Battles in the park

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“A lot of the preparation is a mental thing. I have to just stop and get mentally ready for it and get excited, and that’s a daily thing,” Kelik says.

Kelik, who is dressed as a medieval squire, is telling me about his preparation process for battle. The battle he refers to is known as Battleguard (not to be confused with LARP), and is held every Thursday night at North Park in Provo. Once a week, he and a rag-tag group of medieval fantasy-philes and combat-lovers engage in strenuous battle.

I wander over, under the pavilion, and meet Simon Briggs, a man of formidable size who appears to be one of the more seasoned fighters. As he caresses a foam sword in hand, I ask him why he likes Battleguard. “You get aggression out with your friends,” explains Briggs, whose character name is Tallis Shadowskin. “You get to kick the crap out of people without getting yelled at or thrown in jail. It’s very enjoyable.”

I then turn to Kelik and ask him what his favorite part of the Thursday night action is. “This,” he says, as he hits another participant with his foam sword. He then gets serious and tells me that “the most fun aspect is hard to pinpoint,” but he’s “always loved the Renaissance, and it’s cool being able to say, ‘Yeah, I killed a man last night’ but not go to jail for it.” I then press him for his real name, since Kelik is his character name. “I don’t have a real name. I live here,” he says, gazing over the battlefield.

I walk around North Park, observing the sword fighting with a feeling of unease that accompanies new situations and experiences. After some meandering, I meet James Barlow, who tells me that the fighting can be intense and makes for great exercise.

“For me, it’s three hours guaranteed cardiovascular,” Barlow says, as he struggles to get his breath back from a sword fight he just had. “It does sting. My ligaments are finally getting better from a hit three years ago. I’ve broken my nose a couple times, but nothing really noticeable. Oh well.”

I can’t help but be surprised by the physical demands and injuries sustained in Battleguard — surprising because of the nerdy stereotype typically attached to the activity. But Battleguard differs from LARPing in that no magic is used, making hand-to-hand combat the only option. Because of this, injuries such as Barlow’s aren’t uncommon. In fact, Kelik told me that years ago there was an accidental death caused by an arrow shot to someone’s head.

“I don’t know if there was a death,” Briggs informs me. “I know there was a possible loss of an eye. I’ve heard of the arrows sometimes stabbing into trees and that freaks people out.”

Briggs hands me an arrow. It is heavily padded on the end and secured with duct tape, making the impact relatively benign. Accidents like the one described by Kelik and Briggs are rare. But the main weapon of choice is the sword, made of a durable, hard foam fused onto a shaft, which leaves a surprising sting of pain, as I discovered when Briggs demonstrated on me.

The rules of Battleguard can be read more in depth online. But to summarize, head-shots are illegal except for rocks and arrows. If you are hit to the head with an arrow or rock, you’re dead, unless you’re wearing a helmet. If you’re hit on the leg, you must kneel on that leg and attempt to fight by hobbling around that way. If you’re hit in the arm, you must put that arm behind your back. If either both your legs or both arms are hit, then you’re dead. Hopping on one leg is not allowed, and, as Briggs tells me, “unfeasible.” Any who wish to participate are welcome to do so, but must sign a waiver and follow proper safety rules.

Out of the crowd, I spot a girl and talk to her. Her name is Julie Meitler, and her reasons for coming to Battleguard are similar to the others: “It’s fun fighting. When I was a kid I would be able to wrestle my mom or my dogs. Then there wasn’t an outlet for that until I found this and I was like, ‘Oh, cool!’”

I then ask Meitler if there tend to be very many girls that attend Battleguard. “No, I’m the only female fighter right now,” Meitler says.

“What about her?” I ask, pointing to another girl in a velour elvish-style dress. “I’ve never seen her before. I think she’s from a Renaissance fair,” Meitler says.