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Empire of Medieval Pursuits: The Real-Life ‘Game of Thrones’

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Empire of Medieval Pursuits: The Real-Life ‘Game of Thrones’

Exploring history through combat and drama

August 10, 2016

From full armor sets to medieval tunes, the Empire of Medieval Pursuits (EMP) is the real medieval deal. It attracts a certain breed of medieval-history and martial arts enthusiasts who crave authenticity, especially when it comes to combat fighting.

Derek Gabreski, a massage therapist by trade, was out dancing at a party when someone suggested he attend one of the practices. After just one practice, he was hooked.

“This attracts a wide variety of people. The ones who stick are the ones who love it the most," he says. 

It’s some of the most violent — and at the same time, some of the safest — fighting of any of the martial arts I’ve done.

EMP is a national club. Al-Madeena is the EMP’s local Seattle branch that practices at Gasworks Park nearly every Sunday. Practices entail fully armored combat battles, which usually draw big crowds. Gabreski says that spectators initially assume that they’re reenacting a fight, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The people we meet tend to figure out pretty quickly that we’re not doing anything choreographed," says  Gabreski. 

The main type of fighting done in the Empire is rattan fighting, which involves using clubs, counted blows and up to three hits to beat an opponent. The armor provides a layer of protection, so fighters can fight at full force, usually without the fear of injury.

“It’s some of the most violent — and at the same time, some of the safest — fighting of any of the martial arts I’ve done.”  Gabreski says.

The other type of fighting is steel fighting, which entails putting  a man on the ground and follows the standard rules of historical medieval battle, a newly evolving sport.  The EMP has a steel fighting competitive team called “The Iron Phoenix.”

The Iron Phoenix represented one of the U.S. teams this year in Prague at the Battle of Nations, the world championship of historical medieval battle.

While the fighting takes center stage, the club also features other medieval-related activities.

The Empire holds events throughout the year. Ragnarök, one of their founding events, still reigns supreme as the most visual. It’s a medieval fan’s dream weekend, with a huge feast, epic combat and workshops where people can learn skills of various trades.

Saturday night’s main event is “The Ring of Fire,” which is exactly what it sounds like — a real ring of fire where competitors battle the reigning champion. The winner is chosen by the audience, whose rollicking cheers determine not only the best fighter, but the best performer. So, flashy costuming is encouraged.

People who know these lost and dying arts keep the history alive.

Attendees shouldn't expect to attend wearing their favorite sweatpants. Although the event is open to the public, mere looky-loos aren't invited. All attendees must be willing to participate and that includes dressing the part.

“Everyone here is a participant,"  says past Ragnarök King Kat Ralbovsky. “People who know these lost and dying arts keep the history alive.” The EMP is always welcoming new members, so if you don’t have the right clothes, they’ve got you covered.

EMP combat fighting in the "Ring of Fire."

“We’ve had some people come onto our site their very first event and [they] have gotten into armor and immediately got on the field, and had a blast,” says Tierany Ralbovsky, the Queen and Club President of the EMP. "It's wonderful to see people working together to create drama, to create a medieval society, to create great artworks and excellent fighting." 

Think you've got the right stuff for the Ring of Fire? Want to learn more about the EMP?
Empire of Medieval Pursuits
Battle of the Nations



Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson is a part-time producer at Spark Public (formerly What's Good 206). Charles is majoring in journalism at the University of Washington. He is also a part-time videographer and editor for Husky Athletics and a digital content producer for The Daily of the University of Washington. Charles was a intern at KCTS 9 for six months before joining the WG206 team.

More stories by Charles Johnson