Eugene Weekly : Cover Story : 10.07.2010


Back to Campus 2010

Getting Medieval Relieving stress the nerdtastic way

Q&A: student on the street

The Room Upstairs A tale of lust and mystery off-campus

21 is Just a Number Things to do in Lane County while you’re still young

Welcome to your GTF We’re students, too, but we know stuff

Getting Medieval
Relieving stress the nerdtastic way
By Molly Templeton

Photo by Trask Bedortha
Photo by Todd Cooper
Photo by Todd Cooper

Under an overcast sky, a young, barefoot blond man kneels on a verdant field. His chain mail glints, but he appears to be weaponless. He might be dead. More likely he’s just lost the use of a leg. 

The fighter won’t stay down long. When this battle ends, another begins. The field commander, her layered skirts flowing as she strides across the lawn, calls directions: “Meatgrinder for team captains!”

Around the perimeter, passersby stop and stare. On the field, some fighters wear skirts, chain mail, tabards, maybe a small crown. Others are dressed more like the spectators: jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers. And all wield foam swords, shields, spears and javelins.

Welcome to Tir na nOg practice. 

Tir na nOg is an official UO student group, though current Realm Leader Shannon Sullivan, whose fighting name is Corin, estimates the group is about two-thirds students and one-third community members. If you’re 16 or older and would like to hit people with foam weapons, you’re welcome to join. Equipment is provided; you just need to sign a quick waiver, and you’re a fighter.

The realm is part of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, the organizing body of a sport that’s been around longer than most of the players on the UO field. According to, “The fighting is hard and fast and has, since 1979, refined into its own brand of martial art.”

Belegarth has an elaborate rulebook — the Book of War — that’s full of charmingly dramatic sentences like “A disabled Head causes Death.” The Book of War is likely to give a casual reader the impression that Belegarth is complicated to learn, but fighter Shannon Cramer (fighting name: Acorn) sums up the rules in a few sentences. “Here’s what I tell newbs,” she says. “Head shots are illegal unless it’s an arrow or javelin, so projectiles only. You have two points; two points equals death. So your body? One shot. Two points, you’re dead. Each limb is one point, so two limbs and you’re dead.”

Watching Tir na nOg practice, you’re more likely to get the impression that fighting with foam weapons is slightly ridiculous, wonderfully geeky and exhaustingly fun. “We do consider it a sport,” Sullivan says. “It’s a fun, nerdy sport, but it’s a sport.” It’s also, Cramer says, a good stress reliever: “A lot of people come out during finals week because they want to get rid of their aggression.” 

On this particular Sunday, about 15 fighters swing swords and wield shields. Sullivan says it’s a small practice, but she expects more people next weekend. The experience levels are varied. A slim, muscular man in more modern sporty garb rolls and leaps through the battle; later, a petite woman experiences her first fight. Cramer yells encouragement: “Be aggressive! Perfect! Let’s crush them!” “Dead” fighters sprawl in the grass, chatting as they wait for everyone else to fall.  Sullivan and Cramer both stress that Belegarth is fun, social, safe and inclusive. “Come out and play!” Cramer says. “Yes, it’s nerdy, but everyone’s a nerd nowadays.” 

Tir na nOg practices from 2-4 pm on Sundays on the field behind the EMU on the UO campus. For more information, see