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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Public Show for Private Armies

Eager to prove that Moscow's security guards are more than mere thugs who prevent shoppers from taking their bags into supermarkets, the city's top bodyguards thrashed it out over the weekend in a tournament aimed at finding the strongest and toughest of them all.

Noses were broken, eyes were blackened, bodies bled and two fighters were knocked unconscious by particularly forceful kicks to the head.

Female bodyguards hauled supposed bandits over their shoulders and unpredictably drew guns from elegant business suits to show what they could do undercover.

Apparently, these were not people to be trifled with.

But Mikhail, an instructor who was watching the show, said the fights were a mere game compared to the daily work that a skilled bodyguard performs on the street.

"They did a good job. But watching this is like watching your grandparents make love if you compare it to the real thing," he said. "And in any case you can't judge character from a show like this and that's what really matters. You can be as strong and as fit and as quick as you like but if you don't have the right character and you're not brave, it's all useless. "

As spectators wandered Saturday between shows through the lobby of the Palace of Sport, the less professional among them nevertheless seemed impressed.

"I want to be able to beat people up like they do," said Pavel, 9, as he practiced his shooting skills with a toy gun outside the arena. "Bandits are going to be so scared of me that they won't even look at anyone I'm protecting, but I won't protect any politicians because they always say they don't have any money."

The tournament's organizers, who had gathered representatives of eight of Moscow's biggest security firms to participate in the contest, looked on in approval at Pavel's enthusiasm.

According to Boris Klin of Lions, the security firm that sponsored the tournament, Moscow's bodyguards receive too little respect from the public, who generally underestimate the services they perform.

"When someone is killed, everybody hears about it," Klin said. "But when it's a question of day-to-day protection, few people understand the kind of preparation and work that's needed to be a good bodyguard. There's not nearly enough appreciation."

For Sergei Chesnokov, who emerged as the contest's winner, respect was not a problem.

"Everyone respects a bodyguard," he said. "And now everyone respects me. I won because I was better than the others. I never thought I'd lose, because I was better than they were, and if I'd thought I was going to lose I wouldn't have taken part."

And as world karate champion Ric Martin demonstrated his skills to his Russian colleagues, Chesnokov, 21, was already on his way home to watch the enormous color television he had won as a prize. Martin, meanwhile, kicked his way through enormous planks of wood, and left his partner begging for mercy on the floor after pinning him down in a matter of minutes.

While Russia's new wealth and exploding crime rate has made the country home to thousands of new private security firms, many have complained that too few of their employees are adequately trained.

"For the past 70 years there were no private training firms, but only state ones for people who were protecting important government officials," Klin said. "But state services have more money and more people and they can get support from the army and from the police and businessmen. We can't do that."

In response to these difficulties, Klin said his company was hoping to set up an international training school with Martin as the chief instructor.

According to Klin, the vast majority of successful contract killings are due to a bodyguard's poor training.

"It's going to be a long time before we can eradicate crime here," Martin said after the tournament. "But I hope this school will speed up that process."