Student organization brings medieval combat to Columbia

By Katy Duffy

Medieval combat could become your new favorite sport, according to Columbia’s Galahad Medieval Combat Society. 

The organization’s members participate in the sport of Belegarth, a live-action battle game, and use foam weapons and dress in period clothing to simulate medieval combat. Junior interactive arts and media major Nicolas Markese, who has been fighting with Galahad for three years and is one of the society’s captains, said although people view the sport as live action role playing, it is actually quite different. 

“We don’t do any sort of role playing,” Markese said, “It’s more of a full-contact sport … we use swords, shields, there’s kicking and shield punching, there’s body movement and it’s just really athletic.”

The combat is held under a simple set of rules to reflect what would happen in combat with real weapons. If a fighter gets hit in the arm by an opposing fighter’s weapon, their arm is then considered dead, and they must keep it behind their back for the remainder of the fight. The same goes for legs, a player must drop down to one knee if they are hit in the leg and any player who loses two limbs or gets hit anywhere in the torso is considered dead,” according to Markese. 

Galahad captain and junior theatre major Sarah Lane compared Belegarth to fencing because of the two’s similar objectives: hitting an opponent with a weapon, which is the only similarity between the two sports.

“It’s very much a game of chess,” she said, “It’s predicting what your opponent’s going to do, and therefore having plans in your head of what to do when they make that move.”

Galahad fighters participate in three-on-three and one-on-one fights against other members at Columbia, but the organization also goes to larger events to compete against other schools nationwide. 

Galahad tied for second place at a national Belegarth event in Hudson, Illinois, in October 2017 and plans to participate in another national event, Spring Wars, at the end of April where the team will participate in both tournament-style and group fights.

Most Belegarth events are overseen by the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, an international organization that connects combat societies. Galahad is one of 27 official Belegarth Medieval Combat Society realms in Illinois. 

Lane said she enjoys national tournaments because of the various fighters people can meet. 

“[You can meet] people from all walks of life that just want to pick up a foam sword on the weekends and swing it around,” Lane said. “You could meet a doctor, you could meet someone who happens to be a manager of a club and that’s where you get your next gig.”

Junior audio arts and acoustics major and society captain Anthony Smith also said Belegarth’s social aspect is one of the sport’s greatest attractions. 

“We’re all friends … fighting is just something that we all like doing,” Smith said. “We accept anybody who’s interested and usually they become friends that last forever.”

Both Smith and Markese said the sport’s uniqueness pushed them to continue participating. It is unusual to find a medieval combat society at a college or university, but Belegarth fits well with Columbia, Markese added. 

“It’s an athletic activity that kind of fits with Columbia’s image and it kind of draws a lot of the crowd that Columbia has,” Markese said.

One of the society’s newest members, freshman interactive arts and media major Imani Hudson said other students should get involved because of the activity’s uniqueness. Hudson’s advice for any potential society member is “watch your head.”