Recreation

Growing worldwide, jugger has gained ground in Halifax

Halifax is home to one of the two jugger clubs in Canada, a game of post-apocalyptic inspired mayhem

Two teams clash at centre field.
Jugger is a five-on-five game in which two teams fight to gain possession of a foam dog skull and run it to the opposite end of the field.   Mitchell Mullen

Two teams stare each other down across a basketball court, each player brandishing his or her choice of weapon, a drum beats a steady rhythm in the background.

The referee shouts “Yellow team ready? Red team ready? 3…2…1…Jugg!” The two teams clash at the centerline. Sword meets shield, players dodge staffs and chain weapons swing overhead.

Halifax is home to one of two clubs in Canada of a sport that’s gaining momentum around the world: jugger.

It’s based on a 1989 post-apocalyptic movie called the Blood of Heroes, or the Salute of the Jugger. In the film, teams of “juggers” roam a Mad Max-esque wasteland travelling from town to town playing a brutal sport to gain fame and glory.

Jugger is a five-on-five game in which two teams fight to gain possession of a foam dog skull and run it to the opposite end of the field. On each team are four “enforcers,” players armed with an array of padded weapons and one “quick,” the player responsible for carrying the dog skull.

The enforcers fight the opposing team, trying to guard their own quick and escort them to the enemy team’s end zone. Whenever a player is hit, they have to take a knee for five beats of the drum.

The enforcers fight the opposing team, trying to guard their own quick and escort them to the enemy team’s end zone. Whenever a player is hit, they have to take a knee for five beats of the drum.

The trailer for The Blood of Heroes/The Salute of the Jugger (1989):

 

An international sport

Gil Richard, the main organizer for Jugger Halifax says people started playing the sport about 15 years ago.

“The sport originated around the same time in Germany and Australia. People saw the movie and said ‘we can do that’ and they did,” says Richard. “They just picked up some weapons that vaguely resembled what they had in the movie and that was it.”   

The sport is just getting its footing in North America, but in Europe and Australia it has developed to the point of having ranked leagues with hundreds of players. Richard and his partner Dale Roberts met a few in person when they visited Denver, Col., for a tournament last May.

“There were two players from Germany in Denver and they were by far the best players on the field,” says Roberts. “They are in such a high level of competition. They can drive for an hour and there’s a tournament every weekend, so they get hours and hours of practice against all the best players.”

Each country, for the most part, has some variation on how the game is played. There are different rules for how weapons should be built, whether or not the quicks (the runners) wrestle at the start of a match and what parts of the body are off-limits for hits.

In some eastern European countries, jugger has even evolved into more of a combat sport. But, Richard says the differences aren’t so big that anyone who has played the game before would have any trouble adapting.

“The differences are little piddly things,” says Richard. “If we went to Germany to play we’d be fine. I mean we’d get slaughtered, but we’d be fine.”

In August, the club plans to put together a team and bring it to one of the sport’s biggest tournaments in Ireland.

The Halifax league has been getting together on Sundays for the past two years. Richard says the idea to start his own league came when he saw a YouTube video of the game being played.

Each week during the winter, the league usually sees about 15 to 20 people show up for a practice, but during the summer, attendance can grow to 30 or 40 people. There are regularly new people showing up for practices to try the sport.

Last weekend was Nathan Wright’s first time playing the sport.

“Jugger’s a whole lot of fun,” says Wright. “I haven’t had this much fun since I played rugby back in high school. It’s a completely different experience from anything else you could play.”

Jugger is usually played outside on a grass field, just like soccer or football, but in the winter months, Halifax Jugger takes up residence at the gym on Dalhousie University’s Sexton Campus. During the summer, the league plays at Merv Sullivan Park in Halifax’s north end.

“There’s this perfect little grass field that’s almost the exact same size as the gym, so we play on that,” says Richard. “The only bad part is there’s a cliff on both sides, so if you go off the cliff you’re out of bounds.”

Comrades in arms

The Halifax league builds all of their own weapons. Dale Roberts, who has been a LARPer (live action role-player, think: Dungeons and Dragons but with combat) for years showed Richard how to make them.

“I’m the oldest guy doing jugger locally, and the oldest guy to do LARP locally,” says Richard.

The weapons are variations of PVC piping wrapped in sturdy padding and grip tape. There are short swords, long swords, a spear, a two-ended staff (called a Q-tip) and a foam and plastic ball and chain.

It might seem like a high-tension game, but for the people who come out regularly it’s all in good fun.

For Jennifer Grouix, who has been playing with the Halifax team for a little more than a year, the relaxed, accepting community is part of what keeps her coming back.

“The reason I like it is the teamwork and atmosphere,” she says. “It looks really violent and chaotic, but really it’s a ton of fun and we have a great time. I love it.”