MANKATO — While some people sit down on Sunday afternoons to catch the latest episode of the History Channel’s “Full Metal Jousting,” another group of people meets at Sibley Park to experience medieval combat in a much more vibrant way.
They’re members of the Mankato chapter of Amtgard, a nonprofit organization that focuses on medieval-based combat. Members take on roles such as warrior, barbarian, sorcerer and assassin, each with their own special talents, and participate in combat situations ranging from one-on-one duels to full-member melees.
Jose Osorio is one of Amtgard’s veteran members. He joined the Mankato chapter known as the “Freehold of Raven’s Nest” about a year ago; but before that he started an Amtgard group in El Paso, Texas, in 1983. He’s played several different character roles, but right now he’s an archer.
“I [tried] magic before, but now I’m interested in fighting [and] archery,” he said.
Osorio said the Mankato club has averaged about 18 people at recent meetings. That’s certainly a lot more members than the club was pulling in only four months ago; in January, only about five people would show up to meetings.
“We’ve definitely come a long way,” said Travis Haldeman, who joined the group after Osorio recruited him at work.
“[Fighting with friends] was one thing I never really grew out of,” he explained. Right now, he plays a monk, which combines magic skills and fighting abilities. “It’s a mix of the best worlds.”
Although the club is based around fighting and combat situations, both members agreed that participants rarely get injured. Members use “safe” weapons made of hollow materials such as fiberglass and graphite, and are covered in foam. Most members make their own weapons, but they need to follow safety standards.
In fact, the group often holds workshops for weapon making, leatherwork and performance art. Not all members participate in the fights; some simply come for the “arts and crafts” section of the meeting.
The group used to meet at varying locations (such as Tourtellotte Park) but recently settled on the bluff portion of Sibley Park, where there was more room and varied terrain. An added bonus, Osorio said, was that the Sibley location offers a more visible practice arena, and many people often stop to watch. The group always meets outside, even during the winter months.
“Once you get moving, you don’t feel the cold,” Osorio said.
Because Amtgard is a national organization, the Mankato chapter is part of a club hierarchy and follows the national rules. Osorio said members are working to expand their club from a shire (the smallest group within the organization) to a kingdom.
Usually, kingdoms are formed by several neighboring shires. Osorio said the Mankato group is hoping to find a sponsor club in the Twin Cities and form a partnership so they can move up to the next level. Larger groups receive more benefits in that they can offer their own awards and promote members to knighthood (a rank that is earned after a certain number of battles).
Every group must also have a regent, which is sort of a group leader. The Mankato group’s regent is Christen Crowe, who teaches history on days that she’s not charging into battle.
“I’ve always loved history,” Crowe explained. “I still love history.”
Osorio said the group also has a few other goals for this year.
In May, members are planning a three-day Amtgard event with battles, forts, bonfires and feasts. The event, called the Sequel to the 2010 Great Amtgard May Event (G.A.M.E.), will take place on the McGowan farm in Mankato May 18-20. The group also hopes to participate in Amtgard’s nationwide food drive in November.
The Mankato Amtgard group meets every Sunday at 1 p.m. in Sibley Park. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend or become a member, but members must be at least 14 years old to compete in battles.