The Performant: Boxed in at Boxwars

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Putting the glad into Gladiator

You are a warrior. Sheathed in armor of the finest corrugated paper pulp and armed with the righteousness of a hundred possible causes (pick one, any one), you grab your war hammer, fashioned perhaps from a couple of paper towel tubes and an empty case of 21st Amendment Brew Free or Die, and hie thyself to Dolores Park for the grand melee.

The last-gasp October sun beats down hot on the sloping hills of the park, which are covered in defiantly bared flesh and picnic supplies, while blimps slowly drift across the impossible blue of the afternoon sky. A gladiatorial spirit vibrates through the giddy ether, doubtlessly carried over from the Giants and 49ers games being played just a couple of miles away. It’s a good day to do battle. It’s a good day for Boxwars.

Entering the park you start sizing up the competitors, an assortment of deceptively nonchalant combat geeks nursing Tecates and sporting bulky breastplates, cumbersome helmets, cardboard shinguards, and Samurai-inspired shoulderplates. One calamity-courting individual has what appears to be a target centered on his chest, another, dressed like Captain America, pronounces himself “Middle Class America,” perhaps in honor of the ass-kicking he will soon receive at the hands of his fellow combatants. A creative array of medieval weaponry bristles from the hands of each box-warrior: lances, maces, battle-axes, and swords. Some people carry shields. Some have left no holes for arms and therefore carry nothing at all.
“That’s a poor choice,” observes one sage spectator near me.

Entering the battlefield is a man perhaps too congenial to be taken seriously as an uncontrolled berserker, holding a megaphone. This is Mat Kladney, co-creator of the UK version of Boxwars (which originated in Australia), and driving force behind the San Francisco edition. One by one, he introduces the combatants by their *noms de guerre*: the aforementioned Middle Class America, Robox, Tower of Power, I love Microwaves. Five year-old Ben Michaels captures the “aww cute” vote in his self-decorated cardboard cube, while Dapper Ehren (Tye) and Awesome Ashley (Raj) capture the “hell’s yes” award with a pre-battle marriage proposal and acceptance of same—moments before all assembled box-warriors are given the go-ahead to clobber the snot out of each other.

After a countdown from the crowd, the cardboard-clad foot soldiers rush into the mostly unstructured fray, pummeling whoever happens to be nearby. Alliances are forged and broken almost immediately, an armless Gameboy is beaten down and set upon by a mob. Awesome Ashley, recovered from her beau’s surprise announcement, swings her cardboard war hammer with experienced vigor, while a pair of disarmed legionnaires start wrestling each other instead. Just fifteen minutes after it begins, the battle is effectively over, a growing pile of destroyed armor and discarded weaponry left in the middle of the field. There is no clear winner of a Boxwar, which Kladney (whose fight philosophy is simply “have fun”) emphasizes as the point.

“Everyone wins at Boxwars,” he asserts. “When winning…comes into play, people start to take things way too seriously.

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