One swing at a time

Two Saddleback students do battle in the Saddleback College quad (David Gutman / For the Lariat)

David Gutman

A strange site unfolds in the Saddleback College quad every Tuesday: a barren battlefield strewn with the bodies of brave, fearsome warriors fighting for the chance to be called the greatest in their realm. Saddleback’s Live Action Role Play (LARP) group, Saddleback Sword, offers the average student a chance to experience the exciting action of a medieval battle without the drawback of an excruciating death.
Operated and officiated by student Elijah Storm Dye, 23, psychology, Saddleback Sword is still in its infancy, having only been operating on campus since the beginning of the fall 2012 semester. While consisting of few actual members, Saddleback Sword meets nonetheless every Tuesday at 1 p.m. to do battle.
  LARP is a game where players imagine themselves as a character and perceives the action as part of their fantasy; this can apply to play-fighting or subliminal acting of an original or pre-written scene.
“I was introduced to LARP and medieval combat two years ago through friends,” said Dye. “I looked into making it a club but school officials said it was too much of a liability.”
While there is always an inherent risk involved in swinging weapons at random strangers, Dye and his group retain a firm set of rules. Chief among these principles are integrity, self-control, and respect.
Integrity applies to the way the war games are played.According to Dye, if someone hits their weapon to an opponent’s arm, the arm is rendered useless for the remainder of the bout. Blows to the head and other vulnerable areas are unacceptable and will result in a disqualification. No serious injuries have been reported from the group’s activities with minor exceptions. According to Geneva Comer, 20, biology, most injuries amounted to an occasional bruise and plenty of broken glasses.
“It’s very much like a blunt force, like being hit by a hard pillow,” said Dye, describing the foam swords used by the group. Typically these weapons are made with a PVC pipe base and are wrapped in at least two inches of foam to soften the blows. Duct tape or socks are applied to lessen the stress on the foam and give the weapon shape. Swords are not the only weapon in the armory some members have been known to make and bring in shields, axes, and even archery accoutrements..
Most of the weapons utilized by Saddleback Sword are owned by Dye, although he encourages students and members to be creative and make their own weapons to play with. However these weapons and tools must be inspected by Dye first before use.
“I want to feel like I’d be comfortable fighting my 10-year-old sister with these weapons, that’s how safe they must be,” said Dye.
Self-control matters to the group as most light injuries follow a loss of control.
“People definitely need control or else they are going to hurt themselves or others. Most light injuries are self-inflicted,” said Robert Brown,19, film.
Saddleback Sword also tries to discourage people that look like they are out to hurt somebody.
“Generally we welcome anybody that doesn’t pose a threat of injury to people,” said Dye. “If somebody walks over looking extremely angry, we try to discourage them from fighting inexperienced students.”
Respect for their opponents is core to Saddleback Sword as this diminishes injuries as well.
Saddleback Sword is just one of many LARP groups found across campuses in the U.S. Not all of them are alike as groups or “Realms” as Dye names them, may have different rules and standards. According to Comer, some groups in Orange County allow weapons and fighting methods that Saddleback Sword would not allow. However, there is camaraderie between some realms with weekend battles.  
Sword fighting is not the only thing in Saddleback Sword’s repertoire of activities. Saddleback Sword also plays games like Goblin Ball, a game is very much akin to sword-fighting and hockey, with players using the foam weapons as hockey sticks, and the person with the ball must defend themselves and the ball from the opposing team.
Saddleback Sword may look like a crazy group of sword-wielding nerds, in fact, they flaunt it. Rather than isolate themselves, they’d rather encourage passersby to grab a weapon and immediately be transported to a world of adventure, one swing at a time.