A student social club that fights for fun

Club president Joseph Martinez (left) battles freshman Justice Mayfield-Garvey during a gathering of the Medieval Combat Club on Prescott Field.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

EDITOR'S NOTE: First in a series on student social clubs.

Walk through the middle of the Grand Canyon University campus on a Wednesday night and 30 students are running around Prescott Field with the kind of glee last witnessed on a playground.

A young man in full battlefield exuberance brandishes his sword – made of foam, plastic pipe and duct tape – and charges, his cape flying behind: “I’ve come to collect!”

“Ok, you wanna go?” is the enemy’s reasonable question to him.

Foam-on-foam brutality ensues, until one combatant says, “You’re dead.”

Indeed, the Medieval Combat Club is alive. No one gets hurt, though an occasional ego might.

“It takes me back to when I was a little kid and used to play soldier,” said student Gordon Brown. “You may have outgrown all that, but I still see myself as a little kid chasing each other with swords.”

It’s come as you are and judgement-free for these duct tape warriors. Costumes, running shorts, jeans, combat boots or, in Brown’s case, a button-down white shirt and slicked-back hair: “I tell my friends, what’s wrong with looking good?” he says. “If girls walk by, they know it’s me.”

Sophomore Gordon Brown engages in a sword fight with a fellow Medieval Combat Club member.

There’s a kind of wit to this play, which they are quick to point out is neither a martial arts experience nor live action role-playing that is so popular. It’s play, but it is medieval. And that means, if you’re following along in books and movies, a good share of Middle Age combat in the form of fun games to capture flags or being the last one standing in a battlefield.

Brown likes it because he’s a history major, so he studied the weapons of the era and made a few.

But others walking by might just think it’s strange, right?

“Like all the people who walk by,” said junior Braden Brown, the Crusader mascot of the bunch who some nights wears the full getup of chain vest and helmet.

Why has this become a popular club on campus?  He smiles, and his curly mustache goes along: “People are nerds.”

Junior Braden Brown, who is the club mascot, battles one of his fellow Medieval Combat Club members on Prescott Field in the fall.

Social clubs on GCU’s campus are trending upward, says Jimmy Curley, Clubs and Organizations manager. While preprofessional and career clubs still make up the bulk of the 115 student clubs, the 19 niche social clubs not only shine a light on the interests of students but give students a place to fit in.

“It’s where some students find their sense of belonging on campus,” he said, noting the big events and organizations at the University may be overwhelming at first. “So having this niche thing might fit them.”

Talk about niche. Gordon Brown decided to make a catapult, but there are strict rules on weight and such for safety. So he made one with a stuffed animal and demonstrated its potential by catapulting the stuffed animal across Prescott Field.

“GCU came to my high school and talked about this club,” he said. “I wanted to come here based off that alone.”

Daniel McLeod comes for the workout. Combatants are running around for two hours.

“You aren’t supposed to take it seriously. You are not supposed to go home with bruises. You are not supposed to go home feeling angry at someone,” he said. “You are supposed to go home with new friends and having fun.”

Sophomore Daniel McLeod spars against one of his fellow Medieval Combat Club members.

Braden Brown will describe the rules, so follow along: “No head shots, no shoulder shots, no groin. If you get hit in the torso area, it’s a kill. If I hit you in the arm, you can’t use that arm. If you lose one leg, you can still walk on it but can’t run. If you lose both legs, you can’t move but you can pivot.”

Combatants only can use 30% power on a swing with any number of accepted clubs, axes, swords, spears, bo staffs, even tiny knives made out of cardboard and duct tape that are thrown and often just flutter harmlessly to the turf.

“For me, it scratches that itch, like you’ve got toy light sabers,” said club president Joseph Martinez. “You are cooped up in a classroom all day, and we come out and burn some energy.”

Medieval Combat Club vice president Cory Backues takes a breather as other club members square off.

Make no mistake. They are competitive. A game where two teams try to capture each other’s king is a blood(less) bath, typically led by the Russell Crowes of the battlefield – a former Marine who couldn’t make it on this night and karate expert Cory Backues.

“A lot of it is distance and timing,” said Mackues, the senior theatre major who fittingly wants to get into a career in fight choreography, “so being able to study your opponent, look for openings, put up a guard, and move properly without falling all over yourself.”

Most are young men, but Grace Greeno moves with a quick-footed strike force and takes no guff from male combatants.

“It’s like my inner child gets really happy when I fight with a sword,” she said. “People can stay safe while still getting to hit people.”

The club’s social media manager uses her reflexes in a game where a square is formed and two combatants face each other with 10 seconds to commit fake murder. There’s a lot of yip-yipping charges and ad-ribbing.

Club social media manager Grace Greeno takes on one of her fellow Medieval Combat Club members.

“You just violated me!” said Braden Brown.

 “You OK?” asks another.

“You just got me in the face.”

They move on to a game of “Colosseum,” in which a man-who-would-be king must survive. So cornered, he says, “Hey man, I’m just a simple farmer!” before sprinting off across campus, sword-wielders in hot pursuit.

Lots of battlefield hollering continues as they “capture the flag” in the night’s finale, when Greeno makes a flank maneuver toward the enemy flag, is slashed in the back, and rolls her eyes. She’s dead, for now, but is asked what her parents said when she described a night at college fighting with duct tape swords.

“They weren’t all that surprised,” she said. “Ever since I was little I’ve always liked fantasy stories and adventures. It was always super cool, but I never had any way to pursue it, until I saw this club and was like, ‘Oh! There is sword fighting!’”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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How to join

Medieval Combat Club members charge into battle.
  • GCU has 115 student clubs this year in the following categories: academic and honor societies; career and preprofessional; community and volunteer; cultural; ministry; outreach/governmental; performance and visual arts; social. To check out clubs or to create a new one (requires signatures from 50 students for approval), get more information here or check out Instagram here.

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