SAN RAMON -- Bowling wasn't doing it for Ian MacLeish. Television? Borrrrring.
Uninspired by traditional social activities that have entertained high schoolers for decades, MacLeish, then a senior at California High School, went looking for something different. His search took him to the Middle Ages, where he found the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society.
"It basically fit the requirements of what I wanted to do," said MacLeish, 21, a San Ramon resident now studying computer science and game design at UC-Santa Cruz. "It's full contact, it's been established for a long time, has a good rules system, very safety oriented."
Belegarth combatants use "swords" made of PVC pipe and foam rubber. They can carry shields and shoot arrows outfitted with a padded plug in place of a pointed tip. At organized events, they dress in period clothing. According to belegarth.com, there are clubs, or "realms," in several countries. MacLeish started one, dubbed Saracor, in San Ramon in 2009. The movement itself began in 1975, inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings."
"Ian and I have been friends since high school," said Mark Jordan, 23, an archer whose battle name is Marius. "One day we just said, 'Let's start making weapons in our garage.'"
Saracor holds Thursday evening practices at Boone Acres Park that typically draw six to 20 realm members. Thursday it was six, plus three younger boys the realm members referred to as "goblins." The practice was the last for MacLeish and Jordan before they depart for Chaos Wars, an eight-day national Belegarth event that begins Sunday in Hailey, Idaho. They said they expect as many as 600 people will attend, 500 of them combatants.
"Imagine 300 people," said Jordan, who is studying biology at Las Positas College. "Lines of guys with swords and shields versus lines of guys with swords and shields."
There is a social element to Chaos Wars, where attendees camp out in tents. There is a pub night, a comedy night, a talent show night and a goblin night during which children can go trick-or-treating to the various camps.
The rules, followed on the honor system during informal practices, are enforced at Chaos Wars by referees called "heralds."
If your limb is struck by a sword or an arrow, you can no longer use it for the rest of the fight. Two blows to a limb, or one blow to the chest or back, means death. Blows to the head or crotch are illegal. Swords have color-coded tape on the handle to indicate how much damage they inflict when striking a shield.
Competitors are required to wear handmade period garb.
There are weapons checks every morning at Chaos Wars to make sure padding is secure. While the foam rubber is soft, the blows delivered by the swords are anything but.
"You have huge line battles, unit tactics, archers of all sorts," said MacLeish, whose battle name is Torix. "They do a lot of classes to train you in sword fighting and combat archery. They have sword and (shield) tournaments, four-man, 10-man."
Definitely not boring.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.