By Summer Wong
Everyone crouched in their positions, their foam-padded swords and massive shields raised, prepared for battle. Fighters formulated several possible strategies in their heads as they planted their feet firmly in the soil in eager anticipation. Each were handsomely clad in medieval fantasy outfits, ranging from Roman gladiators to European hunters to Star War jedis — even a Darth Vader costume was present among the fray. They gripped onto weapons made of fiberglass and kitespar — from bows to javelins to swords ranging in all different lengths and shapes. The area behind McGaugh Hall and Rowland Hall of Aldrich Park was the place where these fighters assembled to duke it out.
These fighters are members of a novel group on campus called SWORD at UCI, which started in 2007. This club is a local chapter of the national nonprofit Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, a live-action battle game organization in which participants simulate medieval combat from the Dark Ages. In addition to being a rigorous physical exercise, the organization’s primary goal is to educate others about the arts, sciences, and combat of medieval fantasy. Some fighters have actually trained in authentic medieval fighting techniques with programs like Historical European Martial Arts, Society for Creative Anachronism and ARMA. When it comes to medieval lore, members often dedicate their time to designs like heraldry or work on their clothes while focusing on techniques, period methods, and materials.
One of the most unique aspects of this club is their use of live action role play. Participants have the freedom to choose what character they want to portray, and so they not only look like orcs and goblins, but they actually act as orcs and goblins.
“You’d think you walked into a Renaissance fair, or a living Lord of the Rings,” Michael Frank, treasurer of SWORD said.
Even the costumes vary greatly. Members spend the time to hand-make their costumes and take the time to learn how to sew it online. Despite the medieval theme of the club, participants can dress up to be any fantasy character they’d like, and they can even choose fighting aliases for themselves. It takes two to four hours to make a sword, more for a shield, about four hours for the clothes, with the armor taking days of work. Some fighters have “Sir” in front of their names, an indication that they have been knighted. The title of Knighthood is given by those who were a squire to another knight — trained under them for a few years and worked on numerous community service projects. Some members of the Medieval Combat Society include Steele Knight, Spirit, Golem, and Darth Cheeseheart.
The club is an amalgamation of undergraduates, graduates, alumni, and community members, some of whom don’t even attend UC Irvine. Every Friday and Sunday nights at 5 p.m., UCI students walking across Aldrich Park can see the fighters having small battles and games like Capture the Flag or Take the Castle. During Sunday’s meetings, the veteran fighters come out to fight head-to-head in a full battle between two teams.
“A lot of these people, maybe they were misfits in some points in their life, and this is a place where they can be respected and have friends and be a part of the community,” said Anastasia Nigel, who goes by Sir Anastasia, and has been fighting for fifteen years. “If they leave UCI, they can go anywhere and find a SWORD club and fit in there [with] no problem.”
Nigel is the creator of SWORD at UCI and the president of the Medieval Combat Society. A biology professor at Cal State Fullerton and at Santiago Canyon Community College, Nigel has always been an integral connection between the club at UCI and the national organization.
“I was a freshman in Grinnell College in Iowa and I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t know anyone,” Nigel said. “I was walking outside one day and some people invited me to fight in medieval combat. That day changed my life because I ended up having a home and a community with these people, and it was the first time I had a large group of friends. I felt like I belonged somewhere. A lot of people who do this are less social, but they are able to find that home where they can be themselves and be with people who share their interests.”
Back in Aldrich Park, with the sun setting and an evening breeze blowing through, everyone charged each other head on. Some separated into one on one combat battles while the more aggressive fighters dove straight into the crowd. Participants shuffled back and forth in a constant struggle. A hit to the torso means death, with dead players lying on the grass as a result. A player struck in the arm must place their arm behind their back and if struck in the leg, players sink to their knees, incapacitated. If both an arm and leg is lost, players “bleed to death” and die. The last man standing claims the victor.