Serbia – Day 4

(As previous, originally published on my Patreon. I’m at home right now 😊)

I have my first cup of tea since leaving England. A Yorkshire fighter brought dozens of Yorkshire teabags. And we found milk. I am happy.

Despite best intentions, blogging has not been possible in recent days, due to immense busyness and lack of wifi signal. I am currently sitting on a bench by Camp UK in the middle of Smederevo Fortress, typing this to upload later. Also listening to a multitude of languages and a group of minstrels playing not far away.

Life has been frenetic. Without all the modern gadgets we take for granted, Camp UK is incredibly focused on what it’s there to do – so at any moment, I see men working to clean their armour, work to repair dings with a small anvil and much-used tools, and women returning from fights, sweaty and either happy or frustrated.

I commented to one of the team that I can now see why Himself finds it so hard to sum up what happens at these events when he returns. Because EVERYTHING is happening, all the time.

I managed to find a quiet space, in a tent on a friendly squaddie’s cot. It’s been helpful to be able to retreat when things get overwhelming, but I’ve actually found the friendly atmosphere so lovely. Even if someone does badly in a fight, teammates are there. They may agree that Yes, You were shit – but get better and get back in there. (!)

One team has notably been losing, but perhaps not helped by their focus on 100% positivity. ‘You did great, that was fantastic!’… even when they haven’t. Flaws are ignored, mistakes glossed over. So they continue to lose and get angrier each time, crying ‘foul’ because it’s clear they ARE the best! Everyone else just doesn’t realize! Except they aren’t, and by missing that truth, they can’t get better. There is a very clear lesson there. Weakness is not failure. Be aware of and take responsibility for your flaws, and work to improve them – or they’ll remain, and you’ll be left wondering why.

Otherwise, the sense of many nations coming together in shared sport is something I’ve never quite experienced before. Someone was saying that football has its own atmosphere, but this is so different, because of the nature of the fighting. Rugby’s the nearest thing that we could think of: fighting together with full awareness of risk, but absolute willingness to commit, body and soul, as an individual and as part of a team.

I was also chatting to the Chilean team Captain. Initially, his friends at home had said ‘You’ll come back in a coffin!’ Because everyone thinks that this sport is crazy! But year on year, they’ve improved, gained more support, and people are now congratulating him on doing this and representing them.

Yes, it’s scary. Real weapons and armour, real risk. But absolutely balanced by the unity and fulfilment of what is being done.

I’m very proud of these men and women. So glad to be able to be here and be a part of this, even as just a supporter. I think we’ll be returning home happy.

UPDATE: Night has fallen. I’m writing this looking over a field of dropped armour and campfires, singing and laughter.

Team UK has beaten France to win Bronze in the 30v30 fights! Guess who was sitting in the ‘supporters’ stands surrounded by French folks. But still managed to get a Serbian family cheering for England 😂

So much of this is about shared experience. There’s (obviously) aggression in the lists when fighting, but all of the supporters cheer each other as enthusiastically as their own. The sense of fun and shared good feeling is visibly (and audibly!) crossing borders, and I absolutely love it. We need not be defined by lines on a map. We can fight in sport and then help each other up to fight again tomorrow.

Only one sour note: I was chatting with an Argentine lady Marshall. She was watching from the stands because apparently the (Russian) organisers had forbidden all women from Marshalling. Her husband was waving to her from the field. It turned out she’d trained with Himself a few years ago, and was very proud of her job, being ‘Mother’ to the fighters.

I’ve noticed a certain attitude to women here, and it makes me both nervous and sad. Some places still have to move into the 21st century, it seems. But we battle on, with those wonderful men who stand as our allies.

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