November 11, 2016



The simple goal in ACL fighting is to knock down all the combatants from the opposing side. Stabbing with a sword is illegal, as is striking in certain areas, including the back of knees, neck and groin. Otherwise, anything goes. Most players use a combination of smashing blows, cross-checks, punches, trips and kicks. Think MMA meets the Knights of the Round Table.

At the international championships, each round of fighting lasts no more than eight minutes, and the victorious team must win two rounds. Up to 32 contestants from two teams charge at one another across an open field, armed with dulled-but-still-deadly weapons. Players lose teeth; they suffer compound fractures. At a recent tournament in New Jersey, a player ended up in the emergency room after taking two ax hits to the face. At the 2014 world tournament in Spain, one contestant's finger was cut off in the heat of battle; in the spirit of feudalism, he awarded the digit to his foe in a Ziploc bag. Players on DiGrazia's team started wearing steel cups, imported from a special armorer in the Ukraine, after an ACL player from New Hampshire got his plastic cup embedded into his flesh like a cookie cutter.

Dressed in black track pants and a tight black T-shirt, DiGrazia looks down at his crotch, the metal shining against his pants. "These things do exist," he says. "People use them outside of funny little dungeons." As DiGrazia continues to put on his armor, a process that can take some players up to forty minutes, he notices a red smudge on his white belt. "That's blood," he says casually, as if pointing to some spaghetti sauce.

"There's something inside of me that feels comfortable when I'm on the field and things are violent," DiGrazia said a few days earlier. As a kid growing up in the then-rough Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, DiGrazia was a "street rat," known for getting into trouble and drinking too much. He didn't initiate brawls, but he was always eager to jump in. In one fight, he says, he was almost stabbed with a broken bottle. In another, his head was repeatedly slammed into concrete. "Fear never really registered in my mind."

At twenty he joined the U.S. Air Force, but instead of following his lifelong dream of becoming a fighter pilot, DiGrazia prioritized living with his girlfriend. She didn't want him to see any action, so after boot camp, at his request, DiGrazia was sent to a base in Texas to train as an electrician. "Most of my life decisions have been centered around the women I'm with," he says. "I try not to do that now."

Three months later, DiGrazia broke his back while repairing a telephone pole. The injury spurred his addiction to alcohol and painkillers, and DiGrazia retired from the military in 2004. The pain was so bad he needed a cane to walk. The next year his girlfriend left him and he got a job as a bartender, drinking to excess every night. For a few months he had no apartment and slept on park benches, in stairwells and on subways, reading a Bible he stole from church to kill time. His father, disappointed in his alcoholic son, only let DiGrazia in his house to shave and shower between 8 and 8:30 a.m. In 2006, DiGrazia decided to sober up. He had rented a place a few months earlier and had just started taking college classes in hospitality management, which earned him five hundred dollars a month from the military. He had initially hoped to manage a bar, but his ambitions quickly became more scholarly; by 2014 he had an undergraduate degree in sociology from Columbia, a master's degree in finance from Harvard and a job as management consultant for a top investment bank on Wall Street.

DiGrazia started to get in better physical shape as well. He took up running, and by 2010 was doing one-hundred-mile ultramarathons, which take him between 25-30 hours to complete. He also trained in Krav Maga, the martial art developed for the Israeli army, but craved a more intense sport.

In 2012, DiGrazia went to a sword-fighting competition with a martial arts buddy and met a medieval combat fighter. DiGrazia's enthusiasm was immediate: "This exists? I'm there." Within a few months he had bought custom-made armor (eventually spending about ten thousand dollars on a helmet, metallic leg braces and a leather jacket with metal plates) and fought in his first tournament. DiGrazia channeled his addictive, fearless personality into training and quickly rose within the ACL ranks. His lightweight frame made him an excellent flanker - flankers are the fastest players, who run out along the outside of the field to tackle opposing players. By 2014 DiGrazia had made the international team, become captain of the New York Sentinels and started offering instruction to new players.

Posted by at November 11, 2016 4:53 AM