Boffing Offers Fun Outlet to Wield Weapons

Emma Dahl

As the clock tower strikes three, a group of warriors strides across the dewy grass. Weapons in hand, faces stern and hearts fierce, they are ready for battle. The two armies charge each other, screaming war cries and brandishing their swords and shields, glinting silver in the sunlight. It’s life or death on this battlefield.

Well, kind of…

On Ankeny Field just in front of Lyman House, Whitman College students, in the guise of warriors, most of them members of the Medieval Society, meet weekly to play war games with padded and duct-taped weapons. The activity is called “boffing,” and according to junior Sam Chapman, the president of the Medieval Society, the title might be an onomatopoeic version of the sound the weapons make as they whack around.

Students Boff on Ankeny
Photo by Rachael Barton

Boffing is similar to LARPing (live-action role-playing), but Chapman explained that there is an important difference between the two.

“LARPing is a broader category that entails taking on a persona or a character or immersing yourself in a scenario that isn’t actually occurring,” said Chapman. “There are other types of LARPing including Humans Vs. Zombies … In boffing, all we’re doing is fighting with weapons. We do things to make it more entertaining; we yell battle cries or play certain types of games … but ultimately it’s just for the simulated combat.”

Boffing is simply the most visible activity that the Medieval Society hosts. They also hold meetings at noon on Wednesdays in the Lyman lounge where they read medieval texts such as “Beowulf,” “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Decameron”. A popular text is the “Heliand,” which Chapman described as a version of the Bible translated for Saxons.

“You’ve got special changes like Jesus is the ‘chieftain of the world’ and he’s got his ‘warrior thanes’ instead of apostles,” said Chapman.

The Medieval Society also hosts archery practices. However, these are currently up in the air since Whitman frowns upon the storage of bows on campus, and the range the club had been using was desecrated when someone whisked away the hay bales they used as targets.

Not everyone at boffing get-togethers are members of the Medieval Society. First-year Susan Nichols came by because she saw the Medieval Society’s booth at the Activities Fair.

“Hitting people with padded weapons, that sounds fun!” said Nichols.

Sure enough, the overall atmosphere is one of casual camaraderie. Boffers aren’t there to hurt each other or to dominate the field, but to have a good time, and it definitely looked like they were. The field was rife with shouted book and movie references and little sardonic comments mid-fight, such as “Your father smelt of elderberries!” “Cometh at me, bro!” and “Run, William! You are not Henry VII!”

“[I like boffing because] it’s more fun and games rather than competitiveness,” said first-year Eric Hsu.

Photo by Rachael Barton

The rules of boffing, as laid out by Whitman’s Medieval Society, are simple: They play by Black Knight rules, which means that if one of your limbs is struck, you lose that limb. You die if you’re hit in the torso. Neck and head strikes don’t count, and are not encouraged. Another rule states that you can’t swing your weapon from behind your body, which confines the amount of force you can hit someone with, and that throwing weapons are not allowed.

“[Throwing your weapon would be] historically inaccurate, ineffective and dangerous,” said Chapman. 

The weapons themselves have just been around for years and have been wielded by generations of boffers. Made of PVC pipe, foam and a lot of duct tape, the weapons are stored in the basement of Jewett Hall and are repaired and remade as needed.

“If you’ve seen us, and you think it looks like fun … come try it out!” said Chapman. “We love being approached by strangers who want to play. That makes my day.”

Photo by Rachael Barton