Art & Culture

Armored fighters get medieval at Bolado Park

White Shield re-enactment tournament returns to San Benito County.

People dressed in medieval clothing and armor gathered in Bolado Park outside Tres Pinos for the return of the White Shield Tournament on March 5. The event was run by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a re-enactment group where members come up with a pre-1600s persona and re-enact as that person.

Included in the White Shield lineup was an evening feast and a royal court with awards, but the largest spectacle were the armored sword fighters. Those combatants were divided into two tournaments—26 in the heavy fighting tournament and 21 in the rapier fighting. Participants in the heavy fighting tournament simulate the weight of medieval swords with a safer rattan stick for a blade and the necessary armor to protect against the force of blows. Those in the rapier fighting wear protective gear that is lighter; their weaponry consists of thin metal swords with blunted tips.

“You can basically think of the heavy armored fighters as medieval soldiers and the rapier fighters as citizens, the merchant class,” said Tim Converse, who participates in the SCA as the persona Juan Santiago, the former Baron of Darkwood, a sovereign who oversaw the region of Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties.

Atrus Winklebleck, whose character is Carrek MacBrian, rules as the current Baron of Darkwood alongside Baroness Mercy Grim, who in real life is Aine Winklebleck.

“As the baron it’s my job to be the figurehead with my baroness,” Winklebleck said. “We act as the official hosts for the event and welcome the royalty in.”

The Society of Creative Anachronism has membership worldwide, with regions split into large kingdoms, smaller principalities, and county-sized regions called baronies. White Shield is hosted by the local Darkwood region. Before COVID-19 interrupted public events, White Shield was an annual tournament. This past weekend marked the return of White Shield to the calendar as well as being a chance for sword fighters to hit the combat fields after a winter slowdown in combat events.

“Within the West Kingdom, this is referred to as the first real tourney event of the year,” said Converse of the lineup which includes a higher stakes crown tournament and a coronet tournament later in March. “Lots of fighters come out here as a way to get ready for those events.”

The fighters at White Shield competed for the title of tournament champion, but the crown events have fighters compete to become king or queen of the kingdom, with the local West Kingdom spanning from California to Alaska and across the Pacific to Japan and China. Coronet events have fighters compete to become prince or princess, with the local Principality of the Mists spanning from San Francisco to the Monterey Bay region.

The current reigning prince of the Mists and the prince of neighboring Cynagua, which includes the Central Valley and the Sierra, were both present at Bolado Park as fighters. Joining them were five knights, a peerage title awarded to experts in heavy fighting, and one master of defense, a peerage title awarded to experts in rapier combat, among the competitors. 

The SCA also includes peerage titles for arts and sciences expertise as well as service to others.

Winklebleck said the society encourages learning, not only about how to fight safely in tournaments, but to take up other interesting skills which could be found in medieval times, such as brewing, leather working and woodworking, with events such as arts and sciences tournaments that focus on skill demonstrations and even teaching.

“There are arts and crafts that you can learn,” Winklebleck said of the period-specific skills featured in SCA events. “I’m a calligrapher as well.”

There were smiles all around and jokes aplenty as competitors lined up to introduce themselves before the baron and baroness directly before hitting the field to bash, stab and slice at each other. Converse said the fighting sports are not only fun for competitors, but include life lessons. 

“It’s surprising how frequently people can take what they learn out here into the regular world,” Converse said. “When you’ve gotten onto a field and faced somebody who’s dressed in armor and they’re wielding a big stick and coming at you, you tend not to be quite as scared of other things in the regular world anymore. You learn a little bit more courage and fortitude and realize that you’re a lot more capable than you ever thought.”

Converse said such lessons enable members to better themselves. In addition, the fantasy element plays into the enjoyment for members.

“There’s not a whole lot of places where you can go out and do things like this,” Converse said. “It’s like reliving some medieval movies.”

“A lot of us have grown up dreaming of being a knight, an armed warrior, or a viking and coming out here we get to experience a little taste of that,” Winklebleck said. 

Winklebleck said personas have an upper era limit of the 1600s, but can be anything from before that time, from anywhere in the world. While European styles and personas are more common, Winklebleck noted there are re-enactors who take on African and Asian personas. 

“We pick a persona and understand who that person might have been, what skills would they have known, what language would they have spoken, what their life would have been like,” Winklebleck said. 

Event steward Katherine Agerbeek, who re-enacts as Katherine Grym, was in charge of the event logistics. She said the feast portion which ended the evening at White Shield was another expansion of re-enactment, as the menu would include medieval dishes made with ingredients available centuries ago. 

People naturally see the clothing and fighting and come by to ask questions. Agerbeek said people are always welcome to ask questions, and are even welcome to join in so long as they pay the entry fees and sign disclaimer waivers for any particular event.

“When we have events in more urban locations, we definitely get people who want to come and see,” Agerbeek said. “Usually we’ll go back into town and get food or gas and we’re in our garb and we get asked if we’re in the Renaissance Faire.”

An estimated 200 participants showed up for White Shield, which Converse said was a moderate turnout, but a good sign that people are going to in-person public events again.


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Sean Roney

Sean is a writer and photographer from California’s Central Coast. He began reporting for BenitoLink in 2015. Sean received his BA in communication from CSU Monterey Bay and he has covered news stories in San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Clara counties. He enjoys traveling California to meet interesting people as well as visit breathtaking places, and is always happy to sit down and share stories. In his free time, Sean enjoys cycling, bikepacking, and novel writing.