As I enter into a semi-mid life crisis I’ve started taking the Martial Art Kobudo, which focuses on weapons. The great thing about it about it is that I get to learn nunchucks. The bad part? There’s no real sparring, because we might kill each other. This got me thinking… maybe I could do some LARPing and get real sparring with weapons and not get killed. My quest first pointed to a more traditional LARP group, but after joining their Facebook page I quickly grew disinterested. I didn’t want a story and I didn’t want to deal with magic. I wanted to fight.
It wasn’t until I happened to go to a party and just happened to talk to someone there that I learned about his thing called Belegarth. It is like LARPing, but you don’t really role play much at all and there’s zero magic so no, “Lighting Bolt!” guys. And the hits are full contact. And there is a minimum weight on weapons meaning they’re heavier and hit harder that a lot of LARP weapons. And it happened in a park just outside of Milwaukee, which is only 15 minutes away from me. I was all in.
I decided to check out a practice at the end of August. The people were friendly, but as in all social situations I felt a bit awkward. I mean, I’m already awkward around strangers and here I am outside in a public park with guys in medieval costumes hitting each other with fake swords. Still, I soldiered on. It was here that I learned the basics: 1. It’s full contact so there is the possibility of hurting yourself. 2. Safety is a primary concern. 3. They want you to wear “garb” aka a silly medieval/fantasy inspired outfit. 4. Safety trumps the garb.
The weapons of Belegarth are rather interesting. They’re primarily made with fiberglass as a core and foam layered on top of it. Most hits don’t “hurt” but many of them… sting. You can certainly feel an impact, however it is not long lasting and unless you’re a totally baby person it’s not a big deal.
The most common weapons are a sword and a shield. You also encounter two handed weapon fighting, think Great Swords and Spears.There’s also javelins, bow and arrow, flails, and very rarely quarterstaffs.
While they unfortunately don’t look like “real” weapons exactly, it’s all part of the safety aspect of the game.
So you have to dress like a fantasy medieval person and that might be a turn off for some. To me though, I dress up in a gi to do martial arts and that is by far no less silly. And you can really get away with a lot when it comes to a Belegarth outfit. My regular (or starter garb for now) is scrub pants, a solid color t-shirt, sneakers, a cheap medieval style tabard, and a ring belt.
When you first start up you can show up in gym clothes no problem. And if your garb is in the wash you can rock alternate clothes at practice, which I really couldn’t get away with at the dojo.
You can get a lot fancier and at some point I probably will, particularly if I go to events where I’ll want to have a bit of armor. Due to the Belegarth’s rules (see next section) you get the same amount of “protection’ using leather as you would with chain mail or plate mail, so the default is leather because it’s a lot more comfortable to wear.
And remember I mentioned safety? That means you can wear modern items like kneepads, goggles, and hockey gloves and it doesn’t count against the garb requirements.
Belegarth is a “Sport” existing as a structure for different types of games. For instance, there’s a free for all where everyone beats everyone else. Then there’s a game where teams of two spawn and fight everyone else. Another one involves new people with shields against veterans only armed with one light sword. At events, i.e. large Belegarth gatherings, they have more traditional line fighting like you see in medieval/fantasy movies.
The basic rules are fairly simple. It takes 2 points to kill someone. Limbs are worth 1 point each, so an arm and a leg would be death. The torso counts for 2 points. Armor gives you 1 point of protection and after it’s hit it’s gone. So you could get hit in the arm two times before it counted.
Pretty much anywhere on the body is a valid target except the head, which is nice. I have been hit on the head a few times as an accident and while not pleasant, it’s not that big of a deal either. I kinda wish there was a version where you could wear a helmet and everything was up for grabs.
Anyway, it all boils down to European style combat. Be warned, as a beginner you’ll lose constantly. I’m still getting my ass kicked. I take small victories here and there like cutting a guys leg or occasionally killing a vet if I’m lucky.
I can’t forget to mention the exercise value of Belegarth. The cardio in this game is intense and swinging around these weapons for stretches at a time really tires out the ole muscles.
What’s interesting is if you describe someone as a “guy with a beard and glasses” it could describe at least half of the fighters. However, there are a few ladies that play. There are also people that don’t really play, but kind of hang around lending support and/or playing video games. It’s a social thing for them.
Everyone is super nice and has vary degrees of social awkwardness. I mean, come on it’s a sport for nerds. Everyone is going to be at least a little bit socially awkward. But they are nerds that are friendly and they can fight.
The veterans are seriously good. They don’t have “formal” training like you get at a dojo. You don’t have an instructor telling you what to do for an hour and then you go home. Instead it’s divided among the veterans to help you out and train with you, then you break into different games and hope you can make it. Despite not having titles like Sensi or Master, they’re experts at this style of fighting, including proper footwork that translates across martial arts styles. It’s seriously a martial art in it’s own respect.
Side Note: There are people who are Knights in Belegarth, but so far I haven’t had to address anyone by Sir.
One big difference between this and traditional martial arts is that there’s no external way of measuring your progress as a fighter. Nope, no belt system here. No tests or anything like that. You’re either good or you’re not.
The key to being a part of it is getting along with others. If you’re a real asshole you’re not going to last long in Belegarth. I didn’t really join to meet people, but I’ve met some really nice ones. Belegarth would be a great way to make some friends if you moved and you’re a nerd.
Other’s Reaction to It
We live in a world where nerdy stuff is really common. Belegarth is really on the edge of nerdy things you can do and still not be considered a freak. I feel safe saying that it exists one step beyond D&D, but just one step before LARPing and way before being a Furry in the scale of nerdy things. People with small minds might think of it as a bunch of hideous geeks acting dumb. There’s a few times where people drove by us yelling, “NERDS!” or “Lighting Bolt!” Fuck them though, it’s fun.
On the plus side there’s also people that ask about what you’re doing and have a genuine interest. I went to a very small event and some little girl that was at a soccer game was heard to say, “I want to be a knight when I group up!” And that makes it all worth it.
People I talk to in my day to day life might think it’s stupid, but nobody has openly said so. I guess at worst they’ve had some skepticism about it. I think when I explain my personal motivations of wanting to spar with people and not get murdered, they understand more than if I were to say something like, “I want to pretend to be a medieval warrior.” I’m sure that people enjoy Belegarth on that level, that’s just not me.
I wonder if the overall openness I’ve experienced when telling people about it is due to my choices to not hang out with d-bags or if it’s more socially acceptable than it would have been ten years ago.
Why Do It?
I do it because I enjoy the physicality of it. When you’re sparring it feels like everything is running full speed. Adrenaline is pumping. It’s the thrill of the fight. Rising up to the challenge… well you get it. Belegarth is as real as it can get without putting on a metal suit and using real weapons. It gives you a little taste of how mankind fought for thousands of years.
Others do it for the social experience. You meet new people and have a good time. While that certainly is an added bonus, I like testing myself and seeing if I can do better. It’s a rush. I feel like I’ll be doing it until I’m too old and frail or I blow out a knee, whichever comes first.
Also: Some pics courtesy of ZipMke.com