WASHINGTON – Every Wednesday at Nisson Park at 7 P.M., a band of urban warriors armed with foam swords, spears and shields comes together to wage epic battles in bouts of merry medieval mayhem.
Strange to behold at first, yet mesmerizing to watch as they engage in martial combat, the foam-armed fighters are of the An Tir Dearg, a local chapter (or realm) of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, a national, not-for-profit organization based out of Illinois. An Tir Dearg itself is a fitting name, as it is Scottish Gaelic for “The Red Land.”
While passersby and casual observers may see the group as little more than a bunch of teenagers and adults out beating each other senseless with foam swords and maces, Dan Jeffery, An Tir Dearg’s founder, explained that there is much more to it.
“It’s a martial sport,” Jeffery said. While other people play the usual sports like basketball and football as a way of getting exercise, Jeffery and the members of the realm like to dawn custom-made armor – typical leather-based and their foam weaponry for an evening’s worth of Dark Ages inspired warfare.
“It’s an athletic outlet,” added Matt Sevald, the An Tir Dearg’s realm leader. He said anyone could easily burn a healthy helping of calories by doing what they do.
Like any sport, however, there are rules to be had and strictly observed. Recorded in the Belegarth Society’s “Book of War,” the rules of combat are specific and safety is king. Anyone who thinks they can simply waltz onto the battlefield and start beating on an opponent is gravely mistaken. Indeed, the group thoroughly polices itself to make sure that no rules are violated and safety is maintained.
“We take safety very seriously,” Jeffery said.
Like other sports, the word of the referee, or heralds as they are called in An Tir Dearg, have the final say in any rules violation.
No head shots are allowed during combat, and the weapons used by the combatants are personally inspected by the realm leader and other senior members of the group. As most weapons and shields used are personally constructed, the leaders of An Tir Dearg ensure that they meet a high standard of safety. Newcomers are also taught how to make and use the weapons safely and effectively.
“The weapons are padded so the people don’t have to be,” Sevald said.
According to Jeffery, the majority of the injuries that occur on the field are the result of the environment; tripping over a bush or running into a tree, for example. Still, anyone applying to An Tir Dearg membership must first sign an injury waiver. For their safety as well, potential combatants cannot be under the age of 16.
“It’s a fun game, but it’s a hard hitting game,” Sevald said.
Aside from safety, one aspect of the game that Sevald stressed is honor and communication.
“It’s all about being honorable,” Sevald said. He further explained that, when a combatant is hit by an opponent, it is that individual’s job to call the hit, and even take him or herself out of the game if the blow was a fatal one.
Communication also comes into play as the members of specific units within An Tir Dearg learn the art of group tactics, and then apply them in simulated combat. This helps foster a spirit of team work and community within the group that helps to weed out any potential troublemakers.
As a part of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, members of An Tir Dearg participate in regional and national events. They also hold combat demonstrations at local Renaissance fairs from time to time.
Jeffery and Sevald encourage anyone who’s looking for a fun way to spend an evening to come to Nisson Park on Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
More information on An Tir Dearg and the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society can be found on the group’s website http://antirdearg.com.
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