Their battlefield is South Park. Their weapons are bamboo rattans. Their defense is armor.
And they don't mess around. Just ask them.
"You get bruises every time you fight," said Ann Weeth, who once suffered a broken arm during such a fight.
Every Tuesday night during warm-weather months, more than a dozen otherwise ordinary Lawrence- and Kansas City-area residents go to the park, enter an imaginary time machine and step back several hundred years to revisit combat in the Middle Ages.
They are members of the worldwide Society for Creative Anachronism, and in the Lawrence area, they represent the fictional Kingdom of Calontir. That "kingdom" includes others like them in similar groups in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and northern Arkansas. There are 17 such kingdoms across the nation.
Society members spend their spare time immersing themselves in the lifestyle of the Middle Ages, which covers western civilization from the fifth through 15th centuries. On weekends, they travel for gatherings with groups in other areas to set up displays, give demonstrations and re-create medieval life. Since its 1966 inception in Berkeley, Calif., the society has spread worldwide and now includes an estimated 24,000 members.
Weeth, 31, of Lawrence, is president of the Lawrence-area group, which calls itself the Shire of Carlsby. It consists of more than 20 participants. She decided to get involved with the group a decade ago.
"For me, it was the idea of no technology and doing things without the benefit of TV, radio and electricity," Weeth said. "Then I found out they fought, and that made it even better."
Combat is the society's attention-getter. Participants either make or buy their own armor. A suit of armor could cost $500 or more, depending on the detail and period the buyer wants. A helmet alone could cost $300.
"A lot of it depends on the look you are going for, because everybody's got their own dream warrior or the person they want," said Richard Jones, who has been a member of the society for 21 years.
The 39-year-old Lawrence resident makes armor for other members. He specializes in helmets. There is enough demand for his work that he has made it his full-time job. A suit of armor can take as long as a month to make, he said.
"It's not rocket science or anything, but it definitely takes some time," Jones said.
Learning the ropes
Those who participate in combat learn fighting skills from others who are veterans. Contests are among the group's events.
Although there are marshals monitoring the fights, combatants are on the honor system. They learn what types of blows would do if received from a real sword or other weapon. The right blow to an arm would cut it off, forcing the combatant to continue the battle with his arm behind his back. The right kind of blow to a leg or head drops the victim to the ground.
Although a thick bamboo rattan doesn't cut, it can deliver a powerful blow.
"It's a full-contact sport," said Weeth, a preschool teacher. "There is no choreographing -- they really are hitting somebody."
Despite her broken arm, Weeth and others insist the sport is less dangerous than football. The broken arm was a rare incident and the only time she has been seriously injured in combat, Weeth said.
John Hooker said he had been fighting for 20 years and had never been injured. The 37-year-old Lawrence resident said he fought for the action and the camaraderie.
"There's a bond you develop from fighting," he said.
The smallest combatant in the group is Bridget Patti, 36, of Lawrence. She is 4 feet 11 inches tall but doesn't hesitate to go up against men who are 2 feet taller and 100 pounds heavier. She doesn't expect mercy -- and gets none.
"When I go out on the field, I kind of lose track of size," Patti said. "It actually kind of weirds me out whenever I fight someone my size."
Not all society members are fighters. Weeth's sister, Eve Weeth, 30, of Lawrence, is more interested in learning about spinning and weaving thread for clothes and doing historical research.
"I don't like bruises," she said.