While there are any number of benefits to being an entrepreneur, one of the best is the opportunity to do something you love and, no matter how esoteric or seemingly niche, make a living in the process.
Case in point: Andre Sinou, the owner of Icefalcon Armory, the largest SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) armor company in the country, as well as one of the oldest.
Yep. His company makes medieval armor.
But that's not all. He's also the co-founder of the Armored Combat League, a competitive organization where individuals and teams wearing medieval armor wail away on each other with long swords, maces, and poleaxes. (If that sounds more than a little 14th century, well, it is.)
And now Andre is a judge on a new History series that premieres tonight at 10 EST. Knight Fight is a full-contact armored combat league where modern-day warriors battle in over eighty pounds of plated armor with real steel weapons.
Clearly Andre has managed, as many dream of doing, to turn a passion and an avocation into a profession.
So I asked him how.
Your journey to Knight Fight spans decades. Walk me through it.
I had been fighting for over 25 years in a rattan league, using rattan weapons. (Rattan is a wood that comes from climbing palms; think bamboo, kind of.) I became as highly-ranked as I possibly could, I had won the tournaments I wanted to win... a bunch of us had started to feel that way.
Then we heard that Europeans were fighting with steel weapons, and bringing national teams to an event in Europe.
I immediately thought, "We have to be involved in this."
That's not the first thing that would have come to my mind.
(Laughs.) A couple of people were interested. My business partner, Jaye Brooks, was also interested in being part of a team.
Keep in mind I'm a retired, 32-years of service Marine Corps officer. Gathering people together is pretty easy for me.
We made some calls, found that a number of people were interested... the idea of being a part of a U.S. team was really appealing. It felt the Olympics for our sport.
So we tried to rent a fairgrounds in Illinois to get people together and see what kind of team we had... but in order to rent the facility we had to have a corporate name. So we thought, 'Why not create a corporation so we can rent venues?'
That's really where the Armored Combat came from.
Humble beginnings... and the first year, your results were fairly humble, too.
In 2012 we took the first American team to Warsaw to compete. We had 50 slots to fill but only 29 people actually went. (Laughs.)
The idea of competing was maybe more attractive than the reality. Plus, no one had any real experience. Real weapons, concerns about safety...
So no, we didn't do so well. (Laughs.) It shouldn't have come as a surprise. Despite our years of wearing armor, that game was different than the one we had been playing.
The league we were playing in was more like stick tag: I hit you really hard, the fight is over. Basically whoever tagged first, won.
With the Armored Combat League Rules, you fight until someone in the melee submits. Or until they get put down to the ground.
That required an entirely different approach and a different type of training.
Which you quickly adapted to.
The next year we went to France and came in fourth to three Russian teams. We came a long way.
Year three we took a bronze and a silver and seven gold medals, and we've been in the top four teams in the world ever since.
To what do you attribute that success?
It starts with structure. We have a military structure and a chain of command. We're very organized. That comes easily to me. (Laughs.)
But what made us really grow is that we have no politics and no drama. Generally speaking, today more people equals more politics and more drama. But just like in the military, we said, "There will be none of that."
While it might sound odd since the nature of our sport involves fighting, we're a safe place for any culture, race, religion... no matter what, you will not be looked down upon, and you have an equal chance with everyone else of being a part of something bigger than yourself.
That's why we attract a lot of service members and veterans. It's a great place for people with PTSD because they're part of a team again, they enter into stressful situations they're familiar with... and work thorugh those situations with their team.
And we're a meritocracy. Everyone knows what the deal is. There are no favorites played. If you work hard, you can succeed.
How did you get involved with Knight Fight?
A casting company contacted me looking for advice. They said, "We're talking about fighting and knights. Who would be good for this?"
I said, "My partner and I brought it to the U.S. IO know the players, I know the rules, I know the armor because I make it..." So they hired me as a consultant.
At the time it wasn't about the Armored Combat League. It was about knights fighting.
But by the time we got done consulting, they realized the majority of the fighters they wanted to use were in the Combat League.
Which makes sense. But still: TV shows are cool, but this is a way you make your living... so you had to be at least a little concerned about how your sport would be portrayed.
I was, but that quickluy went away. The producers were very supportive, and the show is a piece of entertainment I am very much behind.
A lot of "reality" programming on TV is really fake. Some is an insult to the intelligence
Early on I said, "The one thing I ask is that you keep this real. I don't want to be a part of something that's fake."
They promised that what you see will be real, and it is. The fights are real The winners won. The losers lost. The reactions are real. There's nothing fake.
That's one of the best things about the show: It shows our culture.
People fight hard, but also have respect for each other. At the end they pick each other up, dust each other off, give each other hugs... and they mean it.
I've seen a few episodes, and it's amazing how respectful people can be who moments earlier were pounding on each other with swords.
If you don't know how to comport yourself, you won't make the team. Part of being on the team is being a good ambassador.
Even if in other situations people would come out thumping their chests, they won't do it in our culture. They embrace our culture. It's not like they're forced.
Okay, they kind of are (laughs), but people realize this is a much better way of doing business.
We don't have grudge matches. Competitors respect each other. The moment a fight is over they're up, they're smiling, they're hugging each other, and that night they're breaking bread and having a steak and a beer.
Sure, it's a martial art where people pummel each other... but you don't have to be antagonistic 24/7.
We see the people in our sport as our extended family.
So if you like seeing people wear armor and fight, you'll like the show... but you also better like seeing people treat each other with the honor and respect they deserve. (Laughs.)