"I want my opponents to hit me as hard as they want," says Joe Paulus, who goes by the name "Micah" in the SCA world. The engineer, who moonlights as a pianist on weekends, built his own titanium gauntlets to protect his hands and wrists during combat. He loves the energy of an organized melee, which can involve several thousand people during one of the SCA's annual events.

For example, the local SCA chapter — the Province of Malagentia, in the East Kingdom — is gearing up for the 26th annual Great Northeastern War, which is held in Hebron, Maine. Organizers expect about 1000 people to attend this year's battle, which will take place over the course of a weekend in mid-July. And that's nothing compared to the annual Pennzic War in Pennsylvania, which lasts for two weeks later in the summer. Think of it as the Woodstock of the Middle Ages, complete with hundreds of merchants, historically accurate foods and cooking techniques, rugged camping set-ups, costumes, and ample merry-making.

However, don't think of it as Live Action Role-Playing, a/k/a LARP-ing.

"SCA-ers do not consider themselves LARP-ers, however many of us also participate in LARP," explains Jamie Driggers, who serves as the Seneschal, or local chapter president, in Malagentia. "LARP is a game. SCA is historical re-enactment."

Indeed, "the fighting is five percent of what we do," says LeBlanc/Godricson. Delving into the skills and pursuits of the Middle Ages involves much more than swords and archery.

Every step of the way involves research — even choosing a non-mundane name. To spur people's imaginations, Driggers will often place several different outfits, from several different periods, in front of a newbies and ask them to choose the one that they'd be most comfortable wearing. Say a woman chooses a dress that's reminiscent of 14th century Germany: her SCA name would be generated from a list representing that time and place.

While most SCA-ers are attracted to both the activities and the history, one fellow had an even more practical motivation: "It was a condition of dating my wife," says Matthew Begnoche, a/k/a Lord Matthew Moravaeous Avdenmork. Luckily, there were associated benefits. "I haven't found a more challenging sport," he says.

And for the rare female fighter, the appeal is visceral. Kathryn Hack, a senior at the University of New Hampshire, drives to Portland every Tuesday night for practice. She appreciates that when she's wielding a sword, "you're not supposed to be nice and polite. It's a good way to get out your aggression."

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