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The demand for safe assault gear was there, but the technology wasn't. At the time, most homemade swords were nothing more than PVC pipe wrapped with pool noodles. Gasser says he sank $10,000 into experimenting with PVC and steel rods wrapped in foam insulation. He visited a psychic who told him that he had been through battles in past lives, and this quest was his attempt to atone. "The goal of my company was just so I could sword-fight all day long," he says.
The weapons evolved into a 25-step process that turned out Fiberglas rods encased in sheets of industrial foam and wrapped in fabric. He formed a company, Barbarian Battles, and rented a warehouse at 31st Street and Main to mass-produce his swords.
Then Gasser found a self-proclaimed "barbarian woman." In March 2006, he joined forces with Mary Hill, an office manager at a drug and alcohol assessment center in Olathe and freelance interior designer. The 54-year-old Hill began traveling weeks at a time with Gasser to Renaissance festivals and comic-book conventions across the country. Her daughter agreed to wear leather and strike chivalric poses for the launch of Barbarian Battles' Web site. But Gasser adds that his relationship with Mary Hill is strictly platonic. She's going through a divorce, and he's too focused on his business — and on becoming the One — to have time for romance, he says.
Gasser estimates that he has sold more than 10,000 weapons. He says his clientele includes customers in Trinidad and Canada and soldiers in Iraq. His weapons retail for as much as $58 (for a great sword). But Gasser says he barely covers costs. Earlier this year, Gasser halted production and gave up the warehouse in a last-ditch effort to accomplish what he calls his "epic quest for the ages." He dreams of building a realistic yet cost-effective foam sword.
At the park, Gasser watches his men battle back and forth across the parking lot. For most, he notes, the hardest challenge is finding the right weapon. He talks about weapons like most men talk about women. Finding your true wartime companion can be tricky, he says. For instance, sometimes you want a great sword because it looks "sexy," when really you'd be happier with a staff, a more defensive weapon. A weapon should become an "extension of the body," Gasser says. "Ultimately, you want no difference between your offense and defense. It just is."
I grab a great sword from his trunk arsenal. This will let me learn about his fighting style. We are both left-handed, so I mimic his movements as we square off. I spread my hands a foot apart on the hilt. Mimicking my master, I shift weight to the balls of my feet for leverage.
Gasser tells me to forget what I've seen from drawn-out sword fighting in most movies. Banging swords together is called "killing air." It might have looked cool for Conan, but in a real battle it would ruin your weapon and drain energy. He has a fighting philosophy that guides his economy-of-motion fighting style: "As barbarians, we don't fight one at a time — we fight 15 at a time." Gasser slashes toward an invisible enemy. "You want to be like a surgeon out there. Kill! Next! Kill! Next! Kill! Next!"