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Saturday, December 4, 2010

SWORD: Diving Deep Past the Weapons


Welcome to Belegarth

At the University of California, Irvine, SWORD club is a group on campus of a bigger umbrella organization: Belegarth, a Medieval Combat Society. The group is a haven for people to be able to fight in a mystical-fantasy land that is based on fiction. The entire concept is based off of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Established in 1975 by a college student, the idea is having a fantasy world where modern societies problems, conflicts, and an individual’s daily issues do not exist. Having an appreciation for the art of war, nature, and being able to perform in intense and uncommon situations, Belegarth was born. The group has grown from a college student’s fantasy into a large international organization with over a hundred and forty-seven chapters across the globe. Members of Belegarth is not only subjected to students, everyone is encouraged and welcome to participate.

According to the official Belegarth website, the Mission Statement was passed by the War Council, a panel of members from realms all around the world discussing the by-laws and rules making changes where they need to be made. The most updated version of the Mission Statement, from 2006 states: “Belegarth is an organization dedicated to providing an environment where participants can safely participate in full-force medieval combat. Belegarth promotes artistry and research in pre-1600s cultures as well as in the medieval fantasy genres. Belegarth is a community where respect for others is the standard. We recognize the commitment of those dedicated to serving our community.”

Every chapter, better known as realms, abides by the same rules and regulations, however there are some variations from realm to realm. Changes to some of these rules are causing controversies throughout the Belegarth community. SWORD’s chapter is known as Andúril, based off the sword that was broken in Lord of the Rings. A member in the group explains the origins of Andúril: “From J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Andúril is Aragorn’s sword. The name means ‘Flame of the West,’ which is totally appropriate because of our location.” Andúril’s Mission Statement is the following: "One must be aware of the surroundings, swift as the wind, and cunning like the hawk when dueling with other opponents. Sword fighting is a like a dance, except that you can end up with a sword through your heart if you mess up."

The group has biweekly practices in Aldrich Park behind Rowland Hall every Friday from 5-6:30 p.m. and every Sunday from 3-5 p.m. The President elucidates on the importance of practice, “The only, only, only way to get any better at this sport is to practice. All you can do is practice. It helps not only with your technique, but it helps with your confidence in it. And you need a lot of confidence to be able to charge towards someone and try to beat them up and not be afraid that you might get hurt.” Members practice for bigger battles with other realms. There are about twenty to thirty people who consistently come to practice, however, there are roughly two hundred and fifty people on the official roster, yet those kind of numbers never come out to the practices and events.

Salutations

Five o’clock on November 5th, 2010, standing in the middle of Aldrich Park behind Rowland Hall waiting to meet Sal Solis, the current President of the SWORD club, is no where to be found. Aldrich Park at the UCI is the hub of the campus, typically filled with busy bodies running from one side of campus to the other; however on Friday afternoons the park tends to turn into somewhat of a ghost town. Hunting around looking for Sal, the third year English major, with long curly mahogany hair and black-rimmed glasses did not appear at the top of the hill, instead spotted is his alter-ego: Darth Cheeseheart.

Trekking down the hill barely able to make out his face due to the large shiny black leather helmet plopped on his head it emulates a shape Darth Vader would model, it is embellished with gold studs trimming the rim. His black shirt is covered by a black sleeveless tarp that is lined with silver ornamentation with a black leather belt around his waist. Pocket less black pants are tucked into his finely worn-in knee high black leather boots and lugging behind him is a large five by two foot black duffle bag.

“Greetings! Glad to see you made it,” he bellows as he hits the bottom of the hill plunking the bag onto the green patch of grass “are you ready for what your about to witness?” with a sly smirk on his face. Warmly welcoming him are members of the club, both veterans and novices. Twenty-four members eagerly wait to begin practice, but before it officially begins members scatter themselves all over the meeting area. Some just hang out discussing their week and what plans are ahead of them for the weekend, while others rip open the duffle bag, packed plentifully with foam weapons. Before rapidly diving in to find the best weapons, some members stare at the contents of the bag as if they found a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

Five fifteen rolls around and Darth Cheeseheart finally rounds up the troops into a half circle on the grass for a meeting. “We have some things to go over before we start tonight’s practice” he begins, “firstly, congratulations on the Werewolf Hunt, I hope you all had as much fun slaying the werewolves as I did!” Bursts of cheers and hurrahs echo throughout the group. “Firstly, if you have yet to sign a safety waiver please do that now.” Two girls dart up and begin filling the waiver out near the park benches. “OK now for some serious business. I know our realm does not make it mandatory to wear garb, however, starting next quarter we will be” pausing for the right word choice “heavily encouraging it.” Other groups like Andúril make it mandatory to wear garb, which are costumes, however this and other California chapters do not, and the golden coast has heavily been scrutinized for this by other chapters.

An eager hand shoots up in the air, “Yeah, Maxim, what’s up?” Maxim, a long blonde haired, brilliantly blue eyed first year asks: “What happens if we do not wear the garb? Are we not aloud to be a part of the realm or come to practices?” Members anxiously wait for their President’s reply, “You can still come to practice and be a part of the group, but different rules will apply to you” Darth Cheeseheart is now ambivalently pacing back and forth. Members begin asking what kind of “different” rules will be implemented. Behind Darth Cheeseheart a girl with blonde hair in a low bun wearing black cargo pants with knee pads over them, a white shirt, a black tarp over it, wearing black leather fingerless gloves holding her silver sword in her left hand with the foam laying against her left shoulder, unwaveringly states: “If you are hit on a limb, instead of losing the limb you are automatically dead.”

This sent a wave of shock throughout the group.

“Listen you guys the garb doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s not like were asking you to make elaborate outfits. You can literally go buy a sheet; cut three holes through it and belt it. That can be your garb. And if you want to make detailed pieces I am more than happy to help you, take you to get fabric, borrow my sewing machine. We are here to help you. We don’t want to make your lives more difficult than they already are.”

No comments.

“Plus you will want to have garb already made, because at my wedding we are going to have some battles and you want to wear your garb to that!” Alleviating the mood in the group, everyone begins to talk about the designs they want to have on their garb, personalizing everything themselves, figuring out personal emblems they want to construct.

This strong female individual, a combination of G.I. Jane and Princess Leah is Anastasia of Chamonix, also known as Ana Nagel, the Co-Founder, Historian, Public Relations Officer, and a Marshall (combat referee) of the sport. She and her fiancé, Brian are the co-founders of the SWORD club at UCI.

“Now that the official business is over, lets battle!” Darth Cheeseheart roars as he raises his sword high up in the air. Mimicking their President, members thrust their weapons up in the sky, howling as they run onto the field.

Rules and Regulations

Belegarth has a firm set of rules and regulations to enhance everyone’s safety in the sport. Not only do members have to sign a safety waiver before practice, they must do a mandatory overall weapons check before practice even begins. Senior members of the group do the weapons check. This fantasy-based sport has weapons that are made out of foam and PVC pipes.

The rules and regulations are dense, intricate, lengthy, and are stated in the Belegarth Book of War: A Rules System for Medieval Combat with Foam Weapons. The rule book can be found online on the official Belegarth website, explaining in full detail everything from what a Marshall’s jobs are, what constitutes as a hit, a death shot, what kind of weapons are available, grappling, which is wrestling, rules, different classes of weapons, and what to do if injury occurs.
`
The rules to the game are that a fighter must be hit twice to target limbs: hands, arms, chest, back, legs, ankles, feet. Everywhere is fair game except for headshots, which are prohibited and are automatic deaths for the fighter who distributes one.

Address Me By…

Members of this club can either use their real names, however many come up with pseudo names.

Commenting on his name Sal recollects what happened: “I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Darth Vader is my favorite character and I find the whole ominous, hooded cloak look regal, so I chose the name Darth. I got a lot of crap for it” rolling his eyes back and continuing “because Belegarth is based off of Lord of the Rings and I chose a Star Wars name, they think its unoriginal. At the 2009 Chaos Wars [a weeklong event at the Silver Bell Ranch in Hailey, Idaho], a thirty-year veteran of the sport, Tulga, also known as Jessie Williams, gave me the name Cheeseheart because of my noob status and I would coward away from the battles. I thought the combination of the two rolled off the tongue well, so I kept it and Darth Cheeseheart was born.”
Bryan Inks, more commonly referred to as Rev explains how he received his name: “Members of this club can either use their real names, however many come up with pseudo names. Fighters can individually make a name up for him or herself, or a fellow fighter can make up a name for them.” He explains, “One night in Colorado me and my friends went bowling, I usually don’t bowl but one of my friends demanded that I do so and entered the name ‘Reverend Thunder Nuts,’” sitting back chuckling. “For the next few months, it was abbreviated down to ‘Reverend TN’. Once I got started in Belegarth, I needed to select a name for myself. I tossed around several different names or aliases that I had previously used but none of them ever seemed to fit. It was only a few months prior to this that I was ordained a minister.” Rev continues, “And I had just watched Gangs of New York and adored Liam Neeson's character. So, Reverend was born. At this point, everyone calls me Reverend or Rev for short. Even my wife calls me Rev more often than my given name.”

Fighters can individually make a name up for him or herself, or a fellow fighter can make up a name for them.

Weapons

Belegarth provides a vast array of weapons. Five separate classes: Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, Class 4, and Class 5, all define what kind it is and dictates what the rules of engagement are with each class. The weapons also have different colored tape wrapped around them helping fighters recognize what class it is in. The colors are red, green, blue, yellow and the tape is wrapped around the handle or the pommel, which is a non-striking surface on the weapon.

Taking out weapons from the black duffle bag, Sal removes weapon after weapon. Hugo Flores a first year physics major and his first quarter in SWORD receives a five-foot javelin. The entire weapon is black and at the end is taped yellow, which is mandatory. Hugo explains what the weapon is used for; “I like using the javelin because I have the advantage of length on my side. Because it has the yellow tape on the end of it, it’s classified as a projectile weapon.” Hugo’s opponent, Ryan, who is also a first year, chooses a double-ended weapon. At a lengthy five and a half feet long, the weapon is all black with red tape circle around it categorizing it as a weapon that is not only heavy, it is also two-handed, and has the ability to break shields. The two decide to warm up with each other, facing one another, they begin to step from side to side, mimicking each other’s movements. “The first strike is always the hardest to initiate.” announces Hugo as spectators watch the two dance around each other, until finally: bam, bam, bam, strike. Hugo whacks Ryan’s left leg and Ryan begins to hop on his right leg. Bouncing around, Ryan and Hugo again begin to mirror each other’s movements, until Hugo again whacks Ryan’s right arm, killing him. Spectators cheer. “Good game” Hugo says to Ryan as they shake hands, “Nice shot dude. You got me good.” These two display how the some of the weapons are used and how each dictates a different rule.

On the other side of the field, Anastasia of Chamonix weapon of choice is the bow and arrow, “Archery weapons are used with more advanced players because there are specific rules and regulations that go into using it. The bows weigh a specific amount, they are padded, and there is a certain length that the bow can expand to. Because there are so many rules for using the bow and arrow veterans can teach the novices, and we create the weapons.” Shooting the bow at Darth Cheeseheart he quickly blocks it with his two and a half foot black shield. An invitation to battle, Darth Cheeseheart accepts, and the two duel. Running at her, he hits her once on the leg with his black foam sword, which has blue tape wrapped at the handle of it, indicating it is a slashing weapon. Hopping over to safety as the Darth gloats in his hit, she recoups and shoots another bow. “Oh man, come on!” Darth Cheeseheart roars. He is hit in the chest with the bow: instant death. Anastasia of Chamonix laughs, “Be humble sir, be humble.”

“Uhhh, I think it’s my ankle.” Everyone’s heads turn toward Headband, also known as Gabriel Borjon, as he is grasping his left ankle on the ground. “I think I twisted it.” His opponent, Maxim, helps him get up and assists him over to the benches. Sal examines the injury, “It looks like a twisted ankle man. Just elevate it and sit this practice out.” Headbands expression is gloomy, “Of course I would twist my ankle the practice most people show up to.” Lying down on the bench he watches the rest of his comrades fight.

As the rest of the members choose their weapon of choice and begin to duel with one another, Darth Cheeseheart calls the troops together, “Everyone separate into two even groups, we are going to do group battle.” The twenty-four electrified members begin to squirm into two groups, anxiously anticipating what they look forward to at every practice: battle royale.

Lay On

At the battle royale, each team is comprised of twelve people. “What are your team names?” Darth Cheeseheart asks. “Team Discovery Channel” one team shouts. The opposing team rebuttals with “Team History Channel.” Competition has officially begun once the names are announced. “Take your marks,” Darth Cheeseheart roars and everyone takes into a fighting position, with their weapon across their body or sticking out in front of them, “Lay on!” Chaos explodes in Aldrich Park. Some members from each teach run towards one another, yelling their warrior cry, pointing their weapon in front of their bodies. Limbs are hit, people die, the game continues. The remaining members find an opposing team member and begin to duel. Remarks such as “Bring it,” “Give me all you’ve got,” and “Is that the best you can do?” are all heard throughout the battlefield. Body after body collapses as they die. Finally the last standing is Hugo and Rev. Rev, a veteran of the sport and most feared by everyone begins to gain speed as he runs toward Hugo, raising his sword up in the air, about to attack, Hugo runs. Hugo runs, runs, and runs some more until he finally turns around only to find Rev on his tail. Whack, chest hit, Hugo is dead. Team Discovery Channel wins. Cheers are heard from both teams. “Get back into your groups and lets do this again.” Darth Cheeseheart yells. Members are excited to repeat the process and hopefully go after someone they have yet to fight.

Belegarth focuses on medieval-fantasy fighting, however, they also have events that draw quite a bit of people. Andúril’s chapter hosts the Werewolf Hunt, which is an event held in the fall. A scenario of a village that is under attack by a virus causing people to turn into werewolves has spread across the town, and the members of Andúril must find the silver dagger to kill the werewolves.

Battle of the Ring is the biggest event in California and is held at UCI by the Andúril realm. It has members come from UCSD, UCLA, UCSB realms, other California realms, and members from groups in states such as Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. Andúril practices and battles groups in the local area spread from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Belegarth: A Boon for its Members

The SWORD club has created a unique hub for people, not only for UCI students but also the surrounding community. However one begins to wonder, what else does this group have to offer its members?

Headband uses the club as a chance when “In a time during my life when everything is so serious and important, this club gives me the opportunity to just let go of everything going on in my life and feel free spirited like a little kid again. Also, I really enjoy beating the crap out of people.” A wide smile spreads across his face as he chuckles, continuing, “It’s a great form of exercise and it lets me think strategically. Also when I’m have a rough day and I have stress or anger, I look forward to Friday’s at five, so I can deal someway with my problems.”

Rev, moved to Orange County this past July. He has been in the sport for the last six years. Rev at one point in his Belegarth career dedicated an entire year of his life to the sport. Attending five or six practices a week at multiple realms throughout the Southern California region. “Belegarth isn’t just a fantasy game to me. It’s a sport. It’s physically and mentally tiring. But I love it. I love it because I’m genuinely happy when I’m doing it.” He explains. “Its also therapeutic for me, Belegarth has toned me down a lot, I mean a lot. I used to be very temperamental, angry, and anxious. I think it’s a combination of the way I was raised and past experiences. Once I got into Belegarth it all disappeared, I really didn’t need to be a douche bag to everyone anymore, it made me grow up quite a bit, its therapy for me in a way.” The tone of his voice changes as he reveals, “I have very little family, and the family I do have I don’t speak to. The Belegarth community has become my adopted family. So to some it’s just a fun game for two hours once a week but for me, it’s my life. When I wake up in the morning I’m excited to get to practice and battle.”

Darth Cheeseheart explains, “the club offers so much. It’s a place to kick some ass, it’s a place to get to make some new friends, it’s a place to escape and release stress and anger. Its also a place for some people who have problems in whatever is going on in their lives to express those issues in this small, well-knit community, to feel safe and not be judged, to get support.” He pauses before he reveals, “For example a member who I would rather keep anonymous told me about his issues with attachment and abandonment. He vividly remembers his experience of coming out of his mother’s womb.” Sighing as he divulges further into the story, “His mother put him up for adoption and he has abandonment issues from it now. He opened up to us about his emotional rollercoaster. We are a group of givers and receivers.”

Anastasia of Chamonix explains what she gains from the club, “This is my only social circle and certainly the only place where I feel like I can be myself. I do believe that most of the benefits are less obvious. Mentally the game gives you confidence, playing feels like magic to have this sort of power over people.” She further explains, “It’s hard to find words that describe just how important this organization is for me. Belegarth is a way of life. I would definitely say that I have a spiritual tie to it. I do not believe I will ever part with it.” She goes on with a giant smile across her face, “I really hope that I will be able to do this forever, and if that means I am shooting arrows from a bow while I sit in a padded wheelchair at the age of 70 -I will still find a way to play. There is a philosophy behind what we do that is much richer than the more apparent game, and I think that the game means many different things to many people, but the one thing I hope everyone gets from it is its inclusively. Anyone can play. Anyone can become the hero (or villain) that you have always wanted to be. Anyone should be able to find a home here.”

Depending on whom you talk to in this group, you will get a variety of answers about what SWORD exactly is, what it personally means to each individual, what attracted them to join, the best and worst parts of being in the group, if they are a Star Wars fan or Lord of the Rings fan. Whether it is feeling like a kid again, “kicking some ass,” or having a sense of family, it is a positive influence in these fighters’ lives. To outsiders looking in some might not understand what the SWORD club is about. Diving deeper into the realm of Andúril however, one learns it is a group of individuals who appreciate the art of fighting, look at it as a sport with technique, rules, practicing, wearing uniforms, and being on a team. Each individual fighter is motivated to come for different reasons, but there is an undeniable underlying common cause: it provides a positive place in each fighter’s life. Sarah Foncello, a first year student and new member describes the group in five words: “Loud, obnoxious, extravagant, fun, and imaginative. It’s rare to find people and a place that you can be accepted for who you are and have fun with what you are doing and more importantly being comfortable with who you are while doing it. SWORD lets me be me, how often do you find that?”

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Photos




Darth Cheeseheart

*****


Headband

*****


Rev, Hugo, and Ryan going over new moves.

*****


Meeting before practice, Darth Cheeseheart informs everyone of the new
rules about garb.

*****


Members of Andúril

*****

Team History Channel (L) & Team Discovery Channel (R)
Running toward each other

*****



Battle Royale

*****

__________________________________________________________________

Report Notes

-Hour long interview with Sal Solis, better known as Darth Cheeseheart at Starbucks on campus on October 25th, 2010

-Hour long interview with Bryan Inks, also known as Rev, at Starbucks on campus on November 9th, 2010

-Twenty-minute interview with Sarah Foncello at Starbucks on campus on November 10th, 2010

-Thirty-minute interview with Hugo Flores at Starbucks on campus on November 9th, 2010

-Forty-five-minute interview with Gabriel Borjon, also known as Headband, at Starbucks on campus, on November 8th, 2010

-Hour interview with Ana Nagel also known as Anastasia of Chamonix at Starbucks on campus, on November 9th, 2010

-Observation of November 5th, 2010 practice from 5-6:30

-Official Belegarth website: http://belegarth.com/

- Belegarth Book of War: A Rules System for Medieval Combat with Foam Weapons: http://belegarth.com/rules.php

- A Wikipedia.org sister website solely for Belegarth encyclopedia: http://geddon.org/index.php/Main_Page

-SWORD website: http://www.clubs.uci.edu/sword/pages.php?page=Home

-SWORD Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10590489444

-YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS7wzTwCk2U&feature=fvst

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