Unified Weapons Master tests second-gen combat armor in underground fight event

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War Demon (L) and Fierce go at it with wooden staves(Credit: Masanori Udagawa/UWM)

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Unified Weapons Master (UWM) is a fascinating new sport that lets martial artists go at each other full force with a range of different weapons, wearing fully protective armor that keeps score as you fight. In an underground battle event in Wellington, New Zealand, UWM revealed its latest intelligent Lorica armor and pitted six combatants from around the world against each other in full contact weapon combat.

UWM's goal is to become the mixed martial arts of weapons combat, allowing weapons masters to face off in full-contact mano a mano battle. Of course, to do that safely you need some pretty impressive armor. It needs to protect against everything from swords and staves to kali sticks and hand axes. And it also needs to incorporate an intelligent scoring system that can work out which fighter is taking what level of damage in real time, so they can fight with a live "health bar" as if they're in a video game.

The first Lorica armor was made primarily of composites and polycarbonates, and weighed in at 25 kg (55 lb). With safety as first priority in these proof of concepts, mobility took a back seat. Developing a Lorica MkII was always a high priority.

And here it is. The new armor uses a lot more carbon fiber, and it's lighter, cooler and more mobile, as well as being fitted with enhanced scoring sensors.

"The Mk II is lighter, has better articulation, more advanced sensor technology and a reduced profile," said UWM Managing Director Rick Walker. "The 30 percent weight reduction from the Mk I prototype suits means the fighters can move more explosively and the Mark II suits are also cooler, allowing the fighters to compete for longer without taking a break."

The second-gen Lorica armor is a three-layer suit. An undergarment layer goes on first, with built-in harnessing and a cooling system that circulates compressed air under the armor. A chassis layer goes on next, and that's where the force measurement sensors, processors and radio scoring equipment all live. And finally, the protective carbon shell that does the dirty work of protecting the fighters from weapon and hand-to-hand strikes. You can see the armor taking quite a beating in the video below.

The UWM team has already run its first "underground" event in Wellington, New Zealand, involving six fighters from around the world. Styles represented included HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), Japanese Kenjutsu, Chinese Kung Fu and Mixed Weapons arts. Weapons included the bokken, long staff, long sword and Kali sticks.

One of the fighters, Shen Meng from Inner Mongolia, China, relished the chance to fully let loose in armed combat. "After 18 years competing in weapons martial arts combat, this fight ranks as my coolest experience yet. It was awesome to be able to go head-to-head with other practitioners without fear of serious injury to them or myself. I felt completely protected in the Lorica and it gave me the chance to experience weapons combat on a completely different level."

UWM says it's working on a video package from this first event that'll give us our first glimpse of what this sport will look like, complete with commentators, graphics, slow-mo and live action health bars driven by the force-measuring scoring system. If it's going to be of interest to a wider audience than just weapons fighters themselves, it'll need to be a spectacle. And it'll be interesting to see how personally invested viewers can get watching faceless fighters in bloodless combat. Will it work? We'll soon see!

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