Sunday, December 27, 2009

History buffs unite for the love of the fight

Telegram Staff Writer

It's a brotherhood.
The Joms Vikings are friends on the battle field and off.
'Each man is your neighbor and brother, and you are with him to the end,' said Dave Kilbourn, 30, of Austin. 'It has to be that way. That's the culture.'
Kilbourn is the styrsman (leader) of the Joms Vikings Texas Elag, a non-profit Central Texas organization devoted to Viking history and legend.
'We celebrate the Viking way of life,' Kilbourn said. 'We fight, we eat, and we work and play. Sometimes it's for a public demonstration like the Celtic Fest. But a lot of the times it's just for us.'
The activities aren't rehearsed.
'They come natural,' Kilbourn said. 'And that's what we strive for. We want everything to be authentic.'
So the Central Texas Vikings wear period attire and fight with weapons that were popular in first century Europe.
'But it's not role-playing,' Kilbourn said. 'It's not escapism. We don't have a Viking hat that we take out and put on once a month. Our Viking identities are extensions of our everyday lives.'
To illustrate, Kilbourn pointed out his necklace and tattoo. Both paid homage to Thor, the Norse god of thunder.
'They are always with me,' Kilbourn said. 'Other fighters, they have different symbols that are important to them. It could be jewelry, it could be style of dress, or it could be a hobby.'
Elag's fighters and non-combatants also have Viking names.
'Everybody gets to pick their own name,' Kilbourn said. 'It's usually something that requires some thought and research because you want to make sure it's the right one for you.'
Kilbourn's Viking name is Rav.
'It's Swedish for 'fox,'' Kilbourn said with a wry grin. 'Foxes are sleek and clever like me on the battle field.'
He has to be; that's how the fighter earned his place as a styrsman or trainer. His own training came from the styrsman before him and from years of martial arts classes.
Not all of the Central Texas Vikings, though, are battle ready.
'Half of us don't even fight,' Kilbourn said, adding that the group has a membership of about 50. 'Those are the ones who keep our household going, the wives, the blacksmiths and craftsmen. Those positions are just as important.'
Those who yearn for battle include about 15 men and four women, ranging in age from 20 to 70. Kilbourn trains them according to the guides of the Joms Viking Fighting System.
Zachary Hillyard, 21, of Temple is a fighter-in-the making. New to the group, his Viking identity is not yet set.
'I don't have a Viking name,' Hillyard said. 'I'm still looking for one. But I do know that I'm a poor Viking. I don't want to be a rich one, with lots of flashy jewelry.'
For his kit (Viking costume), he wears a gored tunic and an earth-colored pair of pants, both hand stitched by Kilbourn's girlfriend, Eva Wetterman.
'The belt, gloves and pouch I made myself from leather,' Hillyard said.
He also constructs his own weapon - 8-foot spears fashioned from ash or poplar trees wood with a sandstone tip.
'It's the hardest weapon to learn because of its size,' Hillyard said. 'Sometimes it's impossible to maneuver.'
In the eight months Hillyard's been training, he's learned the nature of Viking battle, from weaponry to fighting styles.
The preferred weapons are axes, spears, daggers and swords.
The battles usually fall into one of two codes.
'First, there's the Circle of Honor,' Hillyard said. 'That's two men fighting each other, usually with an ax. The last man standing wins.'
And then there's the Circle of Treachery.
'That's complete chaos,' Hillyard said. 'There are no rules. It's everybody, fighting everybody all at once.'
Most Viking battles in Central Texas fall under the Circle of Honor.
'There's just not that many fighters in America,' Hillyard said, stressing that the Central Texas Elag is the only Joms Viking group in the United States. 'It's way more popular in Europe.'
Getting to fight in Europe is Hillyard's goal.
'I'm going to get there,' Hillyard said. 'That's why I'm training.'
He trains at least twice a week with Kilbourn at a park in San Marcos.
Serious injuries aren't common in the Central Texas Viking group.
'There are scrapes and bruises and things like that,' Kilbourn said. 'But as far as serious stuff, that happens more in soccer teams.'
The injuries that do happen, he said, are the results of inexperience.
'That's why it's important for fighters to continue their training,' Kilbourne said. 'You can't just come to a battle once a year and be OK. Safety and skill come with routine practice.'
Those interested in joining the Jom Vikings Texas Elag should send email to

'People are welcome to take a look at what we're about,' Kilbourne said. 'You don't worry about getting any ---
Did you know?
The following is the structure of the Joms Vikings in descending order:
- Jarl: Viking equivalent to a king. The Jarl is Philip Berthum of London, the man who founded the Joms Vikings 20 years ago. His Viking name is Ulf Urik.
- Council: Composed of 30 Joms Vikings, all elite fighters
- Borg: Viking equivalent to an army.
- Elag: a group within the army, usually divided according to region
- Styrsman: leader and trainer of an Elags
- Drengr: a fighter
- Gestir: a non-combatant

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