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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Learning Life Lessons One Battle At A Time...

By Annabelle Waters


With a professionally made latex weapon in one hand, resembling a mid-century knight’s sword, and a homemade PVC pipe and foam shield, resembling a grey pizza box attached to my arm in the other, I watch as the three members of the opposing team come charging at me and my two fellow team-mates, red flags flailing in the wind behind them tucked into their belt loops. I look down at the gold flag I’ve tied around my wrist and wonder how I got myself into this. “Stand behind me, I’ll protect you!” Chris Kurth, the Lannerea Battle Group’s founder and leader comforts me and leaps to my rescue. I manage to sprint away from the actual battling for as long as I can and am able to observe what these guys make time to come and play every other Saturday afternoon. I watch as technical fighting techniques are whipped out right and left on the field, while two people from opposite teams are fighting one another with an arm behind one of their backs and the other hopping on one foot backwards still thrashing his sword around (this is protocol to represent being stabbed in the arm or leg, not an ancient fighting technique) I watch as another team member runs up behind the two and gloriously jumps up on a low hanging tree trunk, diving into the air, and crashing his sword into the back of his opposing team member. Dead.

Stunned by the action I am witnessing unfold before my very eyes, I don’t even notice when someone from the red team creeps up behind me and stabs me point blank in the “kill zone”, essentially my chest. “Yeah, sorry about that.” Says Chris, “Our kill zone isn’t really set up very fairly for girls.” His knees are scratched from sliding on the ground and wrestling in the trees against his one armed opponent. He is out of breath and gloating in his victory over the first win in our first round of battles on this early Saturday afternoon. Their group is a medium touch single strike system, in LARP terms, LARP being the acronym for “Live Action Role Playing.” Fundamentally this means that in the game hits are hard enough to wear you actually feel a shove, but not hard enough to cause anything more than a possible mild bruise. The kill zones are the chest, stomach, sides and back and the no kill zones include the shoulders, arms, hands, legs, feet, hips, and buttocks. Most importantly it’s always illegal to stab someone in the head and neck or genitals using hand held weapons. However, if an arrow or a javelin happens to soar your way and land between your eyes, well that’s fair game.

Oddly, I do not look out of place at all amongst the Lannerea LARP group, because unlike many popular themed groups such as Megastry, based around the imaginary world of Megesta or the Silicon City Masquerade themed after vampires, this LARP group isn’t based around a certain theme or time period at all. Established in Fullerton, California, Lannerea accepts any and every type of person to come and join in their battles and holds no prejudice against dressing up in whatever garb you might feel seems fitting for your personality or interest. “Primarily we wanted a team based combat game and we wanted it to be safe but we also wanted to encourage people, if they wanted to come out and they wanted some type of character involvement, then they could do so if they wanted to, but also I wanted them to know that if somebody wants to come out in work out clothes, then they could do that also.” Chris wanted to develop a LARP group that was easily accessible to anyone as a recreational hobby and as something that was flexible and fun for people to participate in whenever they had time in their schedules. He wanted to take the battling rules of traditional LARP groups such as Dagahir but take out the role-playing as a necessity and leave it as an option for the members of his group. “It’s very new people and new user friendly, and that’s the way that we intend to keep it.”

When I first arrived at the Yorba Regional Park in Anaheim on Saturday November 6th I had come with the intention of watching the group members in action. Participating in the activity itself had never really crossed my mind that morning as I walked up toward the park that day, pen and notepad in hand, but alas, not enough people had shown up for the division of even teams. Out of the 120 plus members on their site, only five had shown up to battle, so it was up to me to either make it an even day of battling or allow for a lopsided, uneven battle structure. Now who’s really going to let that happen? It was time to put this “user-friendly” LARPing to the test!

“I don’t know why so many people weren’t able to make it today, but typically around ten to fifteen people show up, at least.” I wondered possibly the knowledge of my presence at the battle had affected the turnout, but Chris reassured me that there were also many girls who participated in their battles, and that having a girl on the battle field wasn’t something out of the ordinary.

“You’re going to love it” Enrique Taylor, a member of the group for a year now said to me as we all headed toward the area that our battle was to commence. “I haven’t missed one battle since the first one that I went to on Halloween last year.” A thirty-three year old office manager at K.P. Mcnamara in Fontana, CA, he uses the group as a release on the weekends after his busy workweek in the office. “Where else can you go and beat people up with swords?” Now I’m beginning to worry.

The field that Chris has already prepared beforehand by removing pinecones and debris that could potentially cause an injury, is tucked away from the more popular areas of the park, so that they run a smaller chance of banging into any innocent by-standers in the midst of a chaotic battle. “We’ve been doing this for over a year and we’ve had zero injuries. Name any organized league or sport that hasn’t had any injuries… except maybe bowling?” I hoped this was truly the case but as the team started setting up the boundary lines with orange cones, Enrique triumphantly embarked on showing me battle scars from branches that have cut open his skin and tree bark that had scratched away layers of his epidermis, leaving him with battle wounds that he can wear proudly. Then there was Ricky and Vincent, cousins who had discovered Lannerea through a LARP website called larpspace after having seeing it on Role Models, with no battle wounds to tell of. Ricky, a student at Saddleback Community College, after watching the LARP scenes in the movie “Role Models” thought, “That is so cool,” which is interesting since the movie illustrates LARP members as dorky and in need of social help, and it doesn’t depict them in a very “cool” light, but they aren’t here to look “cool” to other people. “I like the battling aspect of it and the martial arts, that’s why I come. I typically don’t wear garb, but maybe sometimes I’ll dress up in a medieval costume, but not usually. The garb makes it harder to battle.” His cousin Vincent, a senior in high school at Corona Del Mar High agrees but says, “I never wear garb.” Eric, a newcomer to the group usually participates in the UC Irvine LARP group called SWORD. This being his second time at Lannerea he told me he just liked it so much he wanted to join as many groups as possible. Not one of the members who came that Saturday were dressed up or introduced themselves with any other name than the name presented on the birth certificate.

I looked at all of the weapons that Chris had laid out on the ground for me to choose from, most homemade weapons made out of pieces of foam and pvc piping, and I immediately settled upon the shield first. “You can have as many weapons in your hands that would be possible if it were real. You can’t go out there with a two handed weapon in one hand and a bow and arrow and shield in the other. That’s not fair, but we don’t have rules on how many you can bring out, and you can switch them out when you want to.” Vincent offered for me to use his professionally made sword to hold in my other hand. A synthetic sword made by a company called Calamacil, a LARP weapon manufacturer out of Canada, that sponsors the Lannerea Group, giving them a discount on their merchandise. I asked Vincent how much these foam weapons can run, expecting something around the same price as a foam floating noodle for the pool. Wrong. “This one was only seventy two-dollars because I bought it used!” Seeing my shocked expression, he laughs and explains how professionally made weapons can range anywhere from fifty to three hundred dollars. I finally understand then that it is a real sport to them, just like baseball that requires bats and gloves or golf that requires clubs. These weapons are a necessity to the game and if you love it enough seventy-two dollars is a deal for a “Bastard Sword- Novice Model”. Once we played a round of best two out of three matches, the winners being the team with the last member standing, we then switched up the teams to keep it fair and different. The fighting continues until there is only one man standing, and whichever team he is from gets the win. So that the members who are still alive can decipher from those who are “dead”, it is protocol to lay or sit on the ground where you have been killed until the round is over. Everyone graciously offered me tips and advice. “You keep ducking your head when someone comes towards you! How are you going to see what you’re doing with your sword if you’re looking down? If someone were to attack you in the street I hope that you wouldn’t duck your head and then try to spray them in the eyes with pepper spray because that will never work.” A very good point made my Chris who wants people to come away from his group having learned a few lessons applicable to real life. “I think our sport does a lot of good in regards to teaching people communication, honesty, and different good values and self defense tricks that I think a lot of people come away with that maybe they didn’t have before.”

Our second round of matches ended, and I died in every match, and had yet to kill anyone. Each round lasted around ten to fifteen minutes, with some people like Chris battling with traditional sword fighting techniques, beckoning his opponents with swift wrist movements and swinging of his sword, while others went charging full throttle, not an ounce of technique in sight, jabbing at anyone with the opposite colored tag hanging form their belt loop. Vincent ran up next to me. “How dorky do you feel now?” And they all broke into laughter. “I don’t.” I responded, and I really didn’t. Their group was so welcoming and accepting, they were just a group of people coming together outside of their normal day-to-day lives with a common interest. They came to play for three hours and escape reality for a little while and utilize the martial arts and sword fighting techniques that they enjoy and find interesting. Is that dorky? “The thing is a lot of people look at us and have this preconceived notion that we are exactly like the movie “Role Models,” and that we speak in Arthurian language and English accents, and its just such a bad representation because it’s so false, and that’s not what we do. We are literally the same thing as paintball, or air soft people. It’s the same category of sport. There’s so many ways someone could describe it, but really in its essence, it’s just a team-based game, but instead of kicking a ball or tackling another person, we have a different way of taking down that person through our specific combat.” Chris explained. Outside of his LARP life he is a student through Allied Health at OCC studying Cardiac Sonography, while simultaneously playing the guitar, singing, and writing the music for a band called Iron Sharpens Iron. A husband to his wife of four years, with a baby on the way, life is getting busier and busier for him. “At the time I started Lannerea I was a little more free, so now a days it’s a little harder for me to commit to this because I have so much going on, but the things is that every time I go, I have so much fun that it just kind of renews my spirit to keep going. I’ll probably continue to be organizer even if I don’t even go anymore only because I see the reward that people are getting from it and that’s rewarding back to me.”

As the group and I headed back to the parking lot after a good three hours of ducking, jumping, stabbing, kneeling, running, and blocking, I realized I’d gotten quite a good work out in without knowing it was happening. While they were all already talking about the next planned event, I was still gasping for air. In the parking lot before getting in our cars and going our separate ways, we started talking about Twilight, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, and came to the realization that we all share a common interest in all three of these fantasy fiction books. We talked about everything from facebook, to school, to what we were going to get for lunch, and most importantly the deals at Chic-Fil-A, a place they are shocked I have never eaten at. “You need to try it, its so good and its healthy fast food.” I question this statement, but I agree that I’ll try it…. Someday. “Oh yeah guys, there’s a huge LARP convention in Germany this month that we were invited to if you guys want to go!” Chris shares with the group jokingly. They all laugh and agree that they wish they could really go. A sport that has a nerdy connotation in our country is the complete opposite in Europe. “It’s not “cool” to be a member of a LARP team here, but if you aren’t into LARP in Europe, you aren’t cool there.” Vincent shares with me. Chris announces that he may not be able to make it to the next battle due to his wife’s pregnancy, but asks Enrique if he can handle leading the group alone. Honored to do so, Enrique accepts and they all discuss their next glorious meeting. “I look forward to our battles, I wish we could have them more often!” Vincent says and the others all agree. Meeting only once every two weeks is not enough for some of the members who can’t get enough of this sport. It’s a way to let go of being an adult for a while and retreat into childhood, in the days of playing “good guys vs. bad guys” and just having fun with it. They aren’t overly competitive with one another and when they battles are over, everyone resumes their friendships and camaraderie with each other. They play fairly and play for fun, a lesson that many of us could use in this day and age; to let go and be who you are no matter what stigma may be attached to it, and have fun and live out the things that we enjoy in life.

Footnotes:

2 Hour interview with Chris Kurth

3 Hour observation and interaction at a battle

20 Minute interview with Enrique Taylor

20 Minute interview with Vincent Bazzo

20 Minute interview with Ricky Nadal

15 Minute interview with Eric

Email correspondence after battle with Chris Kurth

Camacil Website

Larpspace

Lannerea webpage

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