Military re-enactment groups, sometimes called combat and culture clubs, re-enact or perform battles. Some groups focus on the historical accuracy of a battle and the weaponry used, while others are more interested in exploring weapon use and wearing the outfits. Many groups put on displays (often to educate as well as entertain). Some hold feasts, dance, perform plays and practise arts and crafts of the era they are dedicated to. The periods covered vary from the 8th century BC (Rome and the Etruscans) to the 20th century (Vietnam War).
Across the developed world there has been a strong surge of interest in military re-enactment. From the 1990s groups formed in New Zealand, and in 2012 there were between 20 and 50 groups nationwide. They were found in all New Zealand’s main centres and some smaller towns.
Some New Zealand societies or groups are chapters of larger overseas groups (the English War Bow Society of New Zealand is a chapter of the British society of the same name, and one of several such groups around the world). The clubs vary in their focus, not only in terms of the time period. The Order of the Boar, for example, has a particular interest in horse-based military re-enactment.
Fighting on film
Different ways of fighting helped build the characters of orcs, elves, dwarves, hobbits and others in the Lord of the rings films. New Zealander Tony Wolf, fighting styles designer for the trilogy, drew on his knowledge of the history of European weaponry and fighting systems, which he developed as editor of the online Journal of Manly Arts.
An element of humour and fantasy in some groups linked them with Alf’s Imperial Army (formed in 1972) and the McGillicuddy Highland Regiment (1978). Other groups were committed to reproducing particular battles or fighting styles as closely as possible. The inherent danger of re-enactment activities such as jousting (two fighters on horseback charging at each other, attempting to unseat their opponent using a long pole known as a lance) or a medieval battle also resulted in a concern with safety.
Re-enactment has a competitive element. An annual joust held in the Wellington region drew competitors from across New Zealand and overseas, and in 2012 a New Zealand team was being assembled to compete in the Battle of Nations, held annually in Europe since 2010. As well as competitive encounters there were camps at which people made equipment, shared information, feasted and fought.
Since 1997 some of those interested in historical enactment have worked with martial-arts treatises, the oldest of which dated back to the 14th century. In 2004 schools of European martial arts were set up in Auckland, Hamilton and the Hutt Valley. They taught both unarmed fighting – grappling, punching and kicking styles – and armed fighting – knife, dagger, stick, poleaxe, halberd (combined spear and battleaxe) and sword fighting.