Jeremy Seguin is known about town as a genial sort of guy, but when he dons his armour and engages in combat, his fighting spirit comes to the fore. He’s swinging his sword, and he intends to win, to rise to the challenge and crush the foe. Jeremy “Barbute Berserker” Seguin of Verner (his nom de guerre) is involved in a full contact combat sport called buhurt. It involves fighters garbed in medieval-style gear using blunted steel weapons, crashing into each other in one-on-one duels or whole teams, with swords and pole axes, until the victor is declared. Buhurt is big in Europe, getting bigger in Canada. The name of the sport originates from the Old French word “béhourd”, which essentially means to “wallop”.
Seguin is loving it. He’s been competing for awhile now. He used to be a municipal councillor for West Nipissing, but quit in disillusionment over the toxicity encountered, which subsequently led to an unexpected 2-year-plus stalemate at the council table when he wasn’t replaced. The results of his leaving politics plagued him, and he needed an outlet. “On a personal side, it’s kind of a redevelopment, rekindling of who I was pre-politics and pre-parenting,” he describes, adding that now that his children are old enough, and he has a wife who encourages him in his activities, he’s exploring his inclinations. “I go down to Toronto every second week to do buhurt practices. I did an eastern (Canada) tour – and next weekend I’m helping out with a new team in Owen Sound.”
Buhurt is a real combat sport. While it might look like mediaeval times cosplay, or LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), there is real padding and armour and weapons involved, and a level of physical fitness required. “It’s less dangerous than Brazilian jiujitsu. Yes, you will get hit but your armour protects you, you’re in a bubble.” And while the battle is on and everyone is a warrior, “Everyone is so nice! They do laugh at me for the buhurt things, everyone, because the way my mask is made you can see my face, and I’m always smiling. I’m getting hit and always smiling… I still fee like it’s surreal even though I’ve been doing it for over a year!”
So how did Jeremy Seguin get into buhurt? “After politics I did take a hit mentally. It was one of the multitude of reasons I left… I’m the kind of guy – I took it really hard, and it wasn’t so much because of why I left [council] but because I let down the municipality and the people who voted for me… Going further along I started to feel I was partially responsible for the situation that occurred [the split in council chambers] even though people told me ‘You had nothing to do with that, you took care of yourself, that was it.’ But, at the same time, there was an element of guilt. That led me to ‘Okay, I have to find something to do, something out of town’, because staying in town was hard. A lot of people, no matter what I was doing, the conversation would always go there.”
Seguin had fully believed his seat would be quickly replaced by his contender, and was as dismayed as everyone else when that didn’t happen. “I don’t want to say PTSD, but when the wound is fresh… So, I was looking at old NHL fights because I love fighting. I got suspended from hockey for fighting,” he laughs. But he adds that the verbal battles at the council table were too poisonous. “The verbal fights hurt too much. The other one heals. So, I was looking for fights online and saw Canada versus Germany, and saw these guys in armour, and, what is this? I took a look and then went up to my wife and said, ‘Babe, I’m doing this sport.’ She said, ‘Yeah, whatever, you’re 280 pounds, you’re having a hard time getting off the couch!’ I was in pain 24/7 – I was in a bad place both physically and mentally. She suggested to go to a few practices.”
From there Seguin contacted the captain of the Canadian team and he was invited to join in some “soft kit” to see if he enjoyed it. “I tried it and did, and told my wife I was doing it. She said to lose 20 pounds, then I can. In 14 months, I’ve lost about 55 pounds.” That’s body weight, because with buhurt, he adds 110 pounds of armour! Consequently, the would-be warrior needed to get back in shape. “I asked what I could do to complement it, they said judo or Brazilian jujitsu. I signed up in Sudbury so I could train during the week, I do kickboxing and jujitsu, and I just competed in my first jujitsu fight yesterday (Aug 20) and got a silver.”
Buhurt began in Russia about 18 years ago, and is not to be confused with historic re-enactments. The competitors “swing for blood” using their weaponry. Most of the armour is manufactured to be historically accurate, with padding underneath, and leg, arm and torso plates to protect the competitor. A full suit of armour costs in the range of $5,000. To watch a few videos online is to get the impression of a bunch of berserkers smashing into each other and trying to demolish the other side. But there are rules, like not going for the back of the neck, scoring points for a hit, and the referee stopping dangerous action. “As soon as a knee hits the floor, the referee, or marshal, will call Down Down, Red Down, Red Down, and if the person tries to get up, he taps him with the long stick… In buhurt we say we want to create pain but not injuries. That’s my mindset in all my sports; I don’t mind hurting you but don’t want to injure you… You can duel or pro-fight, like MMA, one on one. Striking the head, body arms and legs you get points, 2 points for the body, one point for extremities. Same rules apply in pro-fight, but you can trip, use your shield to hit, you can take as many shots as you can while they are down for ten seconds, then the ref gets him up. Usually, people who are down for ten seconds quit – tap out.”
Seguin fights with the Medieval Martial Arts Buhurt Club based in Toronto, called the Toronto Scallagrims. “The last name [Scallagrim] is of an ancient Icelandic landowner. I tried learning Icelandic – I made it to chapter one!” Iceland is now on Seguin’s bucket list. He recently completed a tour out to eastern Canada. In 2019 it was estimated that there were about 100 active buhurt afficionados in Canada. Today Seguin estimates between 200-300, both men and women. This is an international activity, and it is also affected by international events.