The recognized best fighter of the shire was showing a newbie how to avoid getting his arm chopped off.

"I've got a shot right down the center," Tarrach says as he delivers a blow to the shoulder that disables his opponent's right arm.

Have at you!
John Lyon comes down on an opponent with both fists full of weapons during a meeting of the NDSU chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism during a weekly meeting at Elephant Park in north Fargo.
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

A more experienced warrior approaches. "Ah, a real fight," Tarrach says as Toramassa saunters toward him. The two circle each other tentatively. Tarrach lands the first hit.

"No!" shouts Toramassa.

"I totally agree," Tarrach says.

As they continue, Tarrach gains the upper hand by chopping off Toramassa's legs. "Would you like to yield?" Tarrach asks. His opponent declines.

Moments later, Tarrach loses his legs. He also declines a request to yield. The pair continues battling on their knees until Tarrach finally lands a death blow.

Dave Horvath Adjusts
Dave Horvath adjusts the fit of his chain mail helmet as he gets dressed for the combat of the night at the NDSU chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

"Man, that's a lot of work," says a sweaty Toramassa.

The scene is familiar to those who've passed by Percy Godwin Park in north Fargo on a Wednesday night during the summer.

It's the weekly fighting practice for the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a national organization whose 32,000 members spend good chunks of their free time trying to recreate elements of the Middle Ages.

As local members are quick to point out, SCA involves more than just fighting. While rattan weapons were swung on a night in late June, a group of six women was sitting nearby.

One of them sings in the Known World Choir at SCA events. Another sells maps, crests and coats of arms. A third studies calligraphy.

"The guys just hit each other with sticks," says Zanni, whose given name is Katherine Circle.

In SCA, everyone (and most places) have two names: real-world "mundane" monikers and chosen Society names.

En Garde!
As two medieval combatants battle each other with lances and swords, tennis players battle each other in the background at Elephant Park in north Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

Toramassa is John Lyon, the 33-year-old head of the Shire of Korsvag, the name of the Fargo group that counts about 30 members. Tarrach is David Horvath, who works in the human resources department at North Dakota State University. North Dakota and Minnesota, along with South Dakota, Wisconsin and portions of Canada and Michigan, are located in the Kingdom of Northshield, one of the 19 regional SCA groups.

On top of that, many members hold noble titles given out for all sorts of activities, from artistic achievement to excellence on the battlefield.

"There are a lot of awards," Circle says.

The personas members take on are rooted in specific times and places. Horvath is a seventh-century northern European Hun. Lyon is a Japanese samurai from 500 years ago. Circle and her husband, Terry Carpenter (aka Johannes), are 13th- century Germans.

Carpenter and Circle, who is pregnant and due in December, are even planning to give an SCA name to their newborn. "If kids grow up with the idea that they have two names, they're OK with it," she says.

A sense of duality is necessary in the SCA. Though authenticity is encouraged, the modern is liberally mixed with the medieval.

At Warriors and Warlords near Black River Falls, Wis., Northshield's biggest event of the year, the struggle to strike that balance was constant.

While the event's press coordinator, Carrie Wilkey, aka Lady Cianna Kharleen, showed a reporter some of her homemade meads and cordials, a small group sat in modern lawn chairs, drinking cans of Coors Light as a cell phone rang.

Matt Anderson Lunges
Matt Anderson, right, lunges toward Dave Horvath as they battle during the group practice night. Participants are encouraged to make their own medieval costumes as well as protective padding.
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

Circle should have been wearing layers to be historically accurate, but temperatures above 90 degrees allowed comfort to triumph over genuineness.

"Germany was going through an ice age at the time. We're not," she says.

Others, like Civil War re-enactment groups, are pickier about the details.

"Your underwear, camping gear, it all has to be the same," Lyon says. "That's kind of where the difference is."

The reasons people join SCA are as varied as what they do when they're in it.

Some have an intense interest in the Middle Ages, like Tiffany Heth, a member of the Fargo group. "The History Channel was about the greatest thing that ever happened," she says.

Mandy Kubik, a teacher at Oak Grove Lutheran School, says she thinks groups like SCA are popular because the United States has so little history of its own.

Wilkey says her interest in centuries-old costumes probably springs from how different it is from her day job running Internet marketing for a chain of water parks.

For others, the draw is simple: going medieval.

"I'm pretty much a stick jock, yeah," Carpenter says. "Once you cross swords with a duke, paper dragons lose their flair."

The cordial combating is often the appeal for men, but not all. Though he does fight now, Dave Jones, a Winnipeg member who was camping with the Fargo chapter in Wisconsin, points to himself as an example.

Rapier combat
Rapier combat is practiced by Aidan Horvath and Matt Tieszen.
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

"For my first eight years, I did nothing but calligraphy and dancing," says Jones, a Canadian customs agent.

Lyon, in addition to strapping on his armor of plastic barrel pieces held together by ice skate laces, also enjoys making jewelry.

Still, the heavy-armor fighting is SCA's highest-profile activity. Winners of tournaments are crowned as the royalty for each kingdom. The national group's biggest annual event in northwest Pennsylvania features melee battles with hundreds of fighters.

Heavy fighting is based on the principle that participants will acknowledge when they have been struck with a blow hard enough that their armor would have been useless, had the stick been a sword.

Fatal Blow
Matt Anderson grits his teeth before going in for a
Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

In practice, this means any hit that will leave a bruise should count. If it's on an arm or a leg, the fighter must stop using that appendage. If it's to the head, the fight's over. Fudging on the severity of blows happens, but it's rare, Lyon says.

"If you're not being knightly and chivalric, people are going to tell you," he says.

If all of this sounds a bit too involved to be recreation, you're not the first to think it.

"I've gotten the cult talk," says Jones, whose bosses have asked him about bruises he has sustained in SCA fights. "If it's not normal, people are afraid of it."

During the first day of the three-day Wisconsin event, as they waited for supper at their campsite, a group of mostly Fargo members tell a reporter numerous times they don't want to come off as odd.

At an SCA event a few years back, Bert Garwood of Grand Forks — who was camping with the Fargo group — even took in a seminar on how to deal with the media. The tips he remembers are to keep it simple and accentuate the positive.

But the lessons aren't needed this time. SCA folks are no different than their counterparts who spend their weekends in the mundane world. They just dig faking their way through the Middle Ages. It's not for everyone, but neither is golf or yoga.

"People come at it from all different approaches," Carpenter says. "Either they get sucked in or they drift away."