battle is on is 'tonk, tonk, tink'(the sound of swords hitting his armour). I just don't worry about it," Nick says.

He says most of the blows don't hurt, but it depends on how strong your opponent is, what type of weapon they use, and how good your armour is.

For Nick, the sport has opened his eyes to a whole new world and changed his outlook on life.

"I've always wanted to do medieval stuff I grew up with storytelling and stuff like that."

After noticing an article in the Rotorua Daily Post about a local medieval re-enactment group Nick joined up.

From there he was introduced to the full contact sport when he met former New Zealand HMB captain David Briscoe from Taupō.

Getting involved in full contact fighting came naturally, Nick says."I was one of those types of guys that would fight every day.

"I grew up fighting, playing, being on the wrong side of the law being a mischief fulla. But I grew out of it."

Nick describes his early life as a 'metalhead' who got suspended from school because he refused to cut his hair.

He still sports a glorious mullet long enough to make any Westie green with envy.
Because of his wild youth and run-ins with the law, Nick never thought he would travel internationally.

"Being a bad boy you're told you'll never go overseas because no country will want you."
But since joining the sport Nick has travelled to two international events held near ancient castles in Europe.

The first was at Spotrupp Castle in Denmark for the Kiwi 10 v 10 team in 2017.

Then in May this year, he fought at Santa Severa Castle on the Tirrenean coast north of Rome.

"I wouldn't have ever gone if it wasn't for this sport."

Competition at the international events is electrifying and is akin to the Olympics with an opening ceremony, parade and national teams fighting in national colours for national pride.

"It was mean. It's opened more doors to a lot of things and I've met some really good people, people that I would never have met otherwise."

His passion for HMB has had a huge impact on his health. In May, Nick, who stands just 161cm tall, weighed more than 120kgs.

In armour, his small frame was carrying up to 150kg while fighting.

He has shed almost 30kgs in five months to improve his fighting.

"Being overweight wasn't cutting it, so I needed something to change."

With little fitness experience, but a strong determination, Nick took a unique do-it-yourself attitude to losing the kilos.

While working Nick wore seven layers of clothing to sweat out the fat. He took a hard look at everything he ate, choosing natural whole foods and worked out four times a week at the Red Stag Timber employee's gym.

"My goals are to train more, learn more and lose more weight so I can be more maneuverable and just hit that gym."

Nick says few Māori take part in HMB, which makes him somewhat unique, but he believes more should give it a try.

"It has benefited me and I encourage a lot more Māori to do it.

"I understand they are getting stuck into their traditions but I think they should just give it a try, don't limit yourself.

"Try every bit of fighting that you can. That's what I want to encourage."

"What have you got to lose? "I'm not going to limit myself to anything. Don't be shy give it a try, if you don't like it oh well, we'll look after you."

Buhurt general rules
* The team with the most fighters left standing wins
* You're deemed out when three parts of your body touches the ground (your feet and something else).
* Striking the backs of the knees, neck, groin and along the spin are forbidden
* Punching, head butting and kicking are all legal