What did you do Sunday? Oh, got stabbed in the face
Sunday afternoon in Wheeler Park is a peaceful time. There are cookouts under the pavilion, small groups of mothers sitting on benches and chatting while their children play nearby and a bunch of people running around a field hitting each other with foam swords. They have ironing board sized shields, wear armor, throw javelins and a few shoot padded arrows across at each other's faces.
It’s practice time for the Order of the Third Eye.
I arrived at Wheeler Park shortly after 3 p.m. and introduced myself to Todd Buck, AKA Tynan, a big man with a salt and pepper beard who stands over 6 feet tall and is very intimidating clad in red leather armor, holding a giant shield and a foam cudgel. He invited me to join the Order for practice, which occurs every Sunday at 3 p.m. at Wheeler Park, rain or shine. When I arrived, a handful of warriors were sparring on a big stretch of grass with an assortment of armaments lying nearby. Padded swords of varying lengths, bows, padded arrows, shields big and small and armor were all available for the battle.
The Order of the Third Eye is an eclectic group of students and professionals of varying ages who fight based on a national model called Dagorhir Battle Games. It combines full-contact combat simulation with elements of live-action role-playing and is both a sport and a game. Participants use a variety of armor and weapons to compete in mini-games like group combat and mayhem (everyone against everyone).
For a beginner, there are a lot of rules and regulations to learn. If you are hit in the arm or leg, you lose the use of that limb. If you are hit in the chest, you die. If you are hit in the head with a sword, you generally apologize and continue, unless you are hit in the head with a projectile, then you’re dead. In a handful of battles I was hit in the head twice and I’m still not sure if that counted as being dead or not. In both cases, the blow left me a little dazed and I lay down in the grass just to be safe.
Different weapons also possess different classifications and armor can defend against certain attacks. It’s a very involved codification and even the members of the Order had different interpretations of rules.
Let there be no doubt, the sport is full contact. Someone can and will knock you down with their shield and kicks are semi-legal. The Order stresses safety, so their weapons are heavily padded and they try not to aim for the head. Body contact rarely occurs with this group, but they allude to other clans who use very light padding on their swords and enjoy the ground and pound.
Weapons are constructed from a variety of materials, but fiberglass and graphite cores are popular because of their light weight and versatility. At the Order, they say that it’s rare for a weapon to cause a bruise. Most injuries occur from falling or taking errant shots to the face. James Armour, AKA Aysix, tells a story of breaking his nose in combat with James N. Kelley, AKA Oricle. Aysix is an athletic fighter who loves to use a bow in combat and patiently schools me on tactics on the battlefield when I screw up and run too far from our pack trying to bash some guy in chain mail. Oricle is another athletic guy who sports a Mohawk and wears a padded vest. He killed me twice in combat, leaving a small bruise on my thigh and a ringing in my ears from a shot to the side of the head (inadvertent).
One of the keys to Dagorhir fighting is taking hits. The sport is self policing, so the onus is on the victim to stick to an honor system and admit when and where he is struck. Fighters who habitually refuse to admit to hits are dubbed “Rhino Hides” and there is no stigma greater in Dagorhir.
The hits come in a wide variety, from sneaky blows to the butt, long range arrow shots to the arm and an errant sword swing to the ear. Getting killed six times, I was bashed in the ear and once on the left eye and Kanyon, a lanky guy with shoulder-length blonde dreadlocks who rolled his own cigarettes during breaks, tackled me to the ground once (legal) and stabbed me with my own sword. I think. It all went by so fast (and, since he was playing shirtless, I was distracted when his fight sweat went all in my mouth).
The three keys every new recruit is given are: 1) Keep your shield up 2) Be aggressive 3) Take your hits
I found it difficult to focus on using both a sword and a shield and the first few times out kept getting clubbed in the ass by quicker and more experienced opponents. Eventually I learned to move around more and prey on distracted opponents. I would suggest wearing comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting grass stains on and shoes that are good on grass. I’m not sure if cleats are frowned upon in Dagorhir, but if you own a pair they could be useful.
Fighting is a great workout. The battles last anywhere from 45 seconds to a few minutes, but there is a decent amount of running and lots of lateral movement and jumping. After a few hours of fighting even the most athletic battlers were winded.
Practices like Sunday’s are the tip of the iceberg for combat. Smaller groups like the Order don’t host large events, but travel to larger battles in the area or take part in a weeklong annual war, Ragnarok (held this past June in Ohio). Members of the Order speak fondly of these bigger events which are excuses to bash each other and then drink and dance.
Members of the Order of the Third Eye are very open to new members or anyone who is interested in learning about the sport. They bring extra weapons and shields to each practice and are patient with newcomers, giving tips and balancing teams during combat. If you’re looking for something fun to do on Sunday afternoon, check out the Order at Wheeler Park and tell ‘em Patrick Swayze sent you (that’s my new Dagorhir name).
You can reach Todd Buck, AKA Tynan at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions regarding the Order of the Third Eye, or you can just show up at Wheeler Park on Sundays at 3 p.m. and join the fun. Everyone there is extremely nice and they'll let you shoot foam arrows and bash them with their own padded swords!
Richard Retyi still works for the University of Michigan Athletic Media Relations office and is going to have to explain why he has a shiner on his left eye at Rich Rodriguez's press conference on Monday. Let's see how "foam sword to the face" goes over with the boss. To find out how it goes, email email@example.com.