On a recent hot day, a diverse group of people in hand-fashioned costumes chant spells and dance on their toes while attacking each other with foam-covered weapons at East Brainerd's Heritage Park.
Dressed in green and black, the eldest man on the field lunges forward with his weapon, yielding a solid thud on his opponent's back and winning him the match.
Jason Parker, known in the Amtgard world as "Deryk MacCoill," retires into the shade of a tree to cool down as sweat begins to discolor his intricate leather holster.
"Amtgard is what we call ourselves. It's not an acronym, it's just a made-up name for a made-up game," the 47-year-old Parker explained. "When I first joined six years ago I thought this was going to be a freaks and geeks club, but we have doctors, lawyers, students and bankers here."
The Amtgard website says the nonprofit, nonsectarian organization is "dedicated to the recreation of the Sword and Sorcery genre as well as educational aspects of both Medieval and Ancient cultures."
The game focuses primarily on combat, but it includes artisans who work on handcrafts, from sewing garments and intricate leatherwork to jewelry, armor-smithing and fabricating weapons, all while watching the action unfold.
Parker is the oldest active member in the Southeast who "swings foam" — meaning participates in actual fights. He became interested in the group after returning to college later in life to pursue a master's degree in nonprofit management.
Older than his fellow students, he didn't have a lot of people to hang out with. After watching some Amtgarders spar on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus one day, he decided to try it out as a social and exercise program. He has lost 75 pounds and gained stature in the Amtgard world, moving up the ranks to board president for the Chattanooga Region.
Amtgard is live-action role-playing, but it differs from other swordplay groups by focusing on safety from the prospective of the person wielding the weapon. All weapons are covered in foam to avoid bruises or welts, and are thick enough in diameter so they cannot enter an eye socket.
This allows participants to wear any garment as long as it resembles something that could be found in a medieval fantasy setting. Outfits range from minimalist monk robes to full armor — one participant even has a custom chain mail vest for his puppy.
The Chattanooga chapter typically has draws between two and three dozen players each week. Passers-by are welcome to join in but must be over 14 years old. Practices are held Wednesday and Saturday — the posted time is 2 p.m., but players interpret that loosely and joke about "Amtgard time."
"Basically this is for anyone who is interested in being outdoors, getting some fun in, and having a great mode of stress relief," Parker said.
Then he picked up a bow and a quill of foam-tipped arrows and marched out of the shade to begin another battle.