And there are two paths you can go on…

On of the more interesting aspect of our combat form is the idea that the outcome is declared by the defeated.

This idea is neatly articulated in the ‘Laws of Honourable Combat’, these being-

The First Lemma of Honorable Combat being that victory is achieved
only through declaration of the vanquished.

The Second Lemma of Honorable Combat being that the force of a blow
can only be judged by the recipient of same.

The Third Lemma of Honorable Combat being violation of either of the
first two does corrupt the probity of Honorable Combat.

This idea is possibly the most important aspect of our tournaments. It is this that focuses our actions and demands a high level of personal responsibility that is hard to find in any other sport or martial art. We cannot rely on some third party judge; there is no action reply on the day.

We must enter into a bond of trust with all those we face. We must place in our competitors that they walk onto the field with the same honesty as we do. We trust that they will follow the rules and are playing the same game. We trust that they will strike us in appropriate target areas, we trust that they will strike with the blade and we trust that they will strike hard enough that a good attack can be called confidently.

It is also beholden on us to do our utmost to return this same trust, not only to our opponents but also to the Gallery. Our actions must leave no doubt to our honourable intentions. It is sometime more important that we be seen to fight crisply and with honesty. Should I strike my opponent I want it to be without doubt. If they are standing there wondering if a cut was good, then I have not made a successful attack. A good cut or thrust must land so there is no doubt that that it is good.

The same thing also applies to cuts. It is better to refight about if there was any doubt that you did not strike with edge. If you have cut them properly the first time then you can do so again. If you did not manage to cut properly then the victory was never yours in the first place.

Do we use a particular tactic because it is within the rules or because it leads to a great contest of arms? Just because it is permissible does not make it Knightly.

In all of these, your greatest opponent is often yourself. The greatest challenge we face in our tournaments is the defeat of our own ego and desires to win. Yes, victory on the field is what we train for, but it must be tempered by never letting go of the trust that is placed on us every time the lay-on is called.

 

 

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One step at time

I want to follow on from a comment made about how we gauge our progression in the tournament arts. The armoured combat community does not have any real system of grades or steps buy which a student in the tournament arts can both gauge and guide their progress.

The role of squire is not adequate as that is a student teacher relationship rather than a specific rubric on your martial competency.

The fencing people in this kingdom have a guild system with given ranks. This gives them the ability to look were they are at and what they need to do to advance to the next level. I think this is a very useful thing but it does have some issues as it is focused on gaining familiarity with different weapon forms.

Eastern martial arts have very clear grading systems and are about stepping out the skills you need to acquire in any given school/form.

Some of the advantages of grading systems is it makes it clear to students and teachers what lessons and skills need to be learnt at a given stage. It also enables you to group classes much more efficiently.

An ad-hoc grading system was recently applied at Lochacs Knights School (combat symposia). This exposed the problems we currently have with no universal grading system. We had people placed into advanced, intermediate and beginner streams that possibly could have been in a different ‘grade’ but due to no objective criteria this was all a bit hit and miss, despite the best intentions and understanding of the organisers.

Could we implement any sensible and useful grading system? I think this is largely impossible unless we copied the fencing guild schema, but even this has issues. We have several different schools of combat now developing and flourishing in the Kingdom. I do not believe that we could have a grading system that covers all of these schools. It would be like having a single system for all the different karate forms. Each school has different ideas and standards.

What could be done is to have grades within a given school or group. This could be done but would have some limited usefulness. I have been thinking about how we could implement such a system to assist new people during their first two to three years of fighting. The first grade would be completing the Beginners Course. Subsequent grades would be learning the basic use and forms of several common weapons and being able to demonstrate your growing skills. This of cause would require a bit of work and thought to set up and then administer.

Grading systems are incredibly useful things. Although I think we will never be able to develop a SCA wide system there is nothing preventing introducing them at a local or school level. I think if we are to really get on the front foot and grow our game then this is the sort of thing we need to be thinking about, if not implementing.

If the shoe fits…

Someone the other day pointed out that all of us in the Whyte Companie wear period(ish) shoes and boots rather than the more common GPs or steel caps worn by many combatants. During the conversation I remarked that it was not only an appearance thing but also almost a necessity to have footwear that was both light and that you could have the right balance and ‘ground feel’ in.

We have talked before that in tournament combat footwork is primary. Most mistakes in any technique begin with problems in stance and position. So it is vital that you have the right equipment to allow you good footwork. I would venture that heavy boots weighting a few pounds are not the best tool for the job.

Looking though the fechtbuchs everyone is wearing reasonably light turnsole shoes or boots (I am going to ignore all the very pointy ones…). So it follows that using such shoes is entirely appropriate for our tournaments, particularly as the feet are not a legal target.

Most Eastern martial arts forgo the use of shoes in any form. This is often to allow the participants better balance and movement. It allows you to move easily on the balls of your feet rather than having the weight on your heels. Japanese tabi are a good attempt to produce a shoe with good ground feel. We have found that light shoes enable similar ability.

I have one student that has extremely fallen aches and has been wearing GP style boots for a long time. Their footwork needed to develop more flow and quickness, so I convinced him to try training in some Vibram FiveFigures.(1) The difference in footwork was immediately noticeable, and the student reported that they felt they could move a lot better than with the older boots and that they were generally more comfortable.

So for those of you wanting to work on your foot work I would almost insist you lose your GPs or Johnny Rebs. Try doing some training in bare feet or very minimalist shoes. Get yourself into something light and reasonably period. It will make a world of difference.

(1) Our Kingdom rules say that all combatants “must wear sturdy footwear which provides adequate protection and support of the foot an ankle for the terrain and activity of combat”. So Fivefingures are probably not kosher at official combat events unless you do something about covering the ankle and they look unacceptably modern. But then the riding boots I use are only light 1.5mm leather and that gives me almost no ‘protection’. Having said that I have a pair for all my out of armour training.

Ultimate Warrior

It has been interesting watching the development of marketing materials for SCA tournament combat. I think these are a great step forward and I hope they will bring a lot more people into out game. But there is something often missing. While the flyers encourage people to discover western martial arts or to become warriors there is hardly any mention of being a knight.

I find this a little odd. One of the central themes of the SCA is the quest to better your own skills and character. Why is it that we shy away from placing the quest for Knighthood front and centre to what we do?

Perhaps it is a bit too complex to distil in a short advertising flyer. We already have the idea of warrior imprinted in modernity through games, MMA and mainstream sports. I am sure it appeals to many, particular those more familiar with levelling up in World of Warcraft. He is an idea that you can start as a couch dweller and turn yourself into a warrior, fit, ripped and ready to fight anyone who is in your way.

While I would like to be fit and ripped, I am not sure this is really what we are about. To me the image of the warrior is a little raw in tooth and claw. It comes from a tribal way of warfare. It is the cult of the individual above all else.

What then is the path of knighthood? The ideals of the Knightly arts go far beyond martial prowess. Beyond the weapons and armor of a Knight is the focus of social and personal responsibility. Here then is the shifting of a pure warrior ethos to one focused on several virtues: Fidelity, Justice, Courtesy, Honor, Prowess, Humility, Strength, Courage and Honesty.

It is the knight, not the warrior who stands on the field of combat to win honour and renown for their consort, not themselves. It is the knight who thinks of the group and others first. Perhaps these ideas of humble achievement and service do not market well in a society where the individual is everything? Yes we need our heroes, but what sort of heroes do we need? I am sure that Arthur and Lancelot would have a very interesting conversation with Conan and Rambo.