The referee stands in the middle of the field and signals both teams to get ready. “Three …Two …One… jugger!” The teams run at each other, brandishing their weapons like medieval warriors.
In fact, this is not very different from a battle from the Middle Ages; just add a little rugby, hockey, fencing and martial arts. But before the battle both teams gathered in a circle, reminding themselves that it is all about having fun.
Then they broke the circle and went to a large stack of padded weaponry: spears, staffs, shields, chains and swords. Each warrior chose a favorite weapon. After gearing up, the five members of each team went to their side of the field to do their warm ups.
On this day, a woman in charge of keeping time during the game by beating a drum also warmed up on the sideline – by banging on an imaginary drum.
Based on the 1989 Australian film, “The Blood of Heroes,” a B-movie that depicts a post-apocalyptic world, jugger has been around for two decades and is growing in popularity. In the film, groups of jugger warriors go from town to town, battling each other with rudimentary weapons for food and money.
Soon after the release of the film, jugger was transformed into a playable sport in Germany and it spread – first in Europe, then surfacing in different countries on this side of the Atlantic such as the U. S., Canada, Argentina and México.
The city of Chihuahua was one of the first cities in México to form jugger leagues, and soon teams such as Axios, White Stalions and Fear were born.
“I was introduced to jugger by my friend, Carlos Gonzalez,” says Eduardo Segura, cofounder of the Axios team. “He was one of the first people to play jugger in Chihuaha. It was because of him that I started playing.”
According to Segura, the mixture of different disciplines is what attracts most of its players. “They come for the adrenaline; for the opportunity to become warriors,” he said.
Benjamín Ortega, who plays with Nameless Helden, agrees. “I love swords, and since I cannot use real swords, at least here I can use plastic ones.”
The weapons, which are called “pumpfers,” have to follow certain specifications from the jugger rulebooks. The players make them themselves, mostly out of PVC pipes, foam and duct tape. According to Segura, each style of weapon has its own rules.
“We can’t hit too hard, for instance, with the spear because our own strength can really hurt the other player.”
Even though the battles don’t have the brutality of those in the film and the weapons are padded, there can be still be accidents just like in any other sport, Segura says.
“Injuries are not uncommon. There have been cases where people just hit or tackle too hard. It is more common with beginners.”
Points in the competitions are scored using the jugg, which in the film was the skull of a dog. Some European teams use a sculpture of foam covered in latex to represent the dog skull. The Chihuahua teams use a foot-long foam stick covered in several layers of duct tape to make it heavy.
The drum used to keep time of the game replaces the gong featured in the film. Every beat of the drum represents a stone being thrown at the gong.
In the movie, jugger is a brutal, bloody sport. In real life, it is a very friendly game that everyone is welcome to play.
“We’ve had 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds who can barely handle the pumpfer,” says Segura. “But some of them are great runners and swordsmen. Despite their young age they show talent. So basically we are open to anyone.”
The only requirement to play jugger, Segura says, is a desire to try it. “Here, you can borrow the weapons, and once you decide to keep playing we can teach you how to make your own weapon.”
Besides curious locals joining in the games, it is not uncommon for jugger players from other parts of the world to drop in.
“I’m traveling in México, and I thought ‘why not play some jugger in México?’” says Jelle Behaegel, a jugger player from Ghent, Belgium, who has been traveling across México for three months. He says that in his hometown, it is hard to find people who play jugger, “you need at least three people in each team for it to be playable,” he says.
According to Segura, getting jugger recognized as a sport in Mexico has not been easy, especially in Chihuahua.
“Unfortunately we live in the desert. There are very few parks and the few green spaces we have are already assigned to other sport groups,” Segura said.
However, this has not discouraged the teams from practicing jugger. According to Segura, their enthusiasm gained them a place in the Jugger Alliance of the Americas, an organization composed of different teams from South and North America. “The fact that this alliance was founded says a lot about how jugger is growing in the Americas,” he said.
As for the future, Segura says he hopes to see the jugger community grow in México. “We want to see other teams being formed so the competition grows bigger, and so we can ultimately participate in jugger events around the world.”
Find Jugger groups around the world – http://www.juggerireland.com/what-is-jugger/around-world/
How to Play Jugger
Official rules can be found at http://jugger.org.au/index.php/what-is-jugger/intrules
1. You need two teams of up to five players. Four players from each team need to be geared up with the pumpfers. The fifth player will be the runner and he or she is in charge of taking the jugg to the other side in order to score. If this were football, then the runner would be the quarterback. Nobody else is allowed to touch the jugg.
2. The teams line up on opposites sides of a field. The jugg is placed in the center of the field.
3. After the “3…2…1…jugger” opening both teams run to the jugg while the person in charge of the drum counts the “stones.” Each stone is a beat of the drum, and, usually, a single match is made up of two halves of 100 stones each.
4. The ones with the pumpfers are responsible for protecting the runner and clearing the way for him or her.
5. The team that scores the most points during the countdown to 200 stones wins.