If you’ve ever driven down 72nd St. past Wapato Park on a Saturday afternoon, you may have noticed a group of people on the grass beating each other with foam wrapped weapons. If so, you’ve had a brief introduction to the world of Belegarth.
Officially known as Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, the organization has chapters (known as realms) all over the country as well as a few international ones. The Tacoma realm is called Alera. There’s also one in Bellevue called Gondor, one in Bremerton called Talinor, and another one east of Kent called Tsavo.
If you’ve ever heard of LARPing, this isn’t it. You can hang out and watch them all day but you won’t hear anyone casting spells or shouting, “LIGHTNING BOLT!” There are elements of role playing, e.g. character names and wearing “garb”, but these are not the most important parts and are not strictly enforced. Half the people you see at the park on any given day may be in everyday workout clothes. After all, Belegarth is much more of a sport than it is a game.
“You have a weapon, you hit people with it.” Explains Zac Butter who also goes by Hagma. There are pages and pages of official rules governing fights but the basics aren’t hard to get. You hit someone in the arm, they lose the use of that arm. Get them in the leg and they have to kneel. Two hits to limbs or one hit to the body and they’re dead.
The weapons they use are made with high density foam on a plastic frame. You’ll find anything from swords and shields to spears and arrows. Some are homemade and some are bought from companies like Forged Foam. There are also rules regarding how weapons are built and used. Head shots are illegal for everything except for arrows, javelins, and rocks. Edged weapons are only supposed to be used with the edge.
“Flat edge doesn’t count, plus it’s kind of a dick move.” says Zac. It’s a full contact sport so you will feel it when you get hit but no one is actually trying to hurt anyone.
Belegarth attracts a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Some people get really into their characters and the fantasy aspect of role playing; Others are more in it for the sport. It also comes with a fair amount of haters. People driving by will roll down their windows to yell and make fun of them. When I asked about their experiences in this regard they all shared stories of people yelling random things but laughed about all of them. Zac brushes it off saying, “Whenever I hear someone yelling ‘nerd’ all I hear is ‘why is my life so boring?!’”
The attraction to things like Belegarth exists in all of us. It just takes different forms. Some of us go to Burning Man, others join Fantasy Football leagues. If you’re still telling yourself that this is just too damn weird, I’d say there’s a good chance you’d also be too afraid to try it yourself. I’m reminded of the scene in Fight Club when–spoiler alert–the unnamed main character figures out he and Tyler Durden are the same person:
Noname: This is crazy.
Tyler Durden: People do it everyday, they talk to themselves, they see themselves as they’d like to be. They don’t have the courage you have to just run with it.
When we’re confronted with experiences outside our comfort zone, we often react with negativity. If you can push past the mental blocks normal adulthood has built up in your mind and go down to Wapato Park next Saturday, you might actually find yourself having fun.