By Lauren Alejo
“What doesn’t get wet when it rains?” asked Chasen, the newest member of Sword Club at UCI. “umm...I don’t know,” I responded. “The ocean! Because it is already wet,” Chasen replied. He sat on the floor inside of Doc’s (President of Sword Club), apartment and read the joke off of the back of a Laffy Taffy wrapper. It was Wednesday evening and instead of hitting each other with foam, medieval style weapons inside of Aldrich park as is the members of Sword Club’s usual Wednesday night ritual, we were in Doc’s apartment building foam weapons for a sword fighting convention in San Diego on Saturday called, “The Battle of Andor.”
Being the newest member and without a sword of his own, Chasen was building a weapon from scratch while most everyone else worked on repairs for their various weapons. Strips of cut up camping mats, rolls of carpet tape and PVC pipes were strewn haphazardly across the floor as the members cut, taped and glued their weapons together with expertise. The room was filled with a comfortable hum of chatter and a three foot long pizza lay on the table as a snack for the hard workers. Every once in a while Chasen would ask Doc, or Ana or one of the more seasoned fighters whether or not he was building the sword correctly. After a while Ana sat close by Chasen just to make sure he was doing everything correctly.
“If we were the Boy Scouts, Ana would be our den leader” explained Sal, Vice President of the club. Ana, along with her fiance Brian are graduate students at UCI and co-founders of the Sword Club and thus natural appointed leaders of the club. Sword club, in a nutshell, taps in to the obsessions with the world of fantasy and fiction and in a sense brings it all to life. Sword Club combines fiction with real life, nerdy passions with sportsmanship and most importantly harbors friendships among people with similar interests. They are normal people with a passion for all things medieval, who just so happen to like hitting their friends over the head with large foam weapons. Who doesn’t at times?
If you were to ask them to describe themselves, which I did, they would respond with the opening line of the Anduril Constitution, “We Fighters in the Realm of Anduril. "Anduril" in the film/novel "Lord of the Rings," is known as the sword that was broken. This is the sword of Isildur's heir, the Ranger known as Aragorn. The name "Anduril," translated from Sindarin, means "Flame of the West." We base ourselves in the University of California at Irvine.” Translation: They are Sword Club at UCI, a fantasy/medieval style combat club on campus that meets regularly in Alrich Park to fight each other with foam, medieval style weapons. Every once in a while they will venture out of their realm and either attend or a host a “battle” which brings together other such groups, or “realms” as they call them, to fight. Medieval style or fantasy themed clothing (also known as “garb”) is a must as it enhances the fiction aspect of the game. Their realm’s name, Anduril, is derived from the name of a the sword in “Lord of the Rings” that was originally used to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron in the battle for Middle Earth. “Jaba” a member of Sword Club describes their game as, “For people who grew up with World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons, this is the real life version of it.”
Being a long time Lord of the Rings fanatic and fiction-fantasy lover, I jumped at the chance to discover who they were and what they were all about. The members of Sword Club were eager to to let me inside of their world, and thus my journey into the world of Anduril, the medieval combat society, began.
Although the game of sword fighting with foam weapons or “foam boffering” as they call it is rooted in fantasy, there are a very real set of rules that everyone who plays must follow to ensure the safety of all who play. The rules are set forth by a worldwide organization called “Belegarth.” Adrian, co-founder of Sword Club, likens Belegarth to the Catholic Church in Rome where the rules and regulations are set forth and all other sub-divisions below it must abide by these general, accepted set of rules. These set of rules can be found in either, “The Book of War” which all foam boffering organizations should have or in their constitution which can be found online at the Belegarth website.
The rules include everything about the game from what weapons can be used on the field during battle to the definitions of all of the leadership positions in the group. Isen, long time member of sword club and Doc, President of Sword Club were only too happy to recite the rules to me off the top of their heads. First, they described the foam boffering attire. In addition to medieval or fantasy garb, players can choose to wear armor. “Armor” is made out of leather and includes arm guards, shin guards, breast plates and helmets and allows a person one extra hit by a weapon to wherever the hit struck. What happens when someone is hit with a weapon depends on where the hit struck and also what type of weapon was used. A hit to the body (stomach, chest, back and crotch) always results in instant death. Beyond that it gets a little more complicated as far as what type of weapons are used, so Isen described the weapons to me. There are four classifications for weapons: blue, red, green and yellow.
Blue weapons are the most commonly used set of weapons. They are the standard sword or dagger that almost everyone uses at one point or another in the game. They are classified as 36 inches and under. A hit to a limb (arm or leg) with a blue weapon results in the “loss” of that arm or leg meaning that you cannot use it. For example, if you lose your leg, you must kneel on the ground while fighting and if you lose an arm you must put the arm behind your back. If you lose both limbs (either both arms or both legs) you are dead. In addition, two hits to one limb also results in death.
Red weapons are the largest types of weapons. These include axes and javelins, which look like elongated spears. They are classified as four feet and over. Armor never counts with red weapons, meaning it does not allow you that extra hit before you lose a particular body part. Two strikes to a shield with a red weapon results in the shield “breaking” and renders that shield useless. Green weapons are stabbing weapons. There is no length requirement for stabbing weapons, rather they are classified by it’s appearance. They are essentially spears, so the base is very long and the end is covered with a squishy tip.
If you use a green weapon with two hands armor does not count, but if used with one hand, the same armor rules apply. Yellow weapons are projectile weapons meaning they are either thrown or shot. Again, there is no length requirement for this type of weapon, it is judged on appearance. There are three types of yellow weapons: javelins, arrows and rocks. Javelins can also be used as red weapons and can only be thrown from a minimum of one and a half a distance of their length. Armor does not count if you are hit with a thrown javelin and a hit to a head results in instant death.
In addition, javelins are active as long as they are in the air (before it touches the ground.) For example, a javelin can hit hit and injure two people before it hits the ground. Arrows have similar rules as javelins in that armor does not count if you are struck with an arrow and a shot to the head also results in instant death. Unlike javelins, however, an arrow is active until it hits an object, therefore it cannot injure a person if it already hit and injured someone previously.
Arrows must be shot at from a minimum of nine feet for a half draw (the string on the bow is half-way pulled back) and a minimum of twelve to fifteen feet for a full draw (the string on the bow is fully pulled back). You cannot carry an arrow where it might injure you, such as in your mouth or in your pocket. Rocks only work in one way; they must be throw at your head and they result in instant death if it reaches its mark. Each weapon is marked with the color tape that classifies it so that it is clear which rules apply.
Weapons are not the only tools that one can use to fight. There is also “grappling” which is sort of like wrestling. There are no weapons involved and it is only used as a tactic to get an opponent into an advantageous position for hitting them with a weapon. Grappling can only be take place either between two people with equal (same amount) of armor or if a person with “lower” armor initiates it. Joint locks, choke holds, kicking and punching are not allowed and you must be in control of your opponent’s fall if you were to push them. As Isen explained, it is really only ever used during a struggle for a weapon or in a “you-hold-while-I-hit” double team kind of situation.
Next Isen explained the various field commands. Either the herald, which is like the referee, or the leader of the host team gives out the commands. “Fighters to the field” simply means, grab your weapons and head to the field. “Lay on” means start fighting and “Hold” means take a knee. “Hold” is the most important rule to abide by and the fighters do not take the command lightly.
Isen demonstrated the rule to me during a battle one day. “HOLD!!” he yelled. Conversations stopped mid-sentence, weapons were dropped and everyone around me literally stopped whatever they were doing and dropped to one knee. Needless to say, the players take the safety of the game very seriously.
It was one thing to hear the rules and the descriptions of the weapons from Isen and Doc, but it was entirely another thing to see the weapons built and a battle take place. The weapon building session on Wednesday showed me the mechanisms of each of the weapons. All the weapons are essentially made from the same material. The handles are made from PVC pipes and the weapons themselves are made from strips of camping mats tapped together with carpet tape and then wrapped around the PVC pipe. Covers are made from cloth are then placed on top of the weapons for aesthetic purposes.
“There is no store for what we do so we have to hand-make everything from our weapons to our armor” explained Rooster, a member of Sword club. Rooster loves sketching and designing and even took my notebook and pen to sketch the design of his armor. “This is what I did all during class in high school while the teacher was up there saying whatever” he explained to me. Rooster began fighting with Sword Club about a year ago. “It was pretty much a way for me to get away from the stress of my life. I was going through a kind of hard time last year and Sword just took my mind off of things for a little bit.” After attending a few meetings, he was hooked and invested in some armor of his own. Since he enjoyed sketching and designing, he personally designed all of his armor and then give gave the design to Ana to sew. The cost? around $300 which is average for armor since everything is custom-made. “There are stores who have tried to sell merchandise for what we do, but they’ve all failed” explained Doc “You would need a blacksmith equivalent for what we do because everyone wants their things custom made.”. Finally at around 10:00 PM the weapons were made and the repairs fixed. We all had two days to rest for the battle.
Above: A "blue" class weaponAbove: Sal (left) and Jaba (right) making shields
Above: Ana helping Chasen make his first sword.
If you were at Jack in the Box on Saturday, March 6th at around 7:15 AM you might have thought that you are either sleep deprived and still dreaming or that you had accidently wandered in to the wrong era. Members of the Sword Club arrived at Jack in the Box in full garb in pairs of two or three. Ana arrived with her finance Brain and was dressed in a flowing white black and yellow checkered pants and long sleeved shirt. Her hair was bunched in to two braids and she had heavy red and black eye makeup on her eyes. Sal also known as “Darth Motherfucking Cheesehart” arrived in a large black tunic with a silver crest on his chest and a large leather belt engraved with various symbols. He had armor on his legs and arms. The rest of the club slowly trickled in until there was a medieval themed table outside of Jack in the Box. We left Jack in the Box and arrived in San Diego at 9:00AM.
The fighters came from all over Southern California and convened at Morely park. A large grassy hill was accompanied by two tables piled with foam boffering weapons and a girl in a flowing shirt and a belly dancing skirt sat painting a wooden sign that read, “TBA” (The Battle of Andor) and underneath it was the Crest of the San Diego realm, Andor. My realm, Anduril came and greeted everyone with hugs and slaps on the back. “Isen! I haven’t seen you in forever! Is Ana coming?” asked one Andorian.
The group grew until there were fifty people dressed in their leather armor and ready for battle. At 10AM the fighters came to the field and submitted their weapons for a “weapon check” to make sure that were not any “unsafe weapons” which are defined as having any gaps or hooks or any breaks in the core. The hosting realm or club, in this case Andor administers a hit check to test the safety. The weapon was hit against their legs with a light blow, a medium blow and a hard blow. The Andorians made two piles, one for the safe weapons and one for the unsafe weapons that were marked and taken away from the field. At 10:30 all members who planned to take place in the battle lined up to sign a waiver.
Finally, at 11:00 were the words we were all waiting for. “FIGHTERS TO THE FIELD!” The fighters took up their weapons and walked on to the field. The battles are arranged so that the leader of the host team calls out what type of battle will take place before the battle commences. The last man or team depending on the type of battle, wins. “FREE FOR ALL- FIGHTERS READY!” yelled the leader of Andor. Since it was a “free for for all” it meant every man for himself and the last man standing was the victor. The fighters circled up and raised their weapons to show that they were ready. “LAY ON!” and the fighting began.
What followed can be described as close to utter chaos. All sides of the circle seemed to close in on itself and meet in the middle as the fighters chose a person to engage with. Swords were being swung on to shoulders and limbs and fighters dropped to their knees or put their arms behind their backs as they were being stuck. The core of foam boffering lies in the honor system. The less experienced fighters such as Chasen, fell quickly while the more experienced fighters such as Doc and Ana killed one person after moving on to another without pausing. The archers circled the perimeter of the battle field and fired their arrows on the backs of fighters already engaged in battle with another person. Almost as suddenly as the fighting began, it ended.
Each battle only lasts for 2 to 3 minutes. “REGROUP” yelled the leader and the fighters circled up again. And so the battles went. The leader of Andor would call out the name of the battle, the rules were mutually understood among all fighters and explained by the more experienced fighters if the new ones did not know them and the battle would began. There were team battles where the fighters chose their teams and fought against another team. Realm battles where Andor and Anduril fought against one another and special battles such as “8 Ball” where one person is the “8 ball” and like in pool, you have to kill the 8 ball last or else you’re team will lose.
The outcome as far as who won and who lost did not seem to matter to the fighters. “It’s really not about who wins or looses, it’s about having fun” said Rift when I asked him about the score. After a couple of hours of being at the park, a small crowd of onlookers congregated around the foam bofferers. All of them wanted to know who they were and what they were doing and a few even joined in, much to the delight of the fighters. Water breaks interspersed the battles and those who did not get water challenged other individuals to duels. Finally, the fighters were exhausted from a day from fighting and a feast which consisted of hotdogs and chips took place.
At 5:00 PM we drove back to Irvine, exhausted from a long day of foam boffering with only a few bruises to tell the tale. Doc and Isen recap the events in the backseat of the car and highlight their heroic battle tales of the day. I thank him for letting me into their group and into their lives for these past couple of weeks. Doc replies “If you want to fight we already get along and you’re already family” On top of the medieval swords and attire, I got the feeling that the camaraderie was part of the appeal of the for many of the members. But aside from the social aspect? It’s a middle ground for the kind of people who, like me, felt seriously conflicted in choosing between painting your face to watch your high school football team and putting on your elf costume to wait in line for the midnight premiere of “Lord of the Rings.”
As Adrian puts it, “You’re not going to find any other organization that allows you to participate in something so childlike. It brings you back to your childhood where you can just pick up a stick and wave it at your friend... It is very much a mixture of having that sports fanaticism but at the same time mixing that with a sense of fantasy and medieval charm.” My journey into the realm of Anduril began at the beginning and ended...in the middle, which is the perfect place to be for Sword at UCI.
Above: The Anduril Crew
-2 Hour interview with Adrian, Co-Founder of Sword Club
-Approximately 30 Minute interviews with 4 members of Sword Club (Doc (President), Isen (member), Sal (Vice President), Rooster (member)
-Observation at weekly meetings for the month of February
-4 hour observation at Build Session.
-6 hour Observation at The Battle of Andor in San Diego
-Participation in The Battle of Andor
-A draft of The Anduril Constitution
-A draft of the Belegarth Rules (to fill in the gaps from Isen and Doc)
-Pictures from the build session/ Battle of Andor.