Clad in heavy boots and a bright green-gold lame robe, Robert Leanza appears to have stepped out of the Middle Ages, a modern-day visitor from the time of brave knights and fair damsels.
But the Orange High School junior wears his costume to demonstrate his interest in a time long past. Leanza is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a nonprofit research and re-creation society that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
"The purpose of SCA is to give people a chance to experience and re-create life as it was in medieval times," said Leanza, who has been a member for 1 1/2 years.
With more than 4 million members worldwide, SCA was organized for people fascinated with the period of European history between ancient and modern times.
Diane Erickson, a teacher at Orange High, recently asked Leanza to make a presentation on the Middle Ages for her sophomore English students.
Leanza, who arrived for each class in period costume, explained ancient customs and presented artifacts such as a chess game, needlepoint and weapons reproduced from the Byzantine Empire. After school, he pulled on a full suit of armor for a demonstration of dueling techniques.
"Having Robert give his presentation really helped to enhance the students' understanding of that time period," Erickson said. "I learned a lot from it, too."
SCA educates its members by bringing the Middle Ages into the 20th Century. Its world--which is the same as the natural or "mundane" world--is divided into 13 kingdoms, each with a reigning king and queen.
Within the kingdoms are baronies, which are divided into shires. The boundaries of the kingdoms, baronies and shires do not necessarily follow natural boundaries of continents, countries, counties or cities, but in the case of Orange County, its boundaries are the same as the barony of Gyldenholdt.
Members gather in groups to form separate households. On weekends, Leanza meets with 10 members of his household as well as associate members to make period clothing and practice with weapons.
"Joining the SCA has satisfied every angle of my obsession with the Middle Ages," said Leanza, who is known as "Brion" by the society's members. "In the society I found something similar to what I imaged it to be like back in that time period."
Every Sunday, Leanza and other SCA members gather at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley to participate in fighter practice. These are held to help prepare for tournaments, which take place nearly every Saturday across the country.
"The high point of the tournament is when the fighters, who come together from different households and baronies, demonstrate their much-practiced art of medieval combat," Leanza said.
Though the object is to re-create combat as it was centuries ago, real weapons are never used.
"Because of the danger in using metal weapons, fighters use SCA-approved replicas," Leanza said. "These are made from 1 1/4-inch rattan, fiber taped to prevent shattering upon impact."
The weapons include a variety of swords, battle axes, crossbows, javelins, cannons and catapults.
"There are very few injuries caused by the weapons," Leanza said. "In fact, we are in the same insurance class as table tennis."
After the combat, the members gather for a celebratory revel in honor of the tournament's winner.
The SCA also stages weekend "wars," which are usually held in rented campgrounds and are attended by hundreds of participants.
"The wars are always fun because during the day we fight strategically planned combats," Leanza said. "Then we have celebrations every night."
Erickson, whose sophomore English classes had been studying the Middle Ages, thought it would be fun to have Leanza share his knowledge gained from his SCA involvement.
"The class really seemed to enjoy it," Erickson said of the presentation.
Leanza got a few students from each class to do more than just listen. They accompanied him in a medieval dance he called the "Calafian Bransle." The dance is a competition between the dancers and musicians to see which is the first to make a mistake as the music's tempo gradually increases.
Leanza also asked students to participate in a game he called "The Pleasures of the Cloven Fruit." The game's directions: to pass an apple that has been punctured with a number of cloves from man to woman, woman to man, and so on. Each person must bite a clove from the apple.
The game's object: to end up with the apple when it only has one clove left. Then the person with the apple presents it to his or her "true love" and the game is over.
Amid nervous giggles and shouts of encouragement, Leanza offered the apple to Jenny Mang.
"I was really embarrassed when he gave me the apple," said Mang, a sophomore. "But the entire presentation was fascinating. I would really have liked to live back then."
For those wishing to act on similar desires, the Orange County chapter of SCA can be reached by calling (714) 772-1252.