CONCORD -- The lure of the battle brings most young lads into the fold of the Society for Creative Anachronism, but it is really the artistry, craftsmanship and chivalry of its members that binds them together.
Members of the SCA's Kingdom of the West gathered over the weekend for the coronation of its new king and queen, transforming the Concord Hilton into a scene reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
Just inside the lobby bar area, a jovial group of men boasted of previous battles as they enjoyed the local ale. In the courtyard behind them, others, in one-on-one challenges, thrust their rapiers, each with hopes they might rise to be champion of the day.
But the true magic was near the conference rooms. Women dressed in their finest medieval gowns floated past one another, stopping to admire the artistry on display.
Men in regal attire greeted each other with a slight nod, using salutations like "Your Highness," "Sir," "Gentleman." And children played with handmade wooden toys or scurried in and out of the masses, seemingly carefree.
"We have one son and he runs around with his friends shooting his peanut crossbow and bonking around with some foam swords," said Concord resident Rich Templeman (known to those within the society as Richard of Alderwood).
Templeman said he was introduced to the society in the early 1980s.
"I first saw the SCA where there was full-contact armored combat and I really wanted to do it," he said. "It looked so different from what I had ever seen before anywhere."
Since taking the first bite of the apple, Templeman said he has experienced just about every niche of the society.
"I am a pelican, the lifetime service award for the many offices I have held that contribute to the smooth operation of the kingdom," he explained. "I am a knight and reached a level of prowess that puts me in the top echelon of fighters, and I share that knowledge to train the new fighters."
Todd McKovich (aka Sir Conall Eoin MacTavish), also of Concord, said it's been 29 years since the allure of the battle captivated him into joining.
"I literally saw an event in a park -- I was hooked at a young age."
In SCA, McKovich explained that the peerages (ranks of peers) include Order of Chivalry (high levels of martial skill), Order of the Laurel (excellence in the arts and/or sciences) and Order of the Pelican (outstanding service to the kingdom).
Templeman said that over time his interests within the society have changed, but the one constant has always been about learning and teaching others.
"The fighting isn't as easy for me to do at 50 (as) it was for me in my 20s -- I tend to do more art now, but I still teach fighting to the new folks and my squires," he explained. "I get a kick out of helping people learn new things ... and in turn (they) pass the information on to more people."
It is through the skills of other SCA members, and some sweat and tears of his own, that Templeman said he learned brewing, falconry, woodworking, carving, pierce-work, gold leaf, armoring, shoemaking and playing a musical instrument.
Almost everything that a member dons -- from attire to weaponry -- is custom-made by someone in the society.
"I spend a lot of time trying to capture a period feel. When I dress as a German, I try to dial that in from the shoes, to the hat, to the jewelry," said McKovich. "Everything that I am wearing is made by someone in our group. Even the hose that I am wearing are made by a professional company that is owned by a re-enactment group."
McKovich said many people are familiar with the Renaissance Faire, and explained the distinctness between the two groups.
"The biggest difference between Renaissance and SCA is in Renaissance, everyone plays a character. In the SCA, it's a time period, so you can dress as you choose."
SCA member A.J. Pongratz, a Sacramento County prosecutor, agreed. "You're going to get everything from Dark Age Vikings to 16th century gentlemen ... it's funny, people put in a whole lot of time and energy whether they are fighting or not."
Templeman said that in trying to re-create history, he learned many of the crafting techniques of the period.
"I didn't do any of these things before I got involved in the SCA, but they seemed really cool, and I was willing to learn and experiment -- some came more easily than others.
Of everything to learn in SCA, Templeman said mastering the art of creating scrolls tops his list.
"Calligraphy and illumination is often used to create award scrolls that are bestowed upon people to recognize their various achievements. Many of them are very beautiful and are in themselves wonderful pieces of art," he said.
"I picked up skills that I wouldn't have acquired from sitting on a barstool, or playing video games or watching TV," said Templeman, who also met his wife through the SCA.
The SCA began in 1966 as a costume party in Berkeley hosted by some science fiction fantasy history buffs, and within a few years had developed into a nonprofit educational society. It has blossomed and is now 30,000 members strong in 19 kingdoms across the globe.
For more information on the SCA Kingdom of the West, log onto www.westkingdom.org.