Voices from Paolo Freire: Arms, Legs, and Foam


You step out onto the battlefield, mail and plate armor clanking. The grass is dry with very few patches of green. You survey your surroundings. An old stone bridge stands before you and your comrades. Someone shouts, and you run for the bridge. When you reach the bridge cold, wet raindrops are falling from the sky. The face-bars of your helmet do little to stop the drizzle. Suddenly, your comrades start to push forward. You are shoved to the front. Arrows and throwing knives rain down like hail.

Wooden sword resting against gray chain mail / photo by Bronwyn ErbPeople die all around you. An arrow strikes your shield. Another skims the face-bars of your helmet. You advance bit-by-bit. Soon you are less than a foot from your opponents’ shields. The next moment, you are trading blows with an opposing player. You block with your shield and swing for their exposed shoulders and legs. In the end, they walk off the field with their hand on their head so you know they are dead.

For those of you who do not know what LARP is, it stands for Live Action Role Play. If you have ever played a game like Magic the Gathering or D&D, it is something like that but in real life. LARP is pretty much a game of make believe for more mature people, but anyone can do it. It is much, much more convincing with foam swords and real steel armor. The type of LARP I am describing is mainly fighting, no theatrics. It is you and your weapon of choice. While I like to play fighter classes, there is also magic involved in LARP. Magic users include--but are not limited to--druids, wizards, bards, and healers like my little sister. I had been doing LARP for a couple of months before the apocalypse (aka COVID-19), and I miss the sport and the people there so much. I try putting on chainmail and running around my neighborhood when my family goes for walks with the dogs and fighting the lawn chair or the basketball pole, but it is not quite the same. Enough with the explanation, back to the battle.

. . . A ball of flame slams into your shield. The heat scorches your face, and you drop the smoldering hunk of rubble that used to be your shield. An arrow hits you in the gut. Luckily, your mail armor deflects it, but not without taking its toll. Two more hits and your mail armor is no good. You stand your ground as more blows and projectiles rain down from above. Soon, one of your legs is gone and you are forced to fight on your knees. Eventually, you are pincushioned by a hail of arrows, and you step off the field arm on your head. You walk around the writhing mass of arms, legs and foam. You retreat to a tree where the other dead lounge. You wait your time until you can join the fray once again.

Ok, let me explain a bit more. I have loved armor, costumes, magic and using my imagination from a young age. This is mostly my parents’ fault. I had heaps of old rusted armor sitting out in my yard for my whole life; my dad also did SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). I have been dressing up in fantasy garb and playing a role since I was two. We read books upon books about magic, monsters, and the like for pretty much my whole life. For me, fantasy was often reality, which led to the whacking-my-dad’s-truck-with-a-rock-to-kill-the-“dragon”-incident. But that is a story for another day. When I first saw LARP at Comic-Con 2019, I knew I had to do it. I loved the combat with foam, medieval-style weapons, and the imagination. Of course, one of the main reasons I started larping was, wait for it…...armor. I could not wait for the chance to wear my armor on a weekly basis. After Comic-Con, I convinced my mom to take me to LARP park days, every Sunday from noon to four. Four imagination-filled hours of glorious fighting, armed with different weapons and facing different foes. Of course, my baby sister had to get in on this too, though she prefers magic over weapons. It is a wonder that my mom stays somewhat sane through all of this.  Now, on with the show, or back to the battle.

You leap onto the field alive once more, vigor restored. The rain has stopped, and the sun is peeking over the clouds. By now, cold sweat is streaming down your face. Yet again, you are pushed to the front. Now you only have your handy mace. You swing the mace at anyone in reach. Eventually, the opposing army wins, but you congratulate them nonetheless.

Ok, so you might be wondering a lot of things right now. For instance, did I really get hit with a fireball, take an arrow to the gut, and lose a leg? Did I really die and come back to life and fight another battle? Nope, nope, and nope. That is all part of the LARP game, which requires using your imagination. Maybe you have different questions: “Wait, wait, Nik, how do you get your armor, weapons, and other gear?” Well, we make all the weapons out of foam, of course. Some weapons you can make for under five bucks with dollar store pool noodles and second-hand golf clubs. Most swords weigh eight ounces or something like that and can be made in a couple of hours. You get “color credits” for making LARP-related things ranging from weapons and armor to candles to crochet. As for the armor, I buy mine from online stores such as Medieval Collectibles or use my dad’s hand-me-downs, but some people make theirs. Ok, I am tired of explaining; let's get back to the action.

You find yourself on a different field now with a great sword and a round shield. There is a box of gems in the middle of the field, there is also a band of goblins, and to make the battle even better, there is an opposing army eyeing the jewels with more greed than one could think possible. Your comrades start to run for the gems. You stay back, planning to protect the one, measly jewel you already have. One boy runs at you brandishing his weapons. You crush his shield with your great sword but cannot strike the finishing blow, because he sprints off. Your companions are starting to come back now with the jewels. Suddenly a javelin pierces the ground in front of your foot. You take no notice. Sweat streams down your face as the late noon sun beats down on you. Arrows start to come down as the sun sinks lower. It is relatively calm back at your camp, besides the few people who try to steal from the growing pile of gems. The pile of jewels is growing bit-by-bit. Soon there are no more jewels left on the grassy field, and many of the dead stand near the edges of the field watching and waiting to see how it pans out. It looks like the battle has been won, and you go congratulate the other team and the goblin horde.

Castle tunnel in a Czech forest / photo by Anna Gru

Yet again, you are in a different place; this time you are standing on a dirt field with a dagger in one hand and a short sword in the other. You look across the field and see a bunch of opponents and a bell. You look over your shoulder to see that you have a matching bell on your side of the field. You start to run towards your enemy’s bell, but your opponents come out to block. You back up and wait for an opening. You casually step out onto the field and the same opponents come out to block you again. Suddenly, one of your teammates runs out from your camp towards the enemy bell. The people who are blocking you trot over to block them. You take your chance and run towards the bell. Swords and arrows pinging off your armor, at the last second, you slide on your leather shod knees toward the bell. Dust flies up as you slide. You crash into the bell and just manage to ring it three times before you are hit with about five million swords, well maybe only five. You stand up and exchange a few words with your competitors.

You walk back to your camp, and you are yet again transported to another place. You are standing on a grassy field, you are backed up against a tree, you look down at your feet to see a red javelin laying at your feet. This time, your helmet is gone, which is a relief because your neck was getting sore. You are holding a shield with a boar on it in one hand, and your handy bar mace is in the other hand. Then you see the opposing team. They have many archers and only a few foot soldiers. You walk towards them at a steady pace, arrows rain down, you hold up your shield and keep on walking. An arrow gets stuck in your leather greaves. The impact is enough to make you stumble, but the point does not penetrate. This time you crouch low to avoid incoming projectiles Your overly heavy boar shield starts to weigh down on your arm. A mage steps in your path and yells an enchantment at you so fast you do not even know what hit you, until your bar mace turns red hot. With a yelp, you drop your weapon and slowly step backwards, shield pushed out as a barrier, for whatever good that will do. The mage backs you up until you turn around and run as fast as your sweaty, leather-clad legs can carry you. You run all the way back to your camp, but you keep an eye on your mace. Soon, the weapon loses its red glow, and you carefully go back to retrieve it. You quickly grab your mace, just as the same mage comes over and starts to say the same incantation as before. You quickly chuck your mace as far as it can go behind you. Sadly, it is not far enough. Suddenly, you are swarmed by your competitors who have been up on a nearby hill. As they continuously bash you with their weapons, you try to stop the attack with your shield, but it does not protect much. Soon you shout "DEAD,” and they stop their brutal pounding. You get up and walk over to your tree which you have set up camp at. You wait your allotted time and then jump back into the field. This time you rush the opposing team and their flag, determined to steal the blue flag fluttering in the wind. You run and run and you almost reach the flag, when the guards start to swing. You trade blows, but there are too many. You put your hand on your head and walk off the field, dead again.

Nikolai Snider-Simon is a student at the Paolo Freire Freedom School.

Voices from Paolo Freire features essays from middle school students at the Paolo Freire Freedom School in Tucson, AZ. These essays were written during a series of workshops with classroom teacher Adrian Provenzano and Writing the Community teaching artist Raquel Gutiérrez.