Monty Python’s Black Knight was based on a real fighter
Once in a lifetime, there comes a motion picture which changes the whole history of motion pictures. A picture so stunning in its effect, so vast in its impact, that it profoundly affects the lives of all who see it. One such film is, yes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And while I lifted that copy (which was originally intended to be tongue-in-cheek) straight from the trailer, the film's legacy has proven the trailer correct.
Even those who don't think they've heard some of the most memorable lines from the movie likely have, whether they smell of elderberries or they've heard of the knights who say "ni." Perhaps the most memorable scene, however, is the one where Arthur is forced to fight the Black Knight guarding a small footbridge, one who refuses to accept defeat.
The story that exposes all of the historical narratives and false legends about the chivalry and bravery of Medieval knights through vicious mockery turned history on its head even further in the encounter with the Black Knight. On the Wired podcast "Geek's Guide to the Galaxy" Monty Python member John Cleese spoke about the inspiration for the Black Knight scene in a memory of his time at school, where he was taught by a two-time World War veteran.
"There was a lovely guy named 'Jumper' Gee who died at the age of 101, and who managed to fight in both World Wars—I never came across anyone else who did that. He was a good teacher of English and I liked him enormously, and he would go off on these wonderful excursions where they were nothing to do with the subject he was teaching, and he told this story about a wrestling match that had taken place in ancient Rome. … There was a particularly tough contest in progress, and one of the wrestlers, his arm broke—the difficulty of the embrace was so great that his arm broke under the pressure—and he submitted because of the appalling pain he was in. And the referee sort of disentangled them and said to the other guy, 'You won,' and the other guy was rather unresponsive, and the referee realized the other guy was dead. And this was an example to 'Jumper' Gee of the fact that if you didn't give up you couldn't lose, and I always thought this was a very dodgy conclusion..."
Pictured: The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.
The story "Jumper" was trying to relate is that of Arrachion of Phigalia, an athlete in ancient Greece who was skilled at the pankration event. Pankration was an event similar to today's Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the winner must force his opponent to submit, through some kind of brute force. Arrachion was fighting for the championship. One ancient historian described the hold that not only killed Arrachion but caused his opponent to submit to the then-deceased Arrachion's own hold.
It seems Arrachion's opponent choked the life from the great wrestler as Arrachion wrapped part of his body around his opponent's foot. Arrachion yanked the man's ankle from his leg as the undefeated wrestler died in his opponent's chokehold, and his opponent was forced to tap out from the pain. Arrachion, now dead, remained undefeated.
He got a statue for his efforts, the stupid bastard.