When students walk from one class to the next, they are likely to come across an unsuspecting scene by the clock tower. Thirty-or-so knights wielding their weapons while advancing toward each other with an intensity in their eyes. The sound of the weapons clanking together nearly drown out the sound of the grunts the fighters make with each swing of their sword . Occasionally there are screams of agony when someone falls to their knees then flat on their face acting out a painful death.
“You got me,” groaned a knight lying on his back with a sword tucked under his arm simulating a fatal wound. “Tell my mother, I fought hard.”
Students passing by have encountered a battlefield in the middle of the Mesa Community College (MCC) Southern and Dobson campus.
There are many self-defenses that anyone can learn to increase their personal safety. Popular choices include carrying a compact weapon, learning martial arts, and even using words to de-escalate a situation. At MCC, a group of over 100 students prefer a less traditional approach to protecting themselves, one heavily inspired by the Medieval Era. They call themselves Knights Epic Games (KEG).
“Not everyone walks around with a gun these days,” said KEG President Andrew Wilkins. “It is very easy to find a stick or something like that. A lot of stuff we teach and train can be used with any improvised weapons.”
The term LARP is often muttered by student spectators unsure of exactly what they are seeing. LARP stands for live-action role-playing. The group of passionate sword fighters take what they are doing very serious and treat it as a means to protect themselves rather than just a role-playing game.
“This is not LARPing,” Wilkins said with conviction. “Absolutely not. LARPing is like a game, and what we are doing is teaching historically accurate weapon systems and techniques that were used on the battlefield during their time periods.”
“We don’t dress up in pretty little hats and go ‘four score and seven years ago, you slayed my family,’” said club member Lindsey Turnblue in her best Old English accent. “But I suppose if you wanted to talk like that, I don’t think anyone would really care.”
Turnblue is one of a handful of women active in KEG. Even though she is outnumbered, she doesn’t let that bother her when she spars against someone no matter their gender.
“There’s a sense of empowerment,” she said proudly. “I’m just like ‘hey guys, I can fight, too,’ and I’m probably better than a lot of them.”
Wilkins believes the women learning unconventional fighting techniques have better chances to defend themselves when needed.
“It’s very important for women to have a means to protect themselves,” she explained. “Coming here gives you extra options, so any time we get new team members I am very happy, because we could be helping someone who may be victimized and giving them the tools that make them a survivor.”
A small crowd can be seen watching the group sword fight, wondering what they stumbled upon. Most times when the group is in their spot fighting each other, there is also a small crowd watching curiously, wondering what they have stumbled upon. Tania Macias has been attending MCC for two years and recently saw the group for the first time while taking a different route to class.
“This really caught me off guard,” Macias said with a laugh. “It’s really cool that these guys are out here so we can all see them because it’s really entertaining. I didn’t know this existed, I think this is a great way for them to pass time after class, and it looks like it’s great exercise.”
As Macias watched the students practice their craft when she was approached by a group member who started a conversation with her. According to Turnblue, every time a student shows any sort of interest in KEG, there is always a friendly face that approaches them and starts a dialogue and shares their purpose.
“Do you want to make new friends?” Turnblue asked. “Do you want to take out some pent up aggressions from your classes? This gives you a new group to hang out with and something to do between classes. There’s so many reasons to check us out.”
Wilkins said KEG is always looking for new members to join the fun. He tells everyone it is about more than self-defense and learning the ways of the Dark Ages.
“On one hand it’s good exercise, but on the other it’s about the friendships we build,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and I think that’s why people keep coming back. Join us with the expectation to learn something new, and I promise you’re going to have some fun. We show people to properly defend themselves and there’s a lot of experienced group members who are happy to teach.”
The group meets Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 4p.m. on the clock tower lawn. Students interested in participating will sign a waiver on arrival and are encouraged to wear closed-toe shoes.
“You may get some bumps and bruises,” Turnblue began. “But don’t be discouraged. You have a place here. If you need any sort of support, you have a place to go that is yours.”
Christina Mills is a journalism student at Mesa Community College.