Every Wednesday and Saturday, Ephraim Paulsen takes to the west corner of Tautphaus Park to do what any other 25-year-old guy does on a sunny afternoon — whale on his friends with foam-padded weapons.
The Idaho Falls man is a member of the Ebonhold Realm of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, an international organization “devoted to simulating dark age and medieval combat.” Belegarth participants meet in local chapters, known as realms, and fight with foam-padded swords, spears, axes, shields, bows and arrows.
All that padding helps keep these “death matches” friendly, not to mention mostly injury free.
They fight in the style of medieval knights, attempting to deliver what would be a lethal blow to their opponents as they would with a real sword or battle-ax. For example, if the blow would have severed a limb in medieval times, the Ebonhold fighter who suffered the wound must continue the contest with an arm behind his back.
As an added precaution, all weapons must pass a safety inspection before the fight begins.
“We check the weapons to make sure they aren’t too small or the blade doesn’t hit so hard that it will break somebody’s bone,” Paulsen said.
Although it’s not uncommon to return home with welts and bruises, Paulsen said he hasn’t seen anybody suffer a serious injury.
“(But) there is a reason why we make people sign a waiver,” Paulsen said. “We hardly get any injuries. If we do, it’s the result of somebody doing something stupid.”
Members of the group also adhere to a strict book of rules known as “The Book of War.” And each realm must have a “marshal” who enforces those rules.
“We like to think of ourselves as a sport,” Ebonhold fighter Jeremy Carroll said. “We have rules like football, basketball and baseball. Every fighter can rise or fall based on their natural abilities and how much they practice.”
Love at first swing
The Ebonhold Realm has been battling for 14 years in Idaho Falls and boasts a membership of 40. Combat happens twice weekly from March through November, weather permitting.
Paulsen, who fights under the name, “Echo,” joined the group in 2003.
“I was recommended to it by a friend,” he said. “I’ve always been a big history buff, and I thought it looked cool.”
After only one practice, Paulsen was hooked.
“It was exhilarating. I was getting hit, hitting other people and running around with a spear. It was great,” he said.
A family affair
Carroll, a 32-year-old Idaho Falls resident, also began fighting in 2003.
“It’s great exercise,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of running around.”
Carroll’s wife, Andi, and 14-year-old son, Izaac,also are part of the group. Carroll said they come to practices, cheer him on at tournaments and accompany him on camping trips — making the adventure a true “family affair.”
Paulsen’s family also is involved.
His mother, Kaylene Paulsen, helps him make his armor and sometimes attends events.
“It’s a fantastic group,” she said. “I have made a couple of robes, weapon covers and jackets for Ephraim.”
Carroll, who fights as “Necronos,” said he’s made some lasting friendships through the sport.
“I found out about Ebonhold from a flier in a shop window,” Carroll said. “The name of the person on the flier was Adam Bivey. We became really good friends and three years ago, I was the best man at his wedding. The majority of people there were from Belegarth.”
Paulsen also enjoys the social aspect of the group.
“It’s like a second family,” he said.
Kaylene Paulsen said her son has grown a thick skin while pursuing the sport.
“When Ephraim was a kid, he got teased a lot and just rolled his shoulders,” she said. “He comes from a family of six kids and would just create his own space.”
Paulsen said he has no regrets.
“I’ve never been ashamed about being a nerd,” he said. “I fully admit it and most of my friends accept it.”